ICYMI: The New York Review: A New Moral Imagination on Immigration

The New York Review: A New Moral Imagination on Immigration


By Rep. Pramila Jayapal




Complex and multifaceted as our history on immigration is, it is marked by two deep traditions that are at war with each other. One is inextricably bound up with bigotry, while the other is tied to the spirit of generosity and renewal of a country that is always being shaped by those who come here. This battle has to be fought in every generation, and it has never been easy.

Today, the election of President Trump and his makeover of the Republican Party has resulted in some of the nastiest rhetoric about immigrants to ever come from the White House. The president and his hardline advisers coldly calculate that their path to political victory is best served by stoking fear: what were once fringe racist theories of immigrant “invasion” and “infestation” are amplified into existential threats and directed toward an implicitly white, Christian America. This is not the nation that generations of Americans created or imagined.

The midterm elections, however, have provided a glimmer of hope. In the final weeks leading up to them, Trump worked from his anti-immigrant playbook. He lit up the airwaves with an unconstitutional threat to revoke the citizenship of those born here, and trafficked in the fear of a supposed horde of migrants that he claimed necessitated the sending of some 7,000 troops to the border. In spite of all this, Americans in red and blue districts across the country elected a wave of diverse Democrats to a comfortable majority in the House despite a map gerrymandered to favor Republicans, and limited losses in the Senate.

Now it’s more important than ever that Democrats—and any remaining willing Republicans—recapture America’s moral imagination on immigration. Our job is to tell the truth about immigration instead of cowering before falsehoods. Anti-immigrant forces would have us believe that our laws work and that undocumented immigrants prefer to live in the shadows, where they can “game the system” and benefit unfairly from the generosity of taxpayers. The worst thing about this narrative is not that it’s absolutely false, but that it obscures the deep, common desire that all of us—aspiring Americans and those already here—have for one simple thing: an updated, orderly, and effective process for people to come to America, stay, and work here.

As long as we accept the Trump administration’s rhetoric on immigration and try to merely gain small victories against a harsh, restrictionist policy, we will lose—politically, economically, and, most importantly, morally. Instead, we must disperse the fog of lies and scapegoating and make clear that a sensible, humane system of immigration laws is best for everyone.