Weaponized Immigration Rhetoric

Posted on January 31, 2018


A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but that logic doesn’t apply to immigration-related rhetoric. President Donald Trump in his State of the Union speech along with political leaders and activists have weaponized specific words in an ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of the American people.

For example, take “chain migration” an academic term that has been overlaid with negative connotations. Chain migration has, since the 1960s, referred to the process by which migrants from one city or town follow each other to a new destination, possibly to another country. My family moved from the Ozarks to Kansas City one after the other.

Thanks to chain migration, even low-income families can create or maintain social networks and access to the wealth of social capital. Early arrivals support newcomers with a place to stay, resources and information about the local labor market, schools and culture.

And chain migration facilitates cultural integration.

Chain migration happens in part because we allow immigrants into the country on basis of family ties. My wife’s three aunts and husbands came one by one and her sister came to this nation on that basis. Lest we romanticize family reunification, it entails a great deal of responsibility and not everyone is willing to assist family members by serving as a sponsor.

It can take years, even decades for family applications to work their way through the system.

So this slow, deliberate means through which we allow families and communities to stay together doesn’t sound threatening to the American way of life.

President Trump uses the term chain migration for a reason. If uttered in a context already hostile to immigrants, it may invoke unwashed masses invading the country, one person after another in an unbroken chain.

For Example, we know that the United States has an aging workforce and a relatively low fertility rate, leading to a need for more immigrant labor.

At this point in our history, we should have learned not to fall for rhetoric that collapses the very values on which chain migration is based.

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