Parts of U.S. immigration policy simply make no logical sense—unless you look at them through the lens of racism.
Our current system spends billions of dollars each year to prosecute, detain and deport hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have been in the U.S. for decades and contribute far more to our economy than they consume.
We limit guest worker visas for farmworkers and other jobs to less than half the demand that exists, even in times of low unemployment. We lock up people who cross the border in search of jobs or to reunite with their families when it would be far more economical (not to mention humane) to provide better legal avenues for such migration.
Immigration officials round up and deport immigrants with old and minor criminal convictions, though doing so serves no public safety goal. Politicians portray immigrants as dangerous threats, despite the fact that crime rates are significantly lower for immigrants when compared with their U.S.-born counterparts.
Our government is ending Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of long-time residents, costing the economy an estimated $45 billion over 10 years. We are on the brink of deporting nearly 700,000 “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. as children, even though deporting them would cost taxpayers $60 billion and the U.S. economy $200 billion (according to the libertarian Cato Institute). A 2009 Cato study estimated that passing a broad immigration reform bill would bring $180 billion in net economic benefits, yet Congress cannot find the will to do so.
So why do policymakers continue to craft laws that are bad for our economy, bad for families and that do nothing to improve public safety? The ugly truth is that such polices only make logical sense if they are motivated by a deeply rooted desire to keep America “white.”
The racist underpinnings of U.S. immigration policy were laid bare recently when President Trump made vulgar comments about immigrants from Haiti and countries in Africa while at the same time praising immigrants from Norway. But he was hardly the first politician to harbor such views. Our country has a long history of restricting and maligning immigrants based on race or religion, from Irish Catholic immigrants in the 19th century to Chinese immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to, more recently, Latin American, African and Muslim immigrants.
Family immigration laws enacted in the 1960s were created, in part, to ensure more migration from European countries. Now that those same laws are allowing many non-European immigrants to bring family members they are under attack as “chain migration.”
In Leviticus 19:34, God instructs us to remember that God’s people were once migrants in the land of Egypt and, as such, we should love migrants among us as we love ourselves. Each of us should consider whether our attitude toward immigrants might be clouded by racial prejudice—or unknowingly influenced by the racist motivations of others. And we should continue to call out our policymakers when they are clearly motivated by hateful bigotry.
Immigrants in our communities are school teachers and health care workers. They help put food on our tables and care for the youngest and oldest members of our society. They start businesses and create jobs. From a purely logical perspective, the U.S. should welcome more immigrants. Unfortunately, the ugly logic of racism still underpins too many of our laws and policy debates.