Friday, August 28, 2015

'Anchor Babies' and Other Horror Stories About Immigrants: Be Not Afraid

I was on a call-in radio show late one night this week to discuss immigration and my new book, Dream Chasers: Immigration and the American Backlash. The radio station, WBZ, is a CBS affiliate in Boston that reaches much of the northeast United States, so I expected some conservative blowback to my unapologetically progressive stances, but not much. What I got, though, I wasn't prepared for: unremitting anger at "illegals" for ripping off the system. This, in liberal Massachusetts.
I was taken aback because my strong sense in researching and writing the book was that the economic argument about unauthorized immigrants -- that they are "stealing" jobs native-born Americans would gladly have -- was largely a thing of the past. I argued that it was cultural issues -- use of Spanish, the threat of crime and terrorism, jumping the line of those wanting to immigrate, and racism -- which stirred so much anger.
But the callers and the radio host kept harping on how "illegals" were getting federal and state benefits they didn't deserve, were undercutting American workers, were lowering wages overall, were stressing schools and hospitals, weren't paying taxes, and so on: economic issues, perhaps fueled by the cultural anxiety I explained in Dream Chasers, but economic all the same.
Of course, times remain very difficult for people in the lower 75 percent of income in the United States, and immigrants of all kinds have, historically, been among the principal targets of blame for economic stress. Real income growth in the last twenty years has been only 9 percent, with most of the growth coming during the 1990s. People are rightly frustrated, although blaming low-income workers is scarcely warranted.

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