FILE - In this June 17, 2018 file photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas. A complaint expected to be filed Thursday, Aug. 23 with the Department of Homeland Security alleges that immigration authorities coerced dozens of parents separated from their children at the border to sign documents they didn't understand. In some of those cases, parents gave away rights to be reunited with their kids. The complaint will be filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council.
Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP, File
Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP, File

Opinion: A fearful America loses its soul

Not that long ago, the anti-immigrant movement still tried to claim that it supported legal immigration and immigrants, that their anger was focused only on those who came here illegally.

That pretense has now been abandoned, and legal immigration has now come under concerted attack as some kind of threat to national integrity. You hear it from Donald Trump, with his complaints about chain migration and immigrants from so-called “(expletive deleted) countries” as opposed to those from nations such as Norway. You hear it in the rhetoric from the likes of Laura Ingraham on Fox, who recently told her listeners that “in some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”

“Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like,” Ingraham ranted. “From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically, in some ways, the country has changed.”

You are also seeing that change reflected in policy:

  • Trump once claimed to support the Dreamers, those who were brought to this country illegally as young children, who had grown up here, gone to school here and had known no country but this one, who were as American as any of us but lacked the paperwork to prove it. Now he and his party are fighting to strip the Dreamers of what meager legal protections they still enjoy so they can be deported.
  • Until now, we have taken pride in our country as a haven for refugees fleeing repression, even if in reality we accepted far fewer than other countries. Now, under the leadership of racist adviser Stephen Miller at the White House, the Trump administration is fighting to slash the number of refugees accepted annually from an already paltry 45,000 to 25,000 or even 15,000.
  • Hundreds of thousands of refugees who have entered the country legally under temporary legal status, but who have made lives here over the past decades, are being yanked from those lives and forcibly deported, losing businesses and family in the process.
  • Under another Miller proposal, millions of legal immigrants who have been in the country for years would be permanently barred from U.S. citizenship if they had accepted food stamps, health insurance for their children through the CHIP program or had purchased health insurance for themselves through Obamacare.
  • U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Republican from Georgia, is pushing legislation that would cut overall legal immigration levels by half, and his proposal has been endorsed by Trump.
  • Trump also wants to strip refugees of their legal right to claim asylum. “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” he wrote in a tweet. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.”

Ingraham, Trump and others are correct, in a sense. This country is indeed changing, in ways that I never would have thought possible. Our heritage as a nation of immigrants, our traditions as a safe harbor for those in need, our concept of ourselves as a nation built upon ideals and principles rather than any particular ethnic or racial identity, are being tossed aside in a spasm of racial paranoia, fanned by those who seek wealth and power and a skewed popularity.

Someday, I hope, we will look back at this era in shame that we allowed it to happen and in relief that we, as a people, finally rose up against it and reclaimed our better nature. But that is far from guaranteed.

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