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Do we really want immigrants as neighbors? Misleading memes, bipartisan realities and immigrant justice

September 26, 2022

I have been seeing a meme on social media recently, which is completely in response to recent ridiculous and abusive actions towards immigrants in the US.

The meme I am referring to originated on the site Occupy Democrats, which states: I would much rather see immigrants being sent to my state than MAGA Republicans. And, the is #TheTruth!

Someone I know reposted the meme, then included the following comment under the meme: 

For me a choice between a family of Central American immigrants fleeing violence and persecution or some right wing xenophobic saga nutcases as neighbors would be an extremely easy one……

Now, I get the sentiment of both the meme, and the above comment about preferring Central Americans fleeing violence and persecution over Trump supporters. I too would prefer the former over the later. However, sentiment is not enough, especially since US policy towards immigrants has a dark history, particularly if those immigrants are not from Europeans countries or countries that the US identifies as client states. This is a topic that I am very familiar with, as I have taught classes on the history of US Immigration policy. Check out this popular education tool on this topic.

Even if people in the US would rather have Central Americans fleeing violence and persecution over Trump supporters as neighbors, it doesn’t mean much if, 1) those same people keep voting for political parties that perpetuate a very exclusionary and racialized immigration policies, and 2) those same people are not part of grassroots movements like the Sanctuary Movement.

The reality is, when it comes to anti-immigration policy, both Republicans and Democrats have consistently not supported truly progressive policies that both welcome any and all refugees/immigrants since the country was founded or change foreign policy towards counties that immigrants flee from, in part, because US policy in those countries is a major factor that contributes to people fleeing their homelands. For details on this bipartisan anti-immigrant policy, check out the following books – All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It, by Daniel Denvir and Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, by Todd Miller. 

The second critique I have of the Occupy Democrats meme is that it is not reflective of the Democratic Party’s position towards grassroots movements that are centered around immigration justice. For example, in the US during the Reagan Administration’s obsession with Central America in the 1980s, there was a lively Central American Solidarity Movement and a Sanctuary Movement. However, both of those movements did not receive significant support from the Democratic Party. The Central American Solidarity Movements saw thousands of US citizens go to Central American and stand against the US-backed death squad governments in El Salvador and Guatemala, in addition to people going to Nicaragua to oppose the US-trained and financed Contra forces, which were really a terrorist group. On the domestic end, you have over 400 faith-based groups and other community groups offering sanctuary to refugees who actually fled violence and persecution in El Salvador and Guatemala, even though the Reagan Administration was actively persecuting some of the more visible sanctuaries at that time. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party did virtually nothing to oppose this persecution, nor did they publicly support the Sanctuary Movement. See the Grand Rapids People History Project information on the Central American Solidarity Movement in Grand Rapids and the Central American Sanctuary Movement as well.

More recently, especially after Trump was elected in 2016, there was somewhat of a revival in the immigrant justice movement, a movement that has been led by immigrants. The Trump administration made no bones about going after immigrants who were undocumented, which led to lots of organizing across the country and in Grand Rapids. From 2017 through 2021, there was an urgent need for sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. The group GR Rapid Response to ICE has been speaking with numerous faith-based entities to declare themselves a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, over the past several years only one church has been willing to take on this responsibility. Grand Rapids boasts of having some 800 churches, yet only one has been willing to truly welcome all immigrants, particularly those most vulnerable, to safe from persecution in Grand Rapids. Lastly, the Democratic Party in the Grand Rapids area never took a public position in support of the immigrant justice movement, nor the efforts to find more groups willing to become immigrant sanctuaries. 

In the end, the meme from Occupy Democrats is just plain misleading. Personally, I don’t expect either political party in the US to become a champion for immigrants and refugees. I do however, have a great deal of hope in social movements that are rooted in immigrant justice and movements that are willing to take risks to defend and support immigrants who come to the US, whether that have documentation or not. If we want to have immigrants as neighbors, then we need to actively support immigrant justice and join groups like Movimiento Cosecha, which is an immigrant-led movement fighting for the rights of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrations currently living in this country. 

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