There seem to be basically three conscious reasons and one less conscious reason why some Americans are ostensibly adamantly opposed to any kind of “amnesty” for people who did not immigrate here through proper channels.
One source of anger is a sort of probably misplaced jealousy that people who are not even supposed to be here are taking jobs that American workers need and are being given benefits which come from taxes on hard-working Americans. This is complicated by laws which state that anyone born in America is automatically a citizen of America. When immigrant families, “legal” or not, have children, their children do become eligible for benefits such as food stamps and free public education.
Changing “Complexion” of America
A second source of agitation is that Americans who are legal citizens (but whose parents were immigrants) do not like the changes they see in, let’s say, the complexion of America. We were always most unkind to immigrants, even if they arrived on our shores legally, if they were not of white European descent. We were happy to have Chinese laborers but not happy to accept them as neighbors. The same is true of others who arrived from Asian nations such as Japanese immigrants. We spoke of “black” Irishmen and we thought the skin of Italians a bit too toasty for our tastes. This discrimination based on skin color is driving some of the rage that some Americans experience as they are told in the media that Americans of European descent will soon be the minority in our previously majority white nation. With the arrival of more Muslim immigrants not only is the “color” of our nation changing, Americans are worried that Christianity will no longer be the primary religion in our nation and that when or if this change occurs we will no longer be America.
The very people who seem to object most to the changing complexion of our nation are possibly related to the Americans who bear the most responsibility for introducing non-Europeans onto American soil. In fact they kidnapped them from their African homes and enslaved them here where they became “property”. Once our principles caught up with us we did correct this situation but it has hardly been totally redressed. The descendants of slave owners continue to mourn a way of life that is so abhorrent to most of us that we cannot understand the attraction. These descendants have never actually stopped nursing their grievances about losing the Civil War, which makes them pretty sore losers and yet gives them, incongruently, enormous arrogance and pride. However deeply they bury the sentiment, they have never truly forgiven the rest of us for allowing non-Europeans, black folks, to mingle in American culture as equals. So we also have this strand running through our current emotional resentments to immigrants.
We Don’t Know Each Other
Immigrants tend to hang on to the languages and customs of the lands they came from. They tend to gather in communities where they can feel comfortable and speak the same language, eat the same foods, and experience the warmth that being in a strange land robs them of until they can assimilate. The first generation often experiences difficulty with learning to speak in the English language which is the only language most Americans know. The second generation usually can communicate more successfully. (These are generalization to which there are many exceptions.)
With this wave of immigrants from Muslim nations we have the added strangeness of women who wear headscarves as their religion requires. It provides another marker besides skin color that sets these particular immigrants apart and this tends to bother many Americans. In American we don’t wear headscarves. Some see the scarves as a sign that women in Muslim culture are not as free, or indeed are placed below their husbands in rank, a position which American women have trouble accepting, having fought so long and hard for their own imperfect emancipation. Others feel that refusing to give up headscarves means that Muslims do not want to assimilate with American culture. It also makes Muslim women easy to categorize as foreign.
Languages and customs and the desire to have some sense of a human community that is familiar, along with economics, tend to keep immigrants separate from other Americans. For people here without documents the situation is even more pronounced because of the need to stay hidden and keep their secrets. Although there is mixing between the wealthy or the farmers who often hire people with no papers, it is not the mixing of social equals. The fact that many “undocumented” people work in service to Americans with citizenship rights allows those who are the boss class to look upon the “servant” class as populated by people who are “less”.
Because there are often few opportunities for Americans, especially suburban and rural Americans, to meet and socialize with newly arrived immigrants, both legally-here and not legally here it is quite easy to see these groups as “invaders” who are pushing aside “real” Americans, taking our jobs, sharing our benefits which we are already in jeopardy of losing because our government is arguing that these benefit programs are unsustainable and even counterproductive.
They Did Something Illegal and They Must Be Punished
How can people who are not even supposed to be here be collecting benefits, Americans ask? There is a feeling that our nation is not a just nation because it is kicking “real” Americans to the curb and yet it is offering their tax dollars to people who are basically criminals. And criminals deserve to be punished not showered with free gifts. Even though Americans who think this way may realize that they are overstating the great good fortune of the “illegals,” they believe it is true enough that they are justified in being thoroughly ticked off, and the feelings are sometimes so strong that violence could fairly easily be ignited.
It did not help that many of the most recent immigrants, both legal and illegal, arrived in America just as good jobs were becoming scarce. Factories were closing in the North and moving South. Then they were closing in the South and moving out, mostly to Asia. There were empty factories everywhere. People did not find it difficult to make a connection, however false, between immigrants and increasing numbers of unemployed Americans. Although many studies have been published that debunk this logic, that say that most immigrants did not and could not take jobs away from Americans, displaced workers are convinced that someone who wasn’t born here has their job or the job that would have replaced the job they lost.
There is plenty of evidence available on the internet to debunk both the argument that immigrants are getting lots of benefits and that they are taking our jobs. If you think my claims are wrong, do a web search. The problem is that you can find evidence for almost any point of view on the internet if you are not too choosey about your sources. David Brooks, who leans right, has written two very cogent recent articles on this subject.
Outcomes of Making Decisions Based on Negative Emotions
Logic barely makes a dent in this complicated mass of negative emotions. The smallest piece of news about these matters that appears to remind Americans that our nation is no longer as white or as Christian as it once was sets off new waves of resentment and makes the plans of the current administration to deport everyone who has not “behaved” and is here illegally back to their country of origin regardless of how they may be treated once they get there sound pretty appealing.
It is entirely possible that these Americans will not understand the down side to this pogrom until it is well under way and by then we will already be pariahs throughout the very European nations we so revere, and many other nations besides. Nations all around our temporarily tumultuous world are being inundated with immigrants who they must accept because it would be inhumane not to. They cannot be expected to feel any sympathy for the very minor disarrangements we are experiencing in America. They are saying “man up” and “get a grip”.
No matter how badly we might want to turn inwards and be that sort-of-white Christian America of old the upheavals of the times are against us. There are 7+ billion people now on our very small planet. Population density alone changes everything and it is way more essential that we address the ramifications of this upward trend than that we build walls or put people on buses and planes and “return to sender.” I love my country and I don’t want to bring disorder and lawlessness to it but our feelings right now look rather petty compared to the pictures of the devastation, starvation, and thuggery that people around the world are experiencing. Although I think we will eventually have to take in more immigrants, my argument right now is just that we probably need to keep the ones who are already here because we will lose all our allies if we don’t.