Friday, April 10, 2009

Immigration Reform May Arouse Racist Thinking

President Obama recently announced his intent to undertake immigration reform. I applaud his courage and values, and I thank him for refusing to heed the GOP's claims that he is "doing too much." However, engaging in an immigration debate in our current economic crisis seems a bit dangerous, for the following reasons.

One hears far too often the ridiculous cry that "the immigrants are taking our job." While such rhetoric may have some merit (though I doubt it), it is impossible to deny that such rhetoric is often a pretext for racism. What's worse, this type of speech creates a snowball effect: the more that people speak in such terms, the more that other people will be convinced of the supposed accuracy of that sentiment, etc. Soon, large segments of the public hold an unhealthy disdain for immigrants, and these haters can fall back on the "taking our jobs" argument to justify their irate feelings.

This snowball effect will be exacerbated in our current economy. One of the largest negative consequences -- or is it a cause? -- of the economic crisis is unemployment. The American people know this. Thus, Americans are more likely to guard their jobs jealously, and are thus more likely to speak out against immigrants.

When you combine this snowball effect with the economic crisis and high unemployment rate, it creates a dangerous combination. Now that Mr. Obama is talking immigration reform, immigration issues enter the forefront of America's consciousness, making things even worse.

Let me be clear: I do not think that this is sufficient reason to shy away from immigration reform. For centuries, America has served as a beacon for those seeking freedom, prosperity, and basic human dignities. We desperately need a new immigration system that will permit immigrants to enjoy the fruit that our great country offers, but we need comprehensive reform to accomplish this goal in a responsible manner. I believe that these values outweigh the need to avoid anti-immigrant rhetoric and racism, and hence we should undertake reform.

But, we must also be aware that these unique circumstances will cause a spike in anti-immigration speak that can often serve as a pretext for racism. We should be prepared to stamp out such racism when it arises.

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