While it is important to analyze the impact of immigration on labor-force economics, we should promote more morality-based, humanizing rhetoric about immigrant policies and the violent realities they often obscure.
Every time a new immigration plan that favors “high-skilled” workers over “low-skilled” workers is unveiled, critics come out in waves to explain that yes, immigration is economically beneficial to the U.S. and, no, this is not limited to those immigrants with advanced educational degrees and technical skills.
Trump’s recent immigration proposal, which is unlikely to become law, proposes to change the American immigration landscape through a series of controversial measures: securing the border through construction of the border wall; protecting American wages by decreasing immigrant low-skilled and low-wage labor; implementing a points-based merit system to increase from 12 percent to 57 percent the proportion of immigrants legally admitted based on skill; and, limiting asylum-based immigration through closing its so-called legal “loopholes.”
Clearly, these aims are focused on making our immigration system one that is primarily based on skill-level. This would, of course, come with with a cost: fewer “low-skilled” people would be able to immigrate as asylum-seekers and these individuals would be forced to return to an environment from which they were willing to risk their lives to escape.
I do not suggest that critics of President Trump’s proposal are wrong to point out that American construction companies and farms need more immigrant workers to maintain their operations, that immigration is not the mass epidemic it is made to seem in conservative news media despite the radical rhetoric utilized by the Trump administration, and that dwindling immigration will stagnate American economic growth.
But, I do argue that it is harmful when we criticize nativist immigration policies only and primarily in terms of their economic impact.
Simultaneous to this economic discussion about the value of immigration have been visceral exposes on the treatment of detained persons who cross the American border illegally, many of whom are seeking to escape cycles of poverty and violence and many of whom are also unaccompanied minors. Last week, 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez from Guatemala died in Border Control care in South Texas from the flu. In April, another 16-year-old boy U.S. care. In December, it was an eight-year-old boy. Before that, a seven-year-old girl. Rightfully so, these deaths have caused outrage; many who have expressed such outrage are also among opponents to Republican immigration proposals.
So, where are the discussions on how President Trump’s new proposal would likely restrict individuals fleeing violent realities from finding refuge in the U.S.? Even though the proposal is unrealistic and is unlikely to be adopted, President Trump has recently taken concrete action; in his memo to Homeland Security and the Attorney General, he has called on the departments to issue regulations to restrict grants of asylum, even suggesting that those seeking asylum should pay a fee when crossing the border, despite the general understanding that asylum-seeking is a basic human right.
We have an obligation to deconstruct Trump’s vendetta
It is clear that President Trump has a vendetta against those who come to the U.S. in search of safety, rather than those who come for highly coveted job offers. His position on this has been made clear time and time again; his family separation policy, besides simply being cruel, had the added implication of evading restrictions on how long the U.S. can detain parents with children who are seeking asylum.
We have an obligation to deconstruct this vendetta. By prioritizing immigrants’ economic contributions over the inherent immorality of denying asylum, we are missing the xenophobic core of these immigration restrictions.
Just as we understand that using the politicized label “undocumented immigrants” better humanizes individuals who come to the U.S. than that of “illegal aliens,” which acts as to fear-monger, we need to ensure that the content of our reporting, too, serves to humanize. People who flee their homes to protect their lives and the lives of their children demand our respect, empathy, and solidarity.
When the majority of media coverage on immigration policy focuses solely on the economic contribution of those seeking asylum, we erase the often violent realities these individuals will face if they are deported, instead reducing individuals down to a calculated market-value.
Our discussions on Trump’s policy proposals should not be limited to their domestic economic ramifications. Sure, this labor-force discourse is needed in a world dominated by such concerns so that we may enact evidence-based policies. But, above all, we have the imperative to center the humanities of undocumented immigrants and to promote immigration rhetoric that is moralistic in nature.