Immigrants and native-born citizens equally benefit or suffer from a nation's policies.
In another instance of anti-immigrant rhetoric, John Kelly, President Trump’s chief of staff, stated that while not all immigrants are criminals, many immigrants have a hard time assimilating into American society:
[T]he vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. They're not MS-13. ... But they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They're overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English; obviously that's a big thing. ... They don't integrate well; they don't have skills. They're not bad people. They're coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. ... The big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long (NPR, May 10, 2018).
These types of statements have been commonplace since the 1990’s anti-immigrant ideological campaigns and policies such as California’s Proposition 187, barring undocumented immigrants from receiving social services and rights. There are also historical precedents for these types of arguments being directed to German, Swedish, Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants. Today as well as in the past, these arguments are less about facts and more about xenophobia and racial superiority complexes.
Contrary to common political rhetoric, immigration does not represent a zero-sum game in which jobs, services, and resources consumed by immigrants cause there to be less resources for taxpayers and working-class citizens. It is a fact that immigrants open businesses at higher rates than their U.S.-born counterparts do; many bring large amounts of capital to invest in the U.S. and thus employ many citizens. Highly-skilled immigrants provide knowledge and needed technical help and scientific research to various industry sectors. Low-skilled immigrants decrease the prices we pay for many products and services and thus indirectly subsidize the American middle-class.
Contrary to common political rhetoric, immigration does not represent a zero-sum game in which jobs, services, and resources consumed by immigrants cause there to be less resources for taxpayers and working-class citizens.
The findings discussed in my new book A Place to Call Home Immigrant Exclusion and Urban Belonging in New York, Paris, and Barcelona, show how local governments and people in New York and Barcelona have done a good job, and interfered less, in making immigrants feel at home in these cities. The children of immigrants learn the local language and are highly acculturated, while they still take part in some family traditions. Paris, on the other hand, has too many expectations of immigrants, pressing them to immediately become French and identify as French, while the city does not truly provide equal opportunities in schools and the job market. No city is perfect; many immigrants are stuck in low-skilled jobs, face discrimination, and are racially profiled by police and racist residents. Yet what matters most is the balance between exclusion and integration: how many employers, organizations, and neighbors treat immigrants the same as they treat other residents, over how many exclude them and make them feel out of place. Some cities are more likely to allow immigrants to find a place to call home where they can grow and flourish through time and effort, where they have objective gains such as a stable job, housing, and a chance to study, but also where they have a subjective feeling of belonging to the city.
Genuine populism, fighting for the small guy, does not exclude immigrants and minorities, but aims to help all those in need and whose rights have been compromised, to increase opportunities for persevering individuals, and to reduce group inequalities. A fight against immigrants, minorities, and non-citizens ends up eroding democracy and citizenship rights, rather than strengthening them. Failing to respond adequately to natural disasters in poor areas of New Orleans or Puerto Rico also leaves New York City and Washington more vulnerable against a growing number of natural disasters. Justifications for the surveillance of foreigners makes spying on citizens easier; screenings at airports and checkpoints slows transit for citizens; protecting the border and waving constitutional provisions near territorial borders ends up weakening the civil rights of people living in the US/Mexico border but also in the US/Canada border and on both the East and the West Coast (Bhandari 2018). Planning to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens dilutes citizenship rights for everyone.
Genuine populism, fighting for the small guy, does not exclude immigrants and minorities, but aims to help all those in need and whose rights have been compromised, to increase opportunities for persevering individuals, and to reduce group inequalities.
In studying for over a decade what practices and policies make immigrants feel at home and integrate into their community, I have concluded that what is good for immigrants is good for the native-born citizens and vice versa. Reductions in racial profiling, well-funded public schools, enforced living wage laws, safe and well-funded public parks and community centers, active non-profit organizations and social groups, collective participation in politics that goes beyond electoral channels, and access to well-funded schools all help immigrants integrate, succeed and contribute to their fullest. These processes also have similar benefits for natives. Contrary to what some nativist ideologues would have us believe, this reminds us that there are more similarities than differences between established residents and newcomers.