I have a name, though some Americans simply think of me as illegal. Their frustration with the nation’s current state of affairs means they are willing to strip their fellow humans of their names and decry their entire existence as immoral. Is there merit to this act? Do we truly believe that the immigrant with the money and time to secure lawful immigration is good while the immigrant who did not is bad? Do morality and justice align perfectly with the law? Americans should ponder these questions and recognize that an issue as complex as that of immigration should never be considered in black and white terms. The moral implications of this simplistic perception of immigration must be considered if justice has any hope of guiding the lawful treatment of immigrants in America.
The United States is in urgent need of comprehensive immigration reform; this cannot be disputed. For those who lust for power, though, the issue of immigration allows for a golden opportunity to incite the passion of the masses by preying on their insecurities. The narrative of the violent illegal is particularly successful because it targets many Americans’ anxieties regarding foreign forces invading and defiling the American way of life. Those propagating the idea that undocumented immigrants are base creatures need only present them as such and thus offer an answer to the grievances of desperate Americans.
One does not need to reach too far into the past to find an example of such a strategy. In his presidential announcement speech, Donald Trump’s introductory assurance that “our country is in serious trouble” immediately established the dystopian image of ransacked America upon which his presidential platform is built. According to Trump, a large part of the problem is that Mexico and the rest of Latin America “[send] people that have lots of problems” — drugs, crime and a propensity for raping. The image is graphic and provides a villainous face at which the people may focus their resentment and fear. Trump inflames this sensibility against the image of the violent immigrant by describing how Mexico “takes a company” originally planned for Tennessee and “rips it out” for itself. The violent language compliments the image of the Mexican immigrant — in this case a job thief — which Trump carefully established. Its effect is profound; Trump scratched at the wounds of the American people and set the stage for his most powerful image: America as its citizens’ promised land.
The American dream promises that hardworking citizens prosper in this country; however, something is terribly, terribly wrong. Americans swear they have kept their side of the bargain through their willingness to work, but they are not receiving their dues as tradition states they ought. Is the immigrant to blame? Is the answer so simple? Or is the answer perhaps multifaceted, involving an economic and political system that allows for American companies to take advantage of low-cost country sourcing? Can it be that Latin-American immigrants are truly violent criminals? Or is it more likely that the actions of a few were brought to the forefront by those with a very specific political agenda in an effort to dehumanize and vilify the many? Regardless of the truth, Trump assures his supporters that politicians have failed to lead them to success, promising in his speech that “they will not bring us … to the promised land.”
It is easy to feel entitled to a comfortable life, and even easier to trim the edges of truth and arrange what little is left into a picture of the American citizen as a tragic hero wronged by the villainous immigrant. However, the consequences of considering issues such as immigration and its effects on the American people in simplistic, archetypal terms are far-reaching. Such thinking preys on our fear, allowing our prejudices to overcome our capacity for reasoning and making just decisions in regards to how we address the issue of immigration within the United States.
As evidenced by his speech announcing his candidacy in 2015, Trump is a talented storyteller, presenting an image of America pillaged by immigrants that he alone can save. Are we prepared to renounce our reason and accept this image for the sake of convenience? What do we make of young immigrants like me who were brought to the country as children, long before we could consent to the act or reason about its consequences? In his speech, Trump reduces the entirety the immigrant into an expertly drawn caricature in an attempt to manipulate Americans into believing that immigrants stand in the way of them receiving their promised prosperity. I am not an image — no one is. I hope those who stand in neutrality regarding immigration will allow themselves to be guided by reason and compassion rather than fear and hatred when considering how our president addresses the issue of immigration in the next four years.
Correction (1/25/17 at 10:21 p.m.): The Wheel removed the author’s last name from this op-ed because of a misunderstanding regarding attribution.