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Them Used To Be Us

February 13, 2018

PikiWiki_Israel_20841_The_PalmachWebster defines immigrant as simply “a person who comes from another country to live in another one.” This is as opposed to an emigrant who “is a person who leaves a country or region to live in another one.” So the Pilgrims were emigrants when they boarded the Mayflower and immigrants when they landed at Plymouth Rock. Some will say unless you are a Native American you are either an immigrant or a descendant of one. Actually this is not true as even the Native Americans came from Northeast Asia across the Bering Land Bridge approximately 25,000 years ago.

While all of this may be interesting, the current debate over immigration has America more divided than ever. Fueled by misinformation and fear, there are many who support a Muslim ban, a wall along our Mexican border and the end of DACA. There is a need for immigration reform but the current administration is pushing an agenda that is splitting families apart, inspiring hate crimes, asking the nation to spend 25 billion on a useless wall, and threatening to uproot those who were brought here as children and are now responsible adults within our society.

Those backing these policies have forgotten from whence they came. Sadly for them, there is Jennifer Mendelsohn. Through her site she calls #resistancegenealogy, she “has been using people’s public family history to beat back some of the uglier claims about immigrants and how they fit into US history.” One of my favorites is about Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke out against so-called chain migration. The term “used by demographers since the 1960s to refer to the social process by which migrants from a particular town follow others from that town to a particular destination city or neighborhood.” To hear those opposed to chain migration talk, they make it sound as if hordes of immigrants are swarming across our borders to live off taxpayers. The facts are somewhat different, I refer you to this New York Times article, January 26, 2018. But back to Pence. Through her research, Mendelsohn discovered, VP Mike Pence is also the product of ‘chain migration’. His Irish grandfather arrived in 1923, with passage paid for by an older brother who’d arrived a few years earlier. Brother’s passage had been paid for by an aunt. Let’s stop pretending to be surprised.”

It is perplexing to try and understand why most Republicans are anti-immigration. One answer, at least for those in Congress, comes from Robert Sapolsky’s insightful book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. Based on what he calls social-dominance orientation (SDO), which is the measure of how much people value power and prestige, the higher one’s SDO, the less likely one will feel empathy to the less fortunate. Neurologically, this is explained by those with a high SDO having low basal glucocorticoid levels which means less activation of the anterior cingulate cortex and insular cortex, both of which promote empathy.  While this may help explain behavior, Sapolsky points out that this tells us nothing of which came first, the power position or the lack of empathy.

As for the rest of those in favor of a wall or a ban, Sapolsky would put them in the category of people who “often haven’t a clue why they’ve made some judgement, yet they fervently believe it’s correct.” This is based on scientists who study moral behavior and conclude that we make moral decisions based on intuition. Then use reasoning to convince everyone, including ourselves, that we’re making sense. My take would be that they get their “facts” from the likes of Fox News.

The group that perplexes me the most are Christians who back the anti-immigration rhetoric and/or still support the current occupant of the White House. As for my opinion on Christians and 45, I refer you to a previous blog, “It is a good thing Jesus resurrected.” For those who rant about immigrants, there is one simple question. “What would Jesus do?”

Sadly, the bashing of immigrants is not new in the United States. Sometimes it is easy to forget history. This article from the Huffington Post reminds all of us just how badly immigrants have been treated from the beginning of this great country we call America. Pence, being Irish, should read his own history.

The debate is getting hotter and politicized more than ever as this is being written. The stories of ICE using, and abusing, the power this administration has given them, pile up every day. Republicans and Democrats are drawing lines in the sand to stake out their positions. One thing both sides, and all of us, need to remember: Immigrants, like the homeless, are not a category. They are human beings that need to be treated fairly and with compassion. We used to be them!





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