Monday, March 25, 2013

What Harmonious Melting Pot?

Immigrants still suffer from extreme discrimination in the U.S.

By Jon Overton

As the Republican Party scrambles, desperately pandering to Latino voters because supplies of old white voters are less plentiful than before, I find myself reflecting on how our nation simultaneously thinks immigrants are just dandy and then treats them like dangerous criminals.

According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 66 percent of Americans believe immigration is good for the U.S. In spite of this, our nation has exploited, abused and discriminated against immigrants throughout its history.

The U.S. is not the harmonious melting pot it’s hyped up to be, not even close. We let immigrants live here and our cultures merge to some extent, but our treatment of immigrants is rarely stellar.

Consider the Irish who arrived in droves following the Irish Potato Famine. Thomas Nast was one of many 19th century cartoonists who often portrayed the Irish as savage, stupid, apes that threaten American democracy. The phrase “No Irish need apply” often accompanied newspaper advertisements listing job openings in this period.

Protesters in Tijuana demand rights for 
undocumented immigrants in 2006. 
(Photo by Cesar Bojorquez / Flickr)
Even the American Federation of Labor and the Knights of Labor actively excluded Chinese workers at the turn of the 20th century. According to an academic article in Labor History, from 1881 to 1897, organized labor demanded more restrictive immigration legislation and harsher enforcement of current regulations.

But of course the U.S. learned the error of its ways, right?

Not really. The situation for immigrants has improved, but significant problems remain. A 2009 Amnesty International report stated that, “Immigration detainees, including asylum seekers, are in civil administrative detention, yet they are often housed in prisons and jails with individuals serving sentences for criminal convictions. This is contrary to international standards, which provide that those held under administrative detention shall be kept separate from individuals in criminal custody.”

If most Americans view immigration positively, why do we discriminate so severely against those who are simply trying to improve their lot in life? Doesn’t that go against what America is supposed to be all about? Shouldn’t we do what’s right because it benefits our nation, not because it threatens the existence of a major political party?

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