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The Anti-Immigrant Movement and the National Immigration Debate

Chris Griffin • Sep 06, 2011

Over the past two decades the anti-immigrant movement has dominated immigration discourse in America, leading to some of the harshest and most extreme policies and rhetoric in decades.

This became true following the tragic events on September 11, 2001.

Since then and through major anti-immigrant lobbying efforts by groups such as FAIR and CIS – both founded and largely funded by the white nationalist John Tanton – the immigration debate was hijacked and shackled by rhetoric of terrorism and border security.  In the process, undocumented immigrants were socially constructed as an inherent threat to or burden on society.

Empathy, humanity, and reason evaporated quickly.

In fact, according to an article for ABC World News, President George W. Bush said in an interview that:

“I firmly believe that the immigration debate really didn’t show the true nature of America as a welcoming society. I fully understand we need to enforce law and enforce borders. But the debate took on a tone that undermined the true greatness of America, which is that we welcome people who want to work hard and support their families.”

Bush, like many others, moved away from his own agenda, values, and principles to accommodate an anti-immigrant agenda that he disagreed with.  Getting Bush to undermine American values was just the beginning, however.

The anti-immigrant movement has also sought to infiltrate state governments across America, in an overall effort to deport millions of people.  In Arizona, they called it “attrition through enforcement,” i.e. the process of making conditions so harsh and unlivable for migrants so as to grind away the undocumented population here.

It’s a back door mass deportation agenda in disguise.

Though Arizona is one of a few states, along with Georgia and Alabama, leading the nation in anti-immigrant extremism, many states and counties have given into this enforcement only mentality and signed on to, enacted, or attempted to enact harsh legislation.  However, resistance to this mentality has grown greatly over the years, as well, and more and more people are seeing no benefit from anti-immigrant policies, fiscal or otherwise.

This realization has led to various counties and states to opt out of the Federal Immigration program called “Secure Communities.”   Many cities have also passed a wide variety of resolutions to break away from this enforcement mentality. And so, a growing number of states are passing their own versions of the Dream Act.

Even in Arizona, where it once seemed that any anti-immigrant legislation that extremist State Senate President Russell Pearce put forward would pass, the largely Republican State Legislature said no more, voting down all five major immigration laws proposed this past legislative session.  Arizona-style immigration laws proposed in other states this year have also failed nearly across the board.

Perhaps much more significant, the Obama administration has also recently announced a shift in federal immigration policy.  “Under the new policy announced [in August], the Department of Homeland Security will suspend deportation proceedings on young, undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to public safety or national security.”

This policy shift has been attacked by anti-immigrant hordes as a form of back door amnesty, when in reality it just seems that way in juxtaposition to the extreme enforcement-only-mentality they worship.  It is possibly a single step in the right direction, but it will still lead to many unjust deportations, many families will still be torn apart, and other families will continue to live in uncertainty as they wait for a final decision on their immigration status.

Whatever the case, this is not amnesty.

The potential good news, however, is that the White House’s announcement will hopefully spark a greater debate in the 2012 election.  If we are to utilize this opportunity to influence the national immigration debate we cannot give into the enforcement-only mentality.  We cannot entertain the language and logic of the anti-immigrant movement.  And we must avoid falling prey to the illusion of compromise.

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