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The Anti-Immigration Movement in the U.S.

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

The United States of America, a nation created in the wake of colonialism, is a nation of immigrants. From its founding, the U.S. has struggled with the tension between the mythos born around the archetype of the brave immigrant (as seen in the glowing idealized narrative surrounding puritan settlers at Thanksgiving, the city on the hill symbolized in our Statue of Liberty iconography, and the popular melting pot analogy of the late 20th century), and a fierce need to protect borders, power structures, and the “whiteness” of the population.

Image from Wix

“Whiteness” as an ethnic group or social class hearkens back to the justification for colonialism and enslavement/genocide of Indigenous peoples, and as a construct has had a fluid definition depending on the time period and people in power at the time.

Benjamin Franklin* at the founding of our country, considered German immigrants to be non-white and warned against allowing too many of them to settle in the United States. Likewise, Scandinavian immigrants and the Irish in later years were considered non-white outsiders and threatening to the well-being of the United States. Eventually, each of these groups gained power, assimilated, and then adopted the nebulous label of whiteness themselves.

The humanitarian crisis at the US border, as well as the spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the Covid-19 pandemic, has brought to sharp focus the resurgence of anti-immigrant hatred and xenophobia that has simmered since the founding of the United States.

Fear has long been a rhetorical device used to garner support from political parties or candidates, and anti-immigrant fear has once again surged to the forefront of many nativist candidates’ agendas. Mis-information, stereotypes, and hate speech have moved from the fringes of political and public discourse to being normalized and mainstreamed.

An executive summary by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in November of 2018 quantified the extent to which anti-immigrant hate had become mainstream. This echoes recent findings by the FBI that white nationalist groups are now one of the major threats to national security**. You can read the full report by the ADL, titled "Mainstreaming Hate: The Anti-Immigrant Movement in the U.S.", including their policy recommendations, on their website here.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has compiled a list of anti-immigrant hate groups currently operating within the United States. We encourage you to read through the list and take note of the ones that are active within your state of residence. It’s important knowledge to have when researching political candidates who may accept donations from these organizations. You can find the list here.

Erika Lee, who wrote a powerful book on the history of Xenophobia in the United States titled, "America for Americans", spearheaded a beautiful project of immigrant stories. We believe that one of the most powerful ways to combat fear, hatred, and xenophobia is to share stories of human experience. Storytelling, at its finest, nurtures bonds of empathy, understanding, and wholeness within all of us.

The Immigration History Research Center of the University of Minnesota created the Immigrant Stories project in 2013 "to collect contemporary migration stories through digital storytelling"***. We hope you will take a few moments to watch this beautiful video detailing the project, here. Watch any of the over 375 personal stories representing more than 50 different communities at the Immigrant Stories Collection, here.

The humanitarian crisis at the border can seem overwhelming, but we hope that you will find sources of information and discourse that seek understanding from a compassionate worldview in which there is no zero-sum outcome, but one where we all rise together as we serve and love and protect the most vulnerable among us. As a nation of immigrants, it is our responsibility to refuse to buy into anti-immigration rhetoric, instead working to welcome new immigrants into the U.S.




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