Immigration foes say, “Immigrants steal our culture.” Why they are wrong.

anti-immigrationsignI recently saw a Facebook post entitled, “Here’s All I Want.” It included four wishes: “Obama: Gone!” “Borders: Closed!” Language: English!” “Culture: U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights!”

The last three points, presumably about immigration to the United States, reflect a dangerous thought process: that our culture is a sacred thing, to be protected from evil foreigners and ideologues seeking purposefully to destroy it. This is a particularly destructive aspect of our national dialogue for several reasons.

A Marxist plot?
First, multiculturalism is not an engineered phenomenon. In the last few years, the right-wing has circulated the theory that multiculturalism is a Marxist plot aimed at destabilizing Western culture. This argument is made in the United States in relation to Mexican and Latin American immigration, but is more prominent and destructive in Europe. Note for instance, the right-wing surge in the most recent round of European Union elections, which is credited as the result of immigration from the Third World. Note also the anti-Israel protests in Europe, which lost much of their legitimacy after they became anti-Semitic in character. All three of these cases are more or less examples of the same phenomenon: fear of an intentionally culture-destroying Other, who must be stopped in order to preserve the nation.

This fear was made manifest in its most extreme form by Anders Behring Breivik’s 2011 slaughter of left-wing youth in Norway. He justified himself by claiming that Muslims were “the enemy” of Europe and its superior culture, and that the Norwegian left was aiding the enemy by permitting immigration. Though Breivik will spend the rest of his life in prison, people who share his views persist throughout the West. Call it racism or intolerance or xenophobia, but it is undoubtedly an unhealthy current in Western society. It is also worth noting that if there is a grand Marxist conspiracy, I have seen no evidence of it.

Fear of Mexicans and Latin Americans
Returning to our own borders, what do we have to fear from our southern neighbors? Even if cultural differences were actually dangerous (which they’re not), Mexican, and to a lesser extent Latin American, culture is not so different from ours. All are heavily influenced by Christianity. All have a political tradition of revolution. All have been republican (though not necessarily of the democratic variety) for around two centuries. And, perhaps most importantly, all have had the experience of the development of capitalism spanning five centuries.

Why isn’t the right pro-immigration?
It is hypocritical for the “libertarian” and “Christian” factions to insist immigrants adopt an idealized form of American culture. It is understandable that an American rightist would be concerned with certain aspects of an immigrant’s disposition. One could make arguments that teaching immigrants to speak English and other basic functions of American society is in the community’s best interest. But if these minimalist benchmarks are fulfilled (i.e. if immigrants don’t commit crimes, always pay their taxes, etc.) what business is it of ours to dictate how immigrants live the rest of their lives? Simply put, speaking Spanish at home will not bring down our society.

Furthermore, many Latin American immigrants escaped violent scenarios in Honduras or Guatemala to seek economic opportunity. Is this not the libertarian dream of how capitalism should work? Ideally, the American right, particularly the libertarian right, should be with us in welcoming a reasonable number of immigrants into the fold of the United States. The Christian Right, too, should be open to the idea of taking care of refugees, our metaphorical neighbors, for obvious reasons. Instead, we have the Tea Party folks, hell-bent on stopping immigration, the most odious of whom have become literally video game villains on the subject of immigration and foreigners.

Accommodating immigrants
The solution to this is to stop and focus on the logistics rather than the ideology. Are there ways to accommodate the refugees, provide a path to citizenship, and prevent the victimization of recent immigrants? I have heard ideological solutions to these problems, but I have not heard their actual feasibility.

We need to know if and how we can help immigrants. Abstract arguments about how “they” are stealing “our” culture, like the one in the Facebook post above, don’t seem to help Americans, Europeans, or immigrants in the slightest.