Mismatch Between Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric and Immigration Statistics11 Aug 2010
This is by far not the first time you will have heard this, and it certainly won’t be the last: the overheated rhetoric of the anti-immigrant movement has more to do with fear, fantasy, and unbridled anger than with demonstrable facts. No surprise there. A recent op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times musters up some key statistics to show just how distorted the immigration debate has become, how much blind anger has supplanted sober, clear-eyed analysis. (See Immigration Facts, Figures – and Thoughts, by Gregory Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, 26.Jul.2010.)
As Rodriguez points out, illegal immigration has actually gone down in recent years, even as apocalyptic rhetoric has reached a fever pitch. Rodriguez cites a report issued by the Department of Homeland Security, earlier this year, showing that the illegal immigrant population of the United States actually dropped by a million people from 2008 to 2009, “the sharpest decrease in 30 years,” and “the second year of declining numbers.” Moreover, according to U.S. border patrol figures, Rodriguez says, “the border is more tightly controlled than ever,” with apprehensions along the border “down by more than 60 percent since 2000, to 530,000, the lowest number in 35 years…” Rodriguez points to further indicators that – contrary to popular belief – illegal immigration from Mexico declined from 2005 to 2008, applications for H1B visas have slowed, and for the first time in 40 years, the Census Bureau has noted a drop in the percentage of foreign-born residents in the United States.
Why, then, is the rhetoric so intemperate? Economic insecurity is only one reason among many, argues Rodriguez, and not enough to explain the nastiness that has become coin of the realm in the immigration debate. Among other reasons, according to the LA Times article, is the lack of “an authoritative voice of reason” on the right, such as President George W. Bush provided during the last attempt to pass CIR. Newspapers also share some of the blame, Rodriguez contends, having opened the comments sections of their websites to hateful speech from otherwise marginal elements of society.
Strangely absent from this argument is a consideration of the role played by the fragmentation of the news media into niche providers in the blogosphere, on cable and broadcast (narrowcast?) TV news outlets, and in the still-vibrant fringes of talk radio. With so many media offerings, many of these outlets are not above shouting to be heard, and give free rein to outrageously uncivil speechifying in the hope of gaining market share. An authoritative voice of reason is not just lacking in the political sphere, but in the mass media – a dynamic that eventually becomes mutually-reinforcing. What’s needed in this debate is a return to basic norms of civility, and of informed debate. Denigrating immigrants may have short-term benefits for a certain segment of the political and chattering classes, but as Rodriguez aptly observes, “it actively degrades our culture, our public square and our democracy.” Well said!