Are most Americans anti-immigration? Absolutely not.

Is President Trump anti-immigration? I don't think so. It's difficult to pin down what he actually believes about anything, but being concerned about uncontrolled immigration from unstable and/or dangerous countries does not mean one is opposed to immigration per se.

I found George Friedman's take on the subject enlightening, despite missing a few of my concerns. His example of our societal attitude towards Indian and Chinese immigrants is especially interesting.

Trump has pointed to two very different patterns. One is immigration to the U.S. by Muslims. The other is illegal Mexican immigration. Both resonated with Trump’s supporters. It is interesting to consider other immigration patterns that have not become an issue. One is immigration to the U.S. from India. The other is immigration from China and other parts of Asia. Both have been massive movements since about 1970, and both have had substantial social consequences.

It is the example of the Chinese and the Indians that blows up the theory that Americans have an overarching anti-immigrant sensibility that Trump is tapping into. It also raises serious doubts that Trump is anti-immigrant. I have searched and may have missed it, but I didn’t find that Trump made anti-Chinese or anti-Indian statements, as opposed to anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican statements. If it were classic anti-immigrant sentiment, the rage would be against Indian immigrants who have emerged as a powerful and wealthy ethnic group in a startlingly short time. But there is minimally detectable hostility toward them, which means that the immigration situation in the United States is far more complex than it seems.

The issue is not whether Trump and his followers are generally anti-immigrant. The question is why they are so hostile toward Muslims ... and to Mexicans. I wish the explanation were more complex, but it is actually quite simple in both cases.

The United States has been at war with Muslim groups since Sept. 11, 2001. ... When there is war, there is suspicion of the enemy. When there is suspicion of the enemy, there is fear that émigrés might be in the United States on false pretenses. ... After 15 years of war and many Americans dead, [post-9/11 fears have] congealed into a framework of distrust that may well go beyond the rational. ... Are all Muslims warriors against the United States? No. Do you know who is or isn’t? Also no. Wars, therefore, create fears. There is nothing new in the American fear of Muslims in the context of war.

The Mexican situation is different. ... [T]he driving issue is illegal Mexican immigration. There is a great deal of homage paid to the rule of law. Congress passed a law specifying the mechanics of legal migration. Some 5 million Mexicans broke the law. Whether this has harmed the U.S. economy or not, the indifference to enforcing the law by people who are normally most insistent on the rule of law has created a sense of hypocrisy.

The anger is not only directed at the Mexicans. It is part of the rage against those living in the bubble, who present themselves as humanitarians, but who will encounter the illegal aliens, if at all, as their servants. And rightly or wrongly, some suspect that open support for breaking the law is designed to bring cheap labor to support the lifestyles of the wealthy at the expense of the declining middle class. The fact that the well-to-do tend to be defenders of illegal aliens while also demanding the rule of law increases suspicions.

At first I took issue with this, for while true, it doesn't speak for the many of my friends who count themselves "defenders of illegal aliens" but are far from wealthy by American standards. But...

As we saw with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Japanese, things that are obvious to those living decades later are not obvious at the time. Indeed, it is a failure of imagination to be unable to empathize with the fear felt after Pearl Harbor. In our time, the failure to empathize comes from those who feel immune to illegal immigration or the 15-year war. It is part of the growing fragmentation of American society that different classes and regions should experience these things so differently, and that each side has so little understanding of the other.

My non-wealthy friends may not be among the rich, but it is true that they (like me) are largely immune to the effects of both illegal immigration and terrorism. We even benefit from illegal (slave) labor through lower prices.

(In my life, it's the actually the Indian and Chinese immigrants he mentions who have caused the problems—they are the ones whose competition directly affects the Information Technology industry—but I believe that legal, controlled immigration is healthy for a country.  How could I be anti-immigrant when our own daughter is one?)

As long as illegal immigration is permitted, the foundations of American culture are at risk. It is not simply immigration, but the illegality that is frightening, because it not only can’t be controlled, but also the law is under attack by those who claim to uphold it. The fear that a person’s livelihood is being undermined and his cultural foundation is being overwhelmed creates deep fear of the intentions of the more powerful.

I want to quote a lot more, but I fear I'm pushing the edge of "fair use" for a review as it is. It's an article worth reading. I'll just make one more comment, on what Friedman calls "the refusal of the government at all levels to enforce the law."

I'm not a fan of "zero-tolerance" legal situations, which leave no room for discretion and grace. But massive discord between rules and enforcement breeds both disrespect for the law and tyranny. When a law is on the books, but not enforced, people become accustomed to violating it. This may look like freedom, but it opens the door to graft, blackmail, indifference to other laws, and some very nasty surprises.

When I was studying to pass my driver's test, there was a law on the books in Pennsylvania requiring that vehicles must slow down to 25 miles per hour when passing through any intersection. (For all I know, it's still on the books.)  Obviously that was written a long time ago, and rather than the law being changed to fit reality, it simply stopped being enforced. If I hadn't been taking a driving course, I would never have known of its existence. However—and this is the kick—the police sometimes found it to be useful: If for some reason a miscreant wiggled out of whatever they wanted to charge him with, they could usually get him on the charge of passing through (often multiple) intersections at more than 25 mph. Do you see what this does? You may go for years, casually breaking the law, but suddenly one day, when they want to get you, they've got you.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 3, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Edit
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"Are all Muslims warriors against the United States? No. Do you know who is or isn’t? Also no." I personally know Muslims who I am sure are not warriors against the U.S. and I'm sure I'm sure there are many others in this country who also do. I'd be willing to bet many people who are against Muslim immigration never even met a Muslim. George Friedman's take on this point not only doesn't seem credible it seems to be saying we should be suspicious of all Muslims because of the 9/11 attacks.

As for Mexicans and the law and order angle it's interesting how no one ever brings up the fact that U.S. employers who are employing undocumented immigrants are also breaking the law.

Posted by Don Sigwalt on Friday, February 03, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Well, Don, I sure am one who brings up the employers often enough. Who says it's not a major part of the problem? It's like the drug disaster: you have to tackle both supply and demand.

I think you missed Friedman's point about Muslim immigration, however. He's not saying the fear is rational, just understandable. The fear is not of Muslims we know, but of those we don't. If a random person is arriving here from a country in which there are many people who are known to be at war with us, it can be hard to know if he is friend or foe.

I do know several Muslims, and the farthest thing from their minds is making war against America. That doesn't change the fact that there is a statistically significant risk difference between granting a visa to a someone from the Gambia, say—a majority Muslim country which is not at war with us—and to someone from a majority Muslim country where known Islamic terrorists live and recruit.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, February 03, 2017 at 8:40 pm

Gaunce said that the Navy had rules that were so inconsistent that it was impossible to follow them all. This was a way to get rid of someone who wanted to make the Navy a career that the higher-ups didn't want - they easily found some rule that he had broken.

Posted by Kathy Lewis on Saturday, February 04, 2017 at 12:26 pm

"Are all Muslims warriors against the United States? No. Do you know who is or isn’t? Also no."
This view can only seem plausible to those who are not daily involved in the process of vetting the people who come here from these "countries with which we are at war." Can anyone guarantee that a terrorist won't slip in? No. Not from those countries or any other countries. And as has been said over and over, the real terrorism threat we face is not from outside, but from those within our borders who are radicalized. That radicalization is not restricted to Muslims.
Consider how shameful and unnecessary our internment of Japanese citizens during World War ll looks in hindsight. We reacted out of irrational fear and made life miserable for countless perfectly harmless and innocent human beings. And what did we gain? Not much that I am aware of.
There are no guarantees, only reasonable precautions. We can't guarantee that we won't be killed the next time we get in our car to go to the store. That doesn't stop us from doing it. There's a certain element of risk we are willing to take.
The people that the president is banning from entry have been through a very extensive vetting process; many have been waiting for years for the approval to come here. Have you considered the possibility that the people doing the vetting are just as concerned about the prospect of terrorism as anyone else? They have friends and family they would be putting at risk if they didn't do their jobs carefully. The problem with the president's stance is that it is based on a complete lack of understanding of what is in place, and what measures are being taken already to prevent another attack. It assumes complete incompetence and lack of concern on the part of the previous administration, which may be a popular view in some circles, but isn't based on any knowledge of the reality. Fear is not a good starting point from which to build a national character. The measure of our national character will never be based on how well we protect ourselves from possible harm, but on how well we manage our fear while trying to be responsive to the real needs of others. If we let the president's assertions of imminent danger fool us into acting out our irrational fear, where are we then? Jesus did not give his life so we could choose to dismiss the suffering around us. People were already doing a perfectly fine job of that. He gave his life in the hope that we might learn to do otherwise.

Posted by Kathy Drinkard on Monday, February 13, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Thank you, Kathy, for your thoughtful comment. I greatly appreciate your being part of the conversation. I want to clarify that neither I nor Friedman (as far as I can tell) are defending specific actions the President has taken, but attempting to understand the motivations behind them. One incontrovertible fact is that there is a large number of Americans who don't trust the vetting/security system as currently implemented.

In my experience, while words and facts and reason are important (that's why I write), they rarely assuage fears. I have a friend who is horribly afraid of school shootings, despite my assurance that they are statistically very rare. (I use your driving example a lot; if we really thought about that danger, we'd all stay home.) Yet that does not take away her fear, and the fact of the matter is that she has a lot more skin in the game than I do, having a daughter currently in school.

So how do we reduce fear? I put forth two possibilities.

(1) Trust. Clearly, half the country does not believe our former president gave enough attention to our national security. Whether he actually did or not is not the issue. President Trump is in a position to be able to open our borders further to refugees and other immigrants in a way President Obama could not, because he has the trust of those Americans. Despite his apparently ham-fisted first attempts, for him to say, in effect, "Stop; we need to make sure this plane is structurally sound before letting it fly" is not completely unreasonable for a man who is held responsible for our national defense. Having done that, he could bring a great many people around by saying that he believes the plane is flight-worthy.

(2) Personal knowledge and experience, supplemented by the knowledge and experience of those close to us, whom we trust. This is my favorite: though it tends to be slow, it's more certain. It's all too easy to hate faceless groups, especially when agitated by slanted media stories, but much less so when you know someone of a different race/culture/religion/political persuasion on the family level.

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 7:56 am
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