Magazine article University Business

America's Love-Hate Relationship with Immigrants: One College President Questions the Renewed Animosity toward This Group

Magazine article University Business

America's Love-Hate Relationship with Immigrants: One College President Questions the Renewed Animosity toward This Group

Article excerpt

WITH A DIVISIVE ISSUE like immigration, the cartoon aracter Pogo perhaps summarized it best: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Today, even some anthropologists suggest Native Americans immigrated here and displaced the then-current indigenous people. The point is simple: All Americans came from somewhere else--whether voluntarily or involuntarily. At one time, we were all immigrants.

Why then is there a renewed animosity toward immigrants? There's the legal issue, of course: Those who enter the country illegally avoid some taxes while reaping some social service safety net benefits, like education. But these individuals have fewer protections than those who legally enter the workforce. Even legal immigrants cost the country more than they initially contribute to it.

A case can certainly be made against illegal immigration. But why is it suddenly an issue today? Former President Ronald Reagan opened amnesty to all illegal immigrants as late as 1986. The vast majority of Americans did not object.

THE PER-CAPITA INCOME CONNECTION

Historic trends may help to explain the current animosity. It appears that when Americans believe their per-capita income is growing, there are relatively few negative feelings toward recent immigrants. Conversely, when income is not growing, Americans shun immigrants.

* The 1840s recessions resulted in strict immigration restrictions. Post-Civil War, when the national economy was booming, restrictions were lifted and immigration was encouraged.

* During the 1890s and early 1900s panics, strict immigration limitations were enacted. They were liberalized during the 1920s economic boom.

* The Great Depression produced strict limitations on immigration again. But post-World-War-II's economic boom witnessed a much more open policy.

* The economically lethargic 1970s saw another wave of restrictive policies. By the mid-1980s, the situation again reversed itself. In 2000, Pat Buchanan was the only anti-immigrant candidate. …

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