Once again, a news story about Americans’ attitudes toward immigrants buries the lede, and as a result, it oversimplifies and grossly misrepresents the conversation about where this country really stands on the topic. In this case, the story is from The Associated Press and is based on a poll of 4,173 Americans conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. According to the first sentence of that story, “about 1 in 3 U.S. adults believes an effort is underway to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains.”
As is typical of stories about immigration, a minority of Americans are given the majority of the attention.
As is typical of stories about immigration, a minority of Americans are given the majority of the attention. Instead of emphasizing the xenophobia of roughly 33 percent of the respondents, why not immediately focus on the finding from that same poll that 66 percent of Americans feel that having people of "many different races, ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds" makes our country stronger?
Despite being in the minority, the anti-immigrant faction in the United States does have a big platform. It’s Fox News and, in particular, host Tucker Carlson, who has been blatantly appealing to an anti-immigrant segment of America that has deep white nationalist roots. The AP story about the poll cited Carlson’s anti-immigration sentiments, but anyone who points out, as I have, that the same poll shows the majority's appreciation for our country's diversity is quickly labeled as a biased open-borders advocate by the same right-wing outrage machine that supports Carlson.
Apparently, it’s easier to be predictable and highlight the minority that opposes immigration than analyze data that supports the argument that this country needs immigration — all forms of it — to keep its economy moving along. Earlier this year, for example, a study from nonpartisan publication EconoFact revealed the simple truth that the current labor shortage is directly tied to fewer immigrants.
According to that study: “Of these lost immigrants, about one million would have been college-educated. The data on labor shortages across industries suggest that this dramatic drop in foreign labor supply growth is likely a contributor to the current worker shortages and could slow down employment recovery and growth as the economy picks up speed.”
Such findings rarely get the widespread attention they deserve because that attention is given to the minority of Americans who falsely claim that Democrats are using immigrants to steal American democracy. But that claim is nonetheless honored by both Republican and Democratic leaders who feel it’s politically advantageous to be “tough” on immigrants and preach a “secure border” out of fear that they’ll feel the wrath of a third of Americans.
This lazy narrative won’t change until we shift our focus to the 66 percent of Americans who didn't agree with the idea that immigrants are coming to replace them, who see the benefits of diversity to the United States and understand that diversity to be critical to the overall health of a vibrant democratic society.
But the roughly 33 percent has a tight grip on the current narrative. They have wrapped themselves around the American flag and overt patriotism under the cover of white nationalism. However, if there’s anyone who embodies the so-called American dream, it’s the immigrant who has a deep belief in the core values that America represents. These people who are deemed threats to America by people such as Carlson are actually some of the biggest believers in America.
While Carlson and his right-wing machine have a massive platform, the immigrant-friendly side does not and is mostly ignored. Some of that blame falls directly on the American press, which has never done a good job of humanizing the debate. And blame also falls on Democrats who have always been afraid to appear weak in the eyes of Republicans but have nothing to show for that strategy.
Former President Bill Clinton emphasized security and removals, and that focus has characterized Democratic immigration policy since. Such moderate policies have always been in response to the more extreme Republican model, which right now is clearly anti-immigration full stop, but the Democrats’ push for immigration reform will once again fail this legislative cycle.
While Carlson and his right-wing machine have a massive platform, the immigrant-friendly side does not.
Then there is former President Donald Trump, who took the enforcement policies that existed during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations and raised them to a level rarely seen in modern American history. Trump’s cruelty still lingers during President Joe Biden’s administration, as the White House likely fears looking too “soft” on immigration.
Latino and Latina journalists such as myself warned the public about candidate Trump in 2015 when he labeled Mexicans “rapists” as he launched his bid for the presidency. We called it hate speech, but other journalists were unwittingly enabling Trump’s racism by fact-checking his claims to see if Mexicans were indeed rapists. It’s no wonder that seven years later, the notion of immigrants being threats is still a thing, and it will always be one. Such views, as racist as they are, have been dignified by journalists treating them as something other than hate.
Anti-immigrant views from a minority of Americans shouldn’t be the lede of any story, but only after a radical change from the media and politicians will we see a new focus on the 66 percent of Americans who value our diversity. A small minority of Americans shouldn’t have the clout to keep xenophobia alive, and they wouldn’t, if media organizations and cowardly politicians weren’t helping them.