The Trump administration uses the immigration issue for political purposes. Its actions regarding the separation of families and keeping asylum seekers outside the U.S. is shameful and illegal. In addition, the blatant discrimination against Muslims is outrageous.
Unfortunately, immigration has also been a political hot potato other times in U.S. history, particularly when the economy was not performing well. Immigration policy has sometimes been used to discriminate legally against the “other.” It was also often based on political expediency and the desire to maintain the status quo.
Two discriminatory laws were the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1924 Immigration Act that set up a quota system based on U.S. population composition in 1890. This quota system favored future immigration from Northern and Western Europe and worked against future immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. This act also greatly reduced immigrants from Asia.
In 1965 Congress finally did away with the discriminatory quota system and enacted a preferential system designed to reunite immigrant families and to attract skilled immigrants to the U.S. There have been several other changes to immigration laws since then, including the 1986 Act that provided ways of allowing some undocumented immigrants to legalize their residence here. Under the Ronald Reagan administration about 3 million undocumented immigrants were granted amnesty. In the 1984 presidential debate, Reagan said: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”
The number of immigrants here without papers in 2016 was about 10.7 million. This number has been decreasing as more of these immigrants are leaving than arriving and is at a 25-year low coming across the southern border. This decrease challenges the idea of a crisis. In addition, according to the 2018 Pew report, more than 2/3 of undocumented immigrants had been in the U.S. for 10 years or more. These immigrants are certainly a rooted population similar to those who received Reagan’s amnesty.
An important question that is usually ignored is why people choose to leave their homes, to leave all that is familiar and to enter a strange land. Persecution and lack of security are key reasons. Another important reason is the lack of opportunity for providing sufficient food and housing for one’s self and family.
Unethical as well as illegal U.S. actions have also played a major role in creating the conditions causing people to emigrate. Trade deals that primarily benefit giant U.S. corporations have made life extremely difficult for the poor in Central America and Mexico. The US has also pushed these countries to wage drug wars that have been incredibly violent and massive failures.
Moreover, U.S. support for ousting democratic leaders and replacing them with brutal dictators has played a role in increasing this emigration. Thus the U.S. has a moral and legal responsibility to treat these immigrants in compliance with U.S. and international laws as well as humanely as Reagan did.
If President Trump really wanted to resolve the immigration issue, he would change U.S. policies to improve the quality of life in other nations instead of pursuing policies that make life more difficult.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs Fridays in the Colorado Daily.