Flipping the Script on Immigration

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By Amelia Fox

Throughout the course of the 2016 election and more recently in debates surrounding the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), we have been consistently exposed to negative and toxic rhetoric about immigrants and refugees. This has led to, or exposed, widespread distrust among friends, family, coworkers, and community members. Yet, the grimmer reality surfaces when such distrust manifests in the form of harassment, violence, and discrimination.

We hear and read the same scripts over and over: Immigrants are stealing our jobs, draining our resources, and contributing to rampant crime and violence. These narratives haven’t just emerged organically but rather as political tools in order to drown out the stories that paint a true picture of why people immigrate to the US and what life looks like once arriving.

In reality, immigrant populations contribute far more to our economy than what is typically understood. According to research conducted by the National Research Council in 2007, immigrant participation in the labor force contributed to an estimated annual wage gain of $30 billion dollars for US workers. Another study conducted in Arizona concluded that the state’s immigrants contribute $2.4 billion in tax revenue per year. This goes far beyond compensating for the $1.4 billion in resources that immigrants utilize for education, healthcare, and law enforcement. As for the narrative pegging violent crime on immigrants, the American Immigration Council determined that among young men, immigrants have the lowest incarceration rates, regardless of educational attainment or ethnicity.

If more truth was to be brought to the forefront of these conversations, my guess is that we’d see a lot less hostility. This yearning for truth inspired Stories Without Borders to produce Beyond the Wall, a 2017 film that explores the current political climate through the eyes of immigrants and refugees from around the world, as well as the community actors that stand by them. If you feel this same craving for the truth, you can access the film and more information about Beyond the Wall here. SWB is expanding Beyond the Wall throughout 2017 and 2018 and continues to host screenings that, coupled with panels of experts and directly impacted people, seek to engage audiences in discussion that encourages community empowerment through empathy and truthtelling.

We are, however, not the only storytellers adding to this dialogue. There are others, many of them immigrants themselves, who lead with their voices to share the immigrant and refugee experiences here in the US. If you’re interested in a better understanding of what motivates people to come to the US, what it means for people to integrate into new communities, and how family relationships in home countries are impacted, I suggest checking out some of these inspiring resources!

Videos

  • Crossing Arizona discusses the topic of border control from the perspective of a range of community members -- from disgruntled ranchers, to dedicated migrants, to local politicians. This moving documentary shows the true complexities involved in the immigration debate when policy continues to fails time and time again. You can rent or purchase Crossing Arizona here.
  • In Which Way Home, journalist Sonia Nazario follows a group of young boys as they make the life-threatening and perilous trek from various countries within Latin America to the US in search for jobs, their family, and a safer, more promising life. Which Way Home can be rented or purchased here.

Books

  • Americanah, written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, portrays the story of a young Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who emigrates to the United States to attend college. The book addresses the struggle involved in defining and defending one’s identity and race, as well as explores the beauties and challenges of both the United States and Nigeria.

  • In her memoir, The Distance Between Us, Reyna Grande narrates a compelling and heart-wrenching story of the effects of mass emigration to the US on Mexican communities from the perspective of children left behind.  

Food for Thought

  • Enrique’s Journey: Through a series of 6 short, intimate pieces, Sonia Nazario describes the struggles experienced by 17-year-old Enrique as he escapes Honduras in search from his mother’s love in the US.

  • Sonia Nazario’s TedTalk: In this 18-minute TedTalk, Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario discusses why past efforts at curbing illegal immigration have failed, and what local grassroot organizations throughout Latin America are doing to keep their communities safe from gang violence.

  • Immigration Myths and Facts: Check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Immigration Myths and Facts sheet to challenge your own misconceptions about immigration

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https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/immigrants/myths_facts_jan2008.pdf

https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/documents/files/022851_mythsfacts_2016_report_final.pdf