America’s ambiguous relationship with immigrants?

House passes bill to tighten flow of Syrian refugees and according to Bloomberg poll most Americans oppose Syrian refugee resettlement. How do you read this debate, what does it mean in the context of American politics, society? Read few comments.

Steffen SchmidtUniversity Professor of Political Science, Iowa State University

The United States has always had an ambiguous relationship with immigrants.

One the one hand it is a “nation of immigrants” and proud of that. It also is a nation that has accepted and admitted the refugees of the world as it says on the Statue of Liberty in the famous sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

BUT at the same time Americans have had periods of severe anti foreigner sentiment as the The Chinese Exclusion Act of May 6, 1882 demonstrates . It was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in US history, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers.

Another example is Operation Wetback (1954) a response to pressure from farmers and business interests in the United States against Mexican illegals.  After implementation, “Operation Wetback gave rise to arrests and deportations by the U.S. Border Patrol characterized by physical abuse and civil rights violations, and even deportations of hundreds of U. S. citizens unable to convince border agents of their status.”

So the current anti-illegal immigrant debate is nothing new it is part of a recurring cycle of concern partly about jobs being taken by immigrants willing t work cheaply made much worse now by the specter of Syrian and ISIS terrorists coming into the country.

Donald Trump has found a very receptive political following who are concerned mostly about wage depression and job losses to immigrants.

I think it will be very difficult for Obama to receive Syrian and African immigrants at this moment in time. Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side also are having to make some very difficult decisions. Democrats are generally more favorable to refugees but this year may be an exception. There is a lot of nationalism and even chauvinism in the United states at this moment.

Marty Linsky, Adjunct Lecturer, Harvard University, Co-founder, Cambridge Leadership Associates

We are in the midst of a political campaign. All politicians’ responses mist be seen through that lens. It is about risk. No Governor wants to be responsible if something awful happens on her/his watch. Nevertheless, the treatment of refugees in the wider context of the immigration issue has become a defining moment in the Presidential campaign, so it is not surprising that gubernatorial resistance to taking Syrian refugees, or in more political terms, in acceding to the Obama Administration’s plan, has come with one exception from Republican Governors. And that one exception is the Governor of New Hampshire who is running for the US Senate. In the present climate, she doesn’t want this to be an issue between her and the moderate Republican incumbent.

Matthew Eshbaugh-SohaAssistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of North Texas

This is political pandering. Most of the citizens in those governors’ states do not support comprehensive immigration reform. This general feeling would extend to the refugee debate and it can more clearly be framed as a national security issue. Thus, these governors are simply representing the views of the majority of their citizens and scoring political points in the process. Republican presidential candidates are doing the same because Republican primary voters are in favor of these limitations.

Néstor Rodríguez, Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

The United States has been accepting close to 70,000 refugees annually recently, including some Muslims from Iraq, Somalia, etc. So accepting Muslims is not new, although I don’t think the public is aware of this detail. What is new is the political campaign climate in which the Republican political leaders have used every opportunity to oppose President Obama almost on all matters. I think that, if President Obama discovered a cure for cancer, the Republican leaders would still oppose him on the discovery. This is not to say that US people are not afraid of terrorists and their potential danger; of course they are afraid. But the rush of Republican governors to resist Syrian refugees in their states seems to be just another topic that can be used by Republican leaders to oppose President Obama.

Steven GreeneAssociate Professor of Political Science, North Carolina State University

In the midst of an ongoing campaign for the presidential nominations, immigration has been a large issue. A vocal and intense part of the Republican party is very opposed to immigration (and immigrants, themselves, to a lesser degree). Many of those same people already harbor great suspicion about connections between Islam and terrorism. Put them together, as in the case of Syrian refugees, and it is almost a perfect storm for Republican opposition– no matter how sympathetic many of the refugee stories are. And, also, no matter how rigorous the US vetting process for refugees.

That said, for politicians, opposing refugees is probably pretty much always a winning issue, some nice context. I’ve yet to see any public opinion polls on the current question, but I would strongly expect there to be overwhelming opposition to admitting Syrian refugees among Republicans (and quite likely a clear majority among all Americans). Throw in the fact that Obama favors it and you can pretty much guarantee Republican opposition.

Darrell WestVice President and Director of Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

The debate over taking refugees is a perfect example of political polarization in the United States. Republicans worry about terrorists sneaking in while many Democrats feel America should accept refugees for humanitarian reasons. There is concern over security following the Paris attacks and the discussion of refugees highlights the conflicting tensions that people feel between security and humanitarian relief. It is difficult for politicians to deal with this issue because it has so much emotion associated with it.


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