With an increasing number of people wanting to immigrate to the U.S., the discussion of an immigrant’s role in our country has grown. This discussion often focuses on the relationship between immigrants and the U.S. economy. It can take the form of myths that claim that immigrants don’t pay taxes, abuse the welfare system, send their earnings abroad, and don’t contribute to the U.S. economy, becoming a burden. Immigration advocates disprove these misconceptions by advocating for the crucial role immigrants hold in our economy. When debunking these misconceptions, we must be wary of the risks of frequently equating immigration to a country’s economic growth. This practice suggests that an immigrant’s value is dependent on economic systems when in reality they are so much more.
Donald Trump, who falsely stated that immigrants are “taking our money” and “killing us,” reduces the immigrant population in the United States to a mere economic strain. This is a prime example of Republicans concentrating their campaigns on the idea that “immigrants are a burden to the U.S. economy.” While Trump is using anti-immigrant rhetoric, the common counter-argument that immigrants are a crucial “economic asset” supports the dehumanization of immigrants. This strategy does not eliminate racial biases and stereotypes because it still focuses on the economy. Immigrants are corrected to an “economic asset” instead of an “economic burden.”
There is a common argument in the United States that immigration is necessary because immigrants fill jobs that other people don’t want to do. Guest talk host on The View, Kelly Osbourne, criticized Donald Trump for his campaign launch speech that claimed Mexico was bringing in rapists when she stated, “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilet, Donald Trump?” This statement does not promote solidarity with immigrants. Instead, immigrants are reduced to the unpleasant, filthy work of cleaning toilets, and are assumed to be house cleaners, a racial stereotype often associated with Latinx individuals. Additionally, although immigrant labor plays a significant role in “essential work,” it should not be the only thing related to immigrants. Regardless of citizenship, no one should have their value determined by the quality of their labor.
This issue extends to politicians. In a speech, former President Barack Obama proposed that his administration’s immigration plan focused on increasing border security, granting millions of immigrants the right to work legally in the United States, and directing deportations to felons which Obama claimed would boost the economy and shrink deficits. Obama’s appeal to bipartisan interests is understandable, yet always turning to the economy when discussing immigration reforms sets a dangerous precedent. Obama left office with a reputation as the “Deporter in Chief” due to the high number of deportations of over 3 million people that occurred during his term. After deporting 2 million immigrants in 2014, the National Immigration Youth Alliance, a grassroots movement that advocates for youth immigration equality, stated that they lost respect for the former president. The Obama administration broke up families and instilled the constant fear of deportation throughout immigrant communities. Additionally, the increase in ICE raids during his term indicates that his agenda was not considering the quality of life of immigrants in the U.S.
Let’s move away from viewing immigration through an economic perspective and instead humanize the immigration debate in educational settings, the media, and legislation. The image of an American citizen is associated with basic human rights. Equality and liberty should be applied to immigrants as well. We should maintain empathy for immigrant communities and how they are affected by immigration policies and discourse.
Zahira Vasquez is an Opinion Intern for the spring 2023 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.