Category: Immigration

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.

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.










JHISN in Jackson Heights Post

Our campaign to prevent the deportation of Alfredo Flores was recently featured in the Jackson Heights Post. Journalist Meghan Sackman wrote the article, describing Alfredo’s struggle to remain in the US with his family, and our efforts to raise awareness of Alfredo’s case. Thank you, Meghan, for helping to make Alfredo’s voice heard.

You can view the article here.

Help Alfredo Stay With His Family

Alfredo Flores is a native of Mexico who came to the US to seek a better life as thousands of Americans before him have done. He is married to US citizen, Wendoly (Wendy) Valverde, has three US citizen children, and has been a peaceful and productive resident of Jackson Heights, Queens.

In July of 2018 Alfredo boarded a Greyhound bus to visit his brother in Seattle, Washington that, unbeknownst to him, included a stop in Canada. Upon discovering he lacked legal status he was detained by Canadian border patrol and then delivered to DHS. ICE agents detained him after finding he was undocumented.

Alfredo was put in an ICE detention center outside of Buffalo, NY where he remained for 20 days, until his wife Wendy posted a $10,000 bond.

His detention was excruciating for his family, both emotionally and economically. They didn’t have the required $10,000 needed to secure his freedom. However, Wendy valiantly raised it by starting a fundraising campaign.

Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, who was a candidate at the time, read about Alfredo’s detention in the Jackson Heights Post. She connected Wendy with free legal service providers who helped win Alfredo’s release from ICE detention.

Alfredo was reunited with his family and we now ask for your help with keeping their family united and Alfredo on a road to U.S. citizenship.

Sign the petition to help your neighbor Alfredo Flores fight deportation, pursue citizenship, and stay with his family in Queens. Click HERE.

Download the Factsheet HERE.