Reversing the Rhetoric on Immigrant Demonization

Authors: Angel E. Gomez and Ismail D. Gunes, Ph.D.

It comes as no surprise that the current Trump administration has steered itself in questionable behaviors that put into jeopardy the safety and well-being of individuals seeking to enter the country legally through asylum petitions. Unfortunately, the topic of immigration has become so highly politicized over the past years that right-wing politicians have introduced rhetoric condemning immigrants and linking them to the reason why America is facing high waves of criminal occurrences.  Such views are negatively portrayed even when for more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. Nonetheless and regardless of facts, during Trump’s political campaign, on June 16, 2017, Trump stated that Mexico was not sending their best citizens over the border, that the individuals crossing into the US were criminals, rapists, drug dealers, and that only a few were good people.   

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has created and increased anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States.  Such negative views on immigration have essentially ledthe current administration to enforcelaws that make it even more inhumane and difficult for immigrants to enter the country through licit meansIn her article, Eunice Leeindicates how members of the Trump administration like former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions encountered and utilized loopholes in the system to deter asylum cases from being accepted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

In a speech given to Immigration Judges, Sessions “expressed strong views against asylum seekers, broadly questioning the legitimacy of their claims. In fact, Sessions cited rampant abuse and fraud, while indicating that the system was being played by immigrants. Furthermore, Sessions questioned the credible fear process and claimed that requesting asylum had essentially become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States”.  The aforementioned speech did not only convey anti-immigrant ideologies, but served for Sessions to issue Matter of A-B- decision on June 11, 2018, which essentially dictates that the “majority of asylum claims are not valid”.  Matter of A-B practically questions credible fear proceedings and makes it extremely difficult for individuals to successfully file asylum claims.  Following the speech, the Asylum office provided guidance to its officers to apply such regulations when reviewing cases, which as previously mentioned, left many asylum seekers vulnerable to further abuse, as figures from 2013-2019 indicate that hundreds of deported individuals continue to suffer physical and sexual abuse in their country of origin.

It is imperative to mention that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14) indicates that every individual is granted the right to seek asylum in other countries to avoid different forms of persecution. Consequently, the current administration is invalidating an international freedom that should be granted to every human being around the globe when faced with specific types of persecution in their country of origin. Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union intervened and questioned the legality of the regulation in place. As a result of such litigation, a United States District Court judge in the District of Columbia, dictated that the Department of Homeland Security along with immigration judges were not to apply certain aspects of Session’s Matter of A-B policy when reviewing asylum cases

The Trump administration continued to enact laws aimed at hurting the immigrant population. For example, on April 6, 2018, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced “zero-tolerance” policy, which separated thousands of children from their parents and criminalized border crossings.  In addition to the Zero Tolerance Policy, Trump enacted the Muslim Travel Ban on January 27, 2017, which was upheld by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2018,by indicating that the president was within his legal right to implement such a ban, as it was a matter of national security. Unfortunately, the Travel Ban ended serving as a means to decrease the number of legal entries into the United States from individuals of Middle Eastern descent.

The aforementioned regulations have only aided the anti-immigrant wave that is currently undertaking the country.  Consequently and as a direct result of the negative connotation and hateful rhetoric placed on minority groups, many immigrants have been subject to numerous forms of discrimination and victimization. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, indicates that hate crimes had a significant increase during the time Trump’s campaign took place and all throughout his continued term as president.  In fact, it is claimed that racial and ethnic inspired crimes dramatically increased during the election month of November 2016.

Unfortunately, immigrants and other ethnic minorities have been directly impacted by the anti-immigrant rhetoric accompanied by anti-immigrant laws and regulations.  The immigrant community continues to suffer as a result of the actions taken by the current administration, which resembles a sense of “nationalism”, hate, and division.  The highly politicized topic of immigration needs to dissipate if the US as a nation wishes to become a more solidified society.  Nonetheless, it appears that America is currently far from understanding that as opposed to common belief and negative stereotypes, immigrants, especially first generation immigrants are able to reduce crime rates in society.

Although it seems like the nation is extremely distant from accurately understanding how the immigration phenomenon truly affects society, the upcoming change in administration that resulted from Trump’s defeat against his democrat counterpart, Joe Biden, has the potential to instill a brighter future for all immigrants.  The Biden administration has promised to reverse the strict and punitive regulations enacted under Trump’s management.  In fact, in order to unwind the numerous policies currently in place in a timely manner, President-Elect Joe Biden can and will utilize his authority through the implementation of executive orders.

It will be imperative for the upcoming Biden administration to revoke anti-immigrant legislation the like of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which was revitalized and utilized by the Trump administration to apprehend and deport legal immigrants with past criminal records.  Nonetheless, it appears that doing away with such laws will remain a challenge, as President Trump was able to appoint three conservative Supreme Court Justices, who form part of the majority and are likely to overturn drastic decisions made by the upcoming 46th President of the United States.

Aside from the difficulties and challenges that the new administration may face, it is essential that the future President undertakes a firm stance against anti-immigrant rhetoric and instead, instills and overflows the entire social context with messages of unity and reform. Taking a positive posture on the topic at hand could without a doubt, effectively combat the ill-feelings associated with immigration.  In addition, the new administration could report on the actual positive impacts that immigration has on society.

On November 7, 2020, Joe Biden briefly addressed the nation after being named President-elect.  In his speech, Biden emphasized the importance of unity and doing away with the “era of demonization”. Pulling away from the harsh environment in which America currently finds itself will not be an easy task, nonetheless, it is not and impossible one and it appears the nation is headed in the right direction.

Angel E. Gomez
Angel E. Gomez
Angel E. Gomez is a Homeland Security and Public Administration Graduate Student at Sul Ross State University. Mr. Gomez received his Dual Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and Sociology from the University of Houston – Clear Lake in 2012. Mr. Gomez has several publications to include topics of Criminal Justice and Deinstitutionalization. At present, he is serving in the Child Welfare field.