Recently, some members of our political system have branded immigrants, specifically Middle Eastern Muslim and Latinx immigrants, as terrorists, criminals and drains on society.
Calls for restrictions on immigration and hard penalties for visa overstays have been popularized and politically validated. These ideas have not been accompanied by concrete proposals for expanding legal immigration opportunities.
Restricting immigration in all forms has been seen as a protectionist and nationalist move by its opponents and supporters alike.
Bias against immigrants is not restricted to the political elite, however.
As the daughter of a Persian Jewish immigrant, I have experienced firsthand the negative effects of bias and the thought process of overt and covert bigotry. Newsflash: my family came here for a better life, academic opportunity and the pursuit of actual freedom of religion, not to target white, Protestant America.
Ever since its beginning, America has been a nation of immigrants.
Throughout our history, the United States has served as a beacon of hope to struggling optimists the world over. Each new wave of immigration in this country brings a sea of new perspectives and aspirations that have helped maintain our position as a global leader in innovation for the past half century.
Nowadays, we often hear about the American Dream. This concept evokes many ideas in many individuals but generally denotes purchasing power, a meaningful career, a family and a sense of optimism that your children will also succeed.
Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum argue against this dream’s viability. Often, these pundits cite an economy bereft of opportunity and an overload of cheap labor due to undocumented immigration.
However, first-and second-generation immigrants haven’t heeded this message of American stagnation.
High aspirations among immigrants and their children are no accident, says a study from the University of Chicago titled “Optimism and Achievement: The Educational Performance of Immigrant Youth.” People who have come to the United States value education highly, regardless of country of origin. The children of these individuals, motivated by their parents’ love, sacrifices and expectations often academically outperform their native-born peers when given the opportunity.
Therefore, it follows that the immigrant values of hard work, education and family should be prized, not demonized.
Throughout our nation’s history, waves of immigrants have been followed with parallel waves of bias and discrimination, particularly against immigrants of color. This originates in the early U.S.’ discrimination against the Irish, in conjunction with the colorism and structural anti-blackness stemming from slavery.
In school, many learn about the segregatory, anti-Irish signs in 1800s Bostonian restaurants and the Chinese Exclusion Acts barring Chinese immigration to the U.S. until 1943. These are often considered ridiculous and bigoted, however many Americans fail to realize modern parallels in the way that Muslim and Latinx immigrants are treated.
The answer to this current wave of immigration is not to isolate and shame the people who have risked everything to come here. Rather, we should celebrate those who strive against impossible odds, in their countries of origin and the United States itself, to make the American Dream a reality.
Alexandria is a sophomore molecular and cellular biology major.