Author: JHISN

The Psychology of Scapegoating Immigrants

noun: scapegoat; plural noun: scapegoats
1. a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency.

There’s no denying it: life is going downhill for a whole lot of people in the US. This country now has an 18% poverty rate, the highest of all major Western industrialized nations. Good-paying, blue-collar jobs have practically disappeared. The educational system is falling apart, along with the infrastructure. People spend ever-increasing amounts of money for unreliable health care. In fact, life expectancy is falling and infant mortality is on the rise. Mass shootings are a common occurrence. Drug abuse is at epidemic levels. The US imprisons more of its population than any other country. Pollution and other environmental damage is poisoning us. Corruption infests every level of government.

It’s no surprise that people are frustrated, even angry. What’s harder to explain is why so many are willing to blame immigrants and refugees for their problems. Polls show that most people in this country support immigrants, yet tens of millions of citizens endorse the abuses and the reign of terror inflicted on migrants by the US government.

People accuse immigrants of draining resources from the economy, though every study shows they actually improve the economy and create more jobs. Many unjustly label immigrants as criminals, even though they are significantly more law-abiding than the rest of the population. This willful ignorance, flying in the face of the facts, is rooted in irrational thinking.

There’s no question that most anti-immigrant sentiment in this country is tied to white racism. Many people who attack immigrants embrace the idea of the US as a white nation that rules by dominating people of color. White nationalists cling to their race privileges as treasured possessions. In their fevered imaginations, the impending arrival of a non-white majority is perceived as an existential threat. Their guilty consciences make them terrified that, once they are in the minority, whites will be treated the same way they have treated people of color. By keeping out migrants from “shithole countries” in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Carribean, they hope to stem the tide of history, preserving a bubble of white supremacy in a multiracial world.

One of the ugliest forms of racism against immigrants is scapegoating. Scapegoaters blame immigrants of color for all the ills of US society. The narrative for scapegoating starts with the assertion that society has only a fixed quantity of jobs, education, health care, and wealth. According to this narrative, society is like a big pie: if we let somebody else have a slice, there’s less for us. And the reason life is going downhill today is supposedly because we give too much of our pie to immigrants. Immigrants should stay away from our pie, or at least wait in line until we’ve eaten our fill.

Though this narrative is illogical, it is persistent. Its believers don’t care that immigration is something our society needs to be healthy, or that immigration creates greater wealth—a bigger pie. They certainly don’t care about the human rights of migrants, or the fact that US policies have created massive migration. What matters to scapegoaters is the narrative itself—that they have identified people less powerful than themselves—people of color—that they can blame for their troubles.

It’s obvious to everybody living in the US that wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a tiny number of people. Billionaires are the ones who hoard virtually the entire pie. They are the ones who are parasites on society—and not just our society, but the societies where migrants come from as well. The Trump tax cuts funneled billions of dollars to the richest 1%—money that could have been used to solve problems for ordinary people.

Scapegoaters are fully aware of this, but they are cowards. They are too morally weak and frightened to blame the billionaires for the declining state of the country, let alone actually try to do anything to stop them. Fighting back might involve some risk, some sacrifice. Cowards can’t handle that.

Instead, under the influence of people like Trump and his rich friends, scapegoaters punch down at immigrants of color—who are often the most vulnerable members of society. Demonizing immigrants gives the cowards an outlet for their anger, while still allowing them to kiss up to the rich and powerful. (Meanwhile, the rich and powerful laugh at them behind their backs.)

For scapegoaters, it’s all about short-term ego gratification. They don’t care about the long-term economic or political costs of scapegoating, provided those don’t impact them right now. They certainly don’t care about the human costs. In fact, they seem to enjoy seeing immigrants of color oppressed and humiliated. Cruelty is part of the psychology of scapegoating.

Scapegoaters are not just enemies of the immigrant human rights movement but enemies of everyone fighting for justice, equality, and freedom. They fortify the billionaire elite, undermine our solidarity, and function as shock troops for a corrupt, racist system. We need to expose them and call them out whenever they raise their cowardly voices.

Lights For Liberty Vigil in NYC

On July 12th 2019, in locations all over the world, people gathered to hold a candlelight vigil and demand an end to the Trump administration’s cruel and bigoted immigration policies. Representatives of the Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network joined the NYC Lights for Liberty, which saw a huge turnout. Below are some images from the night.

Update on Our Neighbor Alfredo Flores

We are still collecting signatures for Alfredo Flores, our neighbor who was detained by immigration authorities in Buffalo for 20 days after the bus he was taking to Seattle to visit his brother crossed briefly and unexpectedly into Canada.

Please view our fact sheet to learn more and sign the petition to help Alfredo fight deportation, pursue citizenship, and stay with his family in Queens.



How the US Created the Refugee Crisis

Every month, tens of thousands of migrants are detained along the US-Mexico border. Right now, most of those migrants are refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. When they get to the border, these folks have already endured a long, dangerous journey, covering thousands of miles. They've struggled through perilous desert crossings. They've clung to the top of freight trains in baking heat and freezing cold. They've faced very real odds of being kidnapped or raped. They've borrowed money or used their last resources to pay off coyotes and corrupt officials. Once they arrive, they are brutalized by border agents and a dehumanizing, racist detention system.

Harsh Life in the Northern Triangle

People don't undertake a journey this terrible for no reason. The reality is that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have become unbearable for these refugees, no matter how much they might wish they could stay in their homes.

Poverty is widespread in the Northern Triangle. Parents must watch their children go hungry. Family farmers are forced off their land, flooding into cities where there are no jobs. Homelessness is common.

Violence is out of control. Many of the people leaving the Northern Triangle have had family members killed, have witnessed murders, or have been themselves threatened with rape and other deadly violence in their home countries. Young people are subjected to forcible recruitment into street gangs, with their families as hostages. The military and police rule society with a heavy hand.

How We Got Here

Why is life so difficult for so many Central Americans? To a large extent, the blame lies with the policies of the US government, and with the power of US corporations.

For over a century, the US has acted like Central America was its private plantation. The US has invaded the region over and over. It has backed corrupt military dictators, overthrown democratic governments, armed and trained vicious death squads. The CIA has manipulated and assassinated its way up and down Central America. And US economic policies have destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people.

Here are just a few examples of US political-military intervention in the Northern Triangle:

Repressing El Salvador

  • In 1932, the US helped suppress a peasant rebellion in El Salvador led by Farabundo Martí. Tens of thousands of rebels and civilians—many of them Indigenous—were systematically massacred.
  • In 1944, the US supported a reactionary coup.
  • In 1960, the US supported another right wing coup.
  • From 1980 to 1992, the US enthusiastically funded, trained, and directed a military dictatorship, whose main purpose was to crush a popular leftist-led uprising. Some 70,000 people were killed by the Salvadoran military and death squads under the direct sponsorship of the US. Thousands more were raped or tortured. During that period, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fled to the US, which deported many of them back into the war zone.

Destabilizing Honduras

  • In 1911, the US launched a coup to overthrow its elected government. After that, the country was afflicted by a series of military dictators propped up by Washington.
  • In the 1980s, the US set up military bases in Honduras, turning it into a launch pad for waging war against Nicaragua. Thousands of US troops trained, armed and dispatched the right-wing Contra guerillas from Honduras, in violation of US and international law.
  • As recently as 2009, the US backed a coup against reform-minded President Manuel Zelaya.

The Pattern Repeats in Guatemala

  • In 1954, the US organized a coup against the reformist Arbenz government. This coup led to a long guerrilla uprising, which was brutally suppressed by a US-led counterinsurgency campaign. The tactics of this counterinsurgency included aerial bombing, use of napalm, and the eradication of whole villages.
  • In 1970, when US-backed President Carlos Arana took office, he said, "If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so." The US-sponsored regimes that followed Arana in Guatemala had the same basic philosophy. Turning a blind eye to all their brutality, the US gave political support and tens of millions of dollars to the Guatemalan military.
  • In 1978, Rios Montt became dictator, in a coup that had full US support. Montt unleashed a campaign of genocide against the Maya. Villages were bombed and looted; civilians were raped, tortured and executed. During the long Guatemalan civil war, some 200,000 civilians were killed by the regime and allied right-wing death squads. Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans fled the country.

An Economic Thread

Running through all of the US violations of sovereignty and human rights in the Northern Triangle, there 's always been an economic thread. The almighty dollar is behind it all. US policy has been formulated to serve the US corporations that profit from Central America’s resources and labor. For instance, several brazen US interventions in Guatemala and Honduras were specifically intended to benefit the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands), whose low-wage fruit plantations were fantastically profitable.

Maybe the best way to sum up the history of US colonialism in Latin America is to quote Marine General Smedley Butler, who helped lead US military campaigns in Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Haiti. In the 1930s, he wrote: "I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism."

CAFTA Devastates Farmers

Over the last few decades, the US pressured and bribed Central American politicians to join what is called CAFTA-DR. CAFTA, like NAFTA, is a trade pact designed to override national laws, favoring the interests of large multinational corporations. Given the economic and power imbalances in the Americas, we shouldn’t be surprised at how that worked out for Central America. US banks and commercial interests have now taken over large parts of the financial systems and retail trade in the Northern Triangle, and US manufacturers have overwhelmed local industries.

But maybe the biggest effect of CAFTA has been to drive small farmers off their land. Under CAFTA rules, small farmers can't possibly compete with well-financed, large-scale global corporate agribusiness owned by investors from the US and other wealthy countries. To give one example of the impact: Not long ago, Honduras used to be a net exporter of agricultural products. But now it imports more food and other farm goods than it exports.

CAFTA specifically forbids any national legislation by Central American countries that would allow them to protect their small farmers—even farmers trying to sell products to their own local markets. Hundreds of thousands of family farmers have fled out of the countryside, flooding into the cities, where they find little but unemployment and crime.

On top of all this is the impact of the US-fueled drug trade, and the US's "War on Drugs," each of which lines the pockets of Miami bankers while undermining one Latin American society after another. Gangs like MS-13, which was exported from Los Angeles to the Northern Triangle by the US government, thrive in this environment of chaos and corruption.

There’s a Word for This

US policies and corporate greed have left a lasting legacy of poverty, civil strife and social violence. Every time the people of Central America resist, the heavy fist of the US and its military puppets slams down on the peoples’ movements. Demands for fair trade by Central American countries are met with economic blackmail by global banks and the US, intent on enforcing the wishes of the large corporations.

There's a word for this relationship. The word is imperialism. This parasitic relationship between the US and Central America has been a constant destructive force for generation after generation, during both Republican and Democratic administrations. The whole time, it’s been justified by naked racism and victim-blaming. When we see desperate people from the Northern Triangle arriving at the Mexican border, we must recognize that it’s US imperialism that has forced them to make this painful exodus.

The Responsibility of US Citizens

Under international law, and in light of basic decency, all countries are expected to provide asylum for people seeking refuge from persecution, war, social violence and disasters. But US citizens have a special responsibility to give refuge to the people that US imperialism—in its cold-blooded search for profit—has cruelly driven from their homes. Citizens have a special obligation to defend the human rights of Central Americans, and to repudiate every racist attempt to demonize and dehumanize them. And finally, beyond the immediate human rights crisis at the border, US citizens have every moral and practical imperative to help rebuild the countries that the US has pillaged and devastated.

For Further Reading and Study:

A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis

How US ‘Free Trade’ Policies Created the Central American Migration Crisis

How US policy in Honduras set the stage for today’s migration

The devastating effects of American intervention in Guatemala

The Impact of CAFTA: Drugs, Gangs, and Immigration

Video: The War on Democracy

UNHCR: Claims from Central America

CISPES: Community in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador





Stop the Deportations! Stop the Detentions!

We are living in the middle of a human rights emergency. The ongoing war against immigrants and refugees is a catastrophe, not just for its direct victims, but for all freedom-loving people. This war, which so far is mainly one-sided, has become a focal point for some of the worst aspects of US society—white supremacy, xenophobia, imperial chauvinism and neofascism. We believe that demanding an emergency moratorium on deportations and immigration detentions is a way to fight back, to mobilize progressive sentiment, and to transform the popular discourse on immigration.

“Good immigrants” and “bad immigrants”

The current mainstream discourse about migration, including the discourse inside the Democratic Party, effectively disregards the human rights of refugees and immigrants. Instead, the dominant narrative is based on a morally bankrupt distinction between so-called “good immigrants” who can be allowed to be in the US and “bad immigrants” who should be locked up or deported. Similarly, the dominant narrative claims to distinguish between “real refugees” and “phony refugees.” The present human rights emergency exposes the reactionary essence of this mainstream discourse. Trying to make a distinction between “good immigrants” and “bad immigrants” is fundamentally unprincipled. It is rooted in privilege, racism, fear and ignorance, and completely fails to describe the reality of actual peoples’ lives.

In terms of policy, this narrative is embodied in various proposals for “comprehensive immigration reform.” These proposals are based on the idea that Democrats should agree to Republican demands for increases in border enforcement and deportation in exchange for certain limited protections for select groups of migrants—those currently defined as “good immigrants” or “real refugees.” This has been the consensus approach of the Democratic establishment, among others, for decades.

Trump and the Right are very much at home with this discourse. They are actively and purposefully demonizing and dehumanizing more and more categories of immigrants and refugees, portraying them as enemies and criminals who should be rejected from this society. It’s clear to everybody that Trump and the Right are pandering to white supremacy and nativism.

But mainstream liberals don’t actually have a response. By agreeing to argue over where to draw the line between “good” and “bad” immigrants, they have ceded the terms of the discourse. They aren’t fighting for the right of immigrants and refugees to be here. Instead, they claim to be sympathetic, or open to giving permission—at least in certain cases that they choose, based on what Republicans or most white people might find acceptable. They horse-trade and play numbers games with peoples’ lives. Their concept of “comprehensive immigration reform” cruelly betrays and criminalizes tens of millions of immigrants and asylum seekers: Those who are just bargaining chips to them. Those who they don’t think are worth expending political capital for. Those who don’t merit their charity for some reason.

Changing the discourse

Therefore, It’s crucial to change the popular discourse on immigration and asylum. This is at least as important as formulating specific legislative reform proposals. It’s our responsibility, in the course of our everyday activism, to attack the current mainstream narrative, and to replace it with one that is grounded in morality and justice.

Our fundamental position must be that migration and asylum are human rights. There is nothing criminal about wanting to survive, or wanting a better life. In fact, trying to deny human rights to others is the true crime. Nobody should get away with discriminating between “good” and “bad” immigrants—or “real” and “phony” refugees—because of their nationality, race, religion, gender, personal history, or when and how they or their family came to be in the US.

It’s the height of hypocrisy for the descendants of European settlers—who stole the land, imposed its borders through violence, and built an empire based on slavery and overseas plunder—to sermonize about who is good enough to live here. It is especially hypocritical when US foreign policy and US corporations continue to cause widespread misery overseas, forcing more people to migrate or flee for their lives every day.

The human rights struggles of immigrants and refugees have the potential to be—and show signs of becoming—a powerful movement for progressive change in the US and around the world. At its core, this movement raises the demand for immigrant and refugee rights, not just appeals for sympathy. Attempting to divide immigrant from immigrant and refugee from refugee represents an attack on the unity of this movement, serving to hold back its potential and obscure its deep political significance.

Demanding an emergency moratorium

The fight for the human rights of immigrants and refugees needs a practical focus. Given the vicious racist attacks against immigrants and asylum seekers in the US, and given the destructive effects those attacks are having on the whole society, we call for an immediate emergency moratorium on all deportation, as well as on all arrests and incarceration based on immigration status. This means not just demanding the abolition of ICE, but breaking the dictatorial power that ICE, the Border Patrol and all law enforcement agencies are exerting today over the lives of immigrants and refugees. It is a declaration that immigration and seeking asylum will not be treated as criminal acts.

Proposing an emergency moratorium is not the same as calling for open borders. A moratorium isn’t a final decision on whether and how borders should be regulated. (We note that for decades many millions of Europeans were welcomed through Ellis Island and other ports of entry. Nobody seems to call that policy “open borders.”) The demand for an emergency moratorium, while clearly repudiating the racist demonization and criminalization of immigrants, is focused and practical. It puts the spotlight on stopping the most destructive violations of immigrants’ and refugees’ human rights that are happening right now.

Some polling data

Based on recent polling data from various sources, it appears that the demand for an emergency moratorium on deportations and detention can draw on a significant reservoir of pro-immigrant sentiment:

  • A Quinnipiac University Poll conducted this January found that 75% of registered voters think immigration is good overall for the US (vs. 14% who think it is bad). This finding is backed up by many other polls. For instance, an NBC/Wall St. Journal poll in September 2018 found that most registered voters think that immigration “helps the US more than it hurts.” That majority has risen steadily over the last several years. A solid majority of residents, in numerous polls, think that undocumented immigrants are at least as law-abiding as US citizens. 59% of registered voters disagree with the argument that undocumented immigrants take jobs away from citizens. (Quinnipiac, April 2018.)
  • An NBC/Wall St. Journal poll in September 2018 found that 61% of respondents were against deporting all immigrants who are living in the United States illegally. A previous poll (June 2018), asking the question in a slightly different way, found that 67% of registered voters thought that “illegal immigrants” should be able to apply for citizenship. An additional 8% thought such immigrants should be able to stay in the US, but not apply for citizenship. This January, a Gallup Poll found that 81% of adults favor or strongly favor “allowing immigrants living in the US illegally the chance to become US citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.” A Monmouth University Poll (January 2018) had similar results.
  • In a Gallup Poll in December 2018, 51% of respondents approved of allowing thousands of refugees from Honduras and other Central American countries to come into this country. (43% disapproved.)
  • A Grinnell College National Poll conducted in November 2018 found that most adults nationwide believed that the US has a moral responsibility to grant asylum to refugees. A majority also felt that there had not been too many refugees allowed into the US at that time. 54% of registered voters say that there is a security crisis at the Mexican border. But 68% of those same voters say that there is a humanitarian crisis at the border. (Quinnipiac, January 2019.)

Of course it would be a mistake to minimize the strong anti-immigrant sentiment that exists in this country. And much of the support for immigrants is conditional, based on immigrants meeting certain criteria (being “good immigrants”). This is the position that has been encouraged and pandered to by many politicians for years.

Attitudes towards refugees at the southern border are definitely quite mixed. For instance, about half of adults in the US have the opinion that “immigrants seeking political asylum at the border should be made to stay in Mexico while they wait for their claims to be processed.” And almost half think that asylum-seekers at the border aren’t really fleeing violence, but “trying to get around the normal process of applying for entry.” (Monmouth, April 2019.) There is plenty of support for increased border enforcement, too.

However, it’s clear that there is a lot for us to work with in terms of public opinion. Most people in the US seem overall to be pro-immigration, and large numbers are opposed to detention and deportation. This sentiment can be mobilized and deepened by calling for an emergency halt to the racism and cruelty of the current policy.

Demanding an emergency moratorium will focus the nation’s attention on the violations of immigrants’ and refugees’ human rights.

Source on polls:

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ICE – Know Your Rights!

“The Trump Administration’s threats of immigration enforcement have many families worried.  The de Blasio Administration wants to ensure all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, know that they have rights and protections under the law. If you are worried about what the President’s actions could mean for you and your loved ones—particularly if you have ever been in deportation proceedings, have received an order from immigration court, or have concerns about your immigration status—call the ActionNYC hotline at 1-800-354-0365 to receive free and safe immigration legal help.”

Bitta Mostofi
Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

Following remarks by President Trump this week, it has been announced that ICE will begin mass actions in 10 major cities, targeting undocumented immigrants in pre-dawn raids. Immigrant Defense Project and the New York Immigration Coalition have put together a series of flyers, posters and toolkits to help you know your rights if ICE come for you.