The Evolution of Stigmas Around Immigration

People gathered with signage at Lights For Liberty in Pittsburgh in July, 2017. Photo credit: Maria Oswalt.

Immigrants have been target to stigmas since immigration has been around. When you have a group of people coming to a foreign country seeking permanent residence, it’s easy for people to place prejudices on them seeing as they have little to no power of standing up for themselves. There are those who are against all immigration, those against illegal immigration, and those who are neutral. Those perspectives have also changed over time with varying people stepping into positions of power, therefore having influence on the public’s take on immigration. 

Currently, the U.S. is among one of the countries with those in power who don’t agree with immigrants coming here. President Trump has always been vocal about how he feels about political topics, especially immigration. One of his earliest promises during his presidential campaign was “we need to build a wall” referring to the increasing amount of people traveling from Mexico. Over the past decade, we’ve seen more and more hostile feelings towards immigrants, especially when Trump stepped into office. His beliefs have included prejudices like Mexicans are out to steal American jobs as well as calling them “thieves” and “rapists.” His opinions on immigrants aren’t exclusive to those traveling from Mexico, though. He has also spoken about Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Haiti.

With more and more people following Trump’s ideology around immigration, we also see figures with platforms begin to speak, including those involved with Fox News, the conservative streaming network. Sean Hannity, who, according to Forbes, pulled the highest ratings of all cable news shows last year, admitted that while he believes the study that found that 98 percent of immigrants come seeking a better life, it’s the two percent that are involved with gangs and crime that he focuses on. Hannity and Lou Dobbs (another Fox commentator) are two people Trump is reported to consult regularly when making policy decisions. Tucker Carlson, another Fox commentator, shares similar feelings with Trump and Hannity. It is also his firm belief that they’ll throw off the balance of our country because of multiculturalism, when multiple cultures are present in society, and that they created a spike in crime/incarceration rates. Carlson is among those praised by white supremacists such as David Duke and Richard Spencer because he projects the perception that marginalized groups are a threat to the U.S. because they don’t belong here.

 “When you have figures with a large audience saying lies and generalizations about how safe we are, or who immigrants are, or how entire nationalities behave, and there isn’t any pushback on their network about whether or not that’s reality, people will just accept the stereotypes and feel afraid and not realize how much of it is untrue,” Lee Lipzfiger, a government teacher at Franklin says. 

Immigration wasn’t widely viewed as negative until the past decade, though, and previous presidents have even felt very strongly about protecting those coming into our country. Previous leading figures were very intentional about being open minded about our immigration policy. While George W. Bush was our commander in chief, he exercised compassion towards immigrants through his experience as a border governor, having been there as people traveled into Texas. When asked about children attending our schools who came into the U.S. illegally, Bush responded that he didn’t want any child being refused education, which has been a longstanding debate with our current immigration policy. Ronald Reagan showed similar feelings by sharing that he sees Mexico as our neighbor rather than a threat and would prefer to work on being more understanding than turning to conflict. These peaceful feelings allowed immigrants to seek a home here using a less hostile process simply because our former presidents saw immigrants as people with opportunity in mind rather than conflict. They allowed people migrating to the states to come here and be safe while waiting out their trial period. 

Immigration policy will remain strict for some time and will likely worsen for immigrants while President Trump or those with similar views to him are in office. The U.S. was once a place among those that welcomes immigrants, now people migrating here live in fear that they’ll find a land that they can’t make home of. 

“If you are worried there is a politician who wants to bully people, the most important people to protect and fight for are immigrants,” says Lipzfiger. White supremacists are afraid. They are afraid of the minority and it is that fear that has resulted in unsolicited belligerence towards immigrants. Our political influencers have convinced the majority of our country that by allowing people to come here seeking sanctuary, we are putting those that are already here at risk. Yet our past presidents opened their arms to people pursuing a safe life, and found that by being humanitarian, we made allies rather than enemies. 

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