This is the third of a three-part series on refugees and immigration by Manji Law.
The United States was built on immigration.
Generally, citizens have been proud of that history. However, anti-immigrant rhetoric has been on the rise, from popular politicians to online rumors and TV news channels. Even the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service changed its mission statement, deleting the line that described “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants.” In many ways, this reflects not merely rhetoric, but also reality.
The promise and hope embodied at the base of the Statue of Liberty – give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free – has long represented the ideal of America’s views of immigration. Changing immigration laws, however, continue to impact people now and are likely to continue doing so in the future.
Over the years, an idealized America presented itself as a welcoming, nurturing land for people from all around the world. Of course, migration to the United States has been marred by racially-prejudiced histories. These included laws that placed heavy or impossible burdens on East Asian and African immigrants whilst labelling many European immigrants as ‘white’ and, therefore, desirable. Jewish, Indian, and Southern European immigrants were excluded, even in the early 20th century.
Photograph courtesy of Luke Stackpoole for Unsplash
It is also worth noting that not all immigration was voluntary. Immigration also included the painful and brutal history of the transatlantic slave trade. Furthermore, while some people migrate for education or economic opportunity, many have been essentially forced to relocate as the changes imposed by economic globalization and climate change have severely affected their own countries. Even more have been forced to seek asylum due to war and oppression.
The Immigration Act of 1965 impacted migration to the United States in a positive way by legally stripping away many of the barriers non-Europeans had experienced when attempting to enter the United States. Now, one out of every five immigrants live in the United States, and their contributions have shaped the way Americans understand themselves, their culture, and their identity.
U.S. immigration law has long favored highly-skilled and educated workers, and many have come to the United States to advance their careers in skilled professions like technology and medicine. Despite benefits to a healthy, growing society and economy, immigration has become increasingly difficult for people around the world. In fact, an anti-immigration movement has been on the rise in Europe and the United States, even as widespread coverage of a ‘migration crises’ is on the rise.
Although the arrival of new immigrants has actually significantly decreased in Europe over the past two years, far-right political parties continue to encourage anti-immigrant sentiment. In some cases, they exploit real economic problems like a lack of well-paying jobs or a rise in housing costs. They highlight immigrants as a scapegoat for these issues, despite the limited effect of migrant populations.
Photograph courtesy of Anastasia Dulgier for Unsplash
Many of the same issues have arisen in recent U.S. anti-immigrant rhetoric, issues that raise uncomfortable similarities to the racist laws that excluded immigrants in the past. Economic anxieties about a changing economy and a loss of jobs are often redirected. Rather than questioning politicians or corporate leaders, the blame is directed at migrants.
The results of these anti-immigrant policies – including Trump’s travel ban – do not only affect those who want to migrate permanently to the United States. The travel ban (commonly referred to as the ‘Muslim ban’) excludes tourists and visitors from seven countries (five of them with Muslim majorities). This means that people from these countries are not allowed in the United States to study, work, perform, or visit their families. Thousands of Iranians have studied and worked in the U.S. before returning to their country, whilst thousands more regularly visit their families. Now, they face exclusion.
Immigrants are facing a tough political climate and changing policies that put even legal migrants and green-card holders at risk. It is more critical than ever for people migrating to the United States to avoid any potential conflict with the laws in place and work with an immigration lawyer in order to give themselves the highest level of protection.
Countries that are concerned about immigration have a responsibility to change their international policies to stop, rather than foster, war and environmental destruction. Many people do not wish to leave their homelands except to travel. The strengthening of welfare-state policies and a productive economy can reduce widespread fear about migration, as well as support for ever-tightening borders.
Jameel Manji is an immigration attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and founder of Manji Law, P.C. Manji Law was founded in 2016 with the goal of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. As an immigration law firm, Manji Law helps clients with family immigration, removal defense (deportation), asylum/refugee waivers, business immigration, naturalization, and more.
If you are interested in reading the first two articles of Manji Law’s three-part series on refugees and immigration, please follow the links below…
- The Future of Immigration to the United States: Predictions from an Immigration Lawyer
- What Protections Exist for Refugees Worldwide?
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