Applying American Values to the Conversation on Immigration
During the Senate press conference on immigration reform last week, senators repeatedly referred to the "American jobs" going to "real Americans." The desire to reassure voters and the press that comprehensive immigration reform will not deprive current citizens of employment opportunities is long-standing and an inevitable challenge in proposing reform. But to what extent does the "American Jobs for American Citizens" rhetoric emphasize difference between current citizens and undocumented and future immigrants?
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) responded to a reporter's question about this fear saying, "If there are jobs available to Americans to take that will be one of the major components of future flow ... if there are jobs that there aren't Americans for then, obviously, it will be much easier for people to come in, and example farm workers. Americans, by and large, don't do the farm work." The relegation of low-skilled work to immigrants clearly places them in a separate class from "Americans" and reveals that the proposed legislation is not necessarily a structure of equality.
During the press conference strong distinctions were made between current Americans and undocumented immigrants who will be put on a path to citizenship should the bipartisan plan pass. But while the prospect of comprehensive reform is an exciting one, work still needs to be done to shift American cultural values.
"No new notion of American identity came with the press conference, the rhetoric is alienating Latinos and people with 'foreign names' as non-Americans, no matter how the laws change. Changes must through culture rather than just through legislation," Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez of GetEQUAL told Campus Progress.
Politicians need to agree that comprehensive immigration reform means that undocumented immigrants are Americans, that all immigrants to the US are Americans and have just as much a right to employment as "traditional" Americans. Defining immigrants as merely farm workers and other low-skilled labor creates a racial and cultural divide that the policy will only deepen.
Check out Jose Antonio Vargas's campaign Define American, in which he challenges people to think about whether American values—like fairness, equality and hard work—are consistently being employed in this national conversation on Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
Emma Weinstein Levey is a reporter at Campus Progress.Follow her on Twitter @ebwlevey.
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