Immigration and the White Man’s Karma
A major social problem facing America today is immigration. Our society is being torn apart through suspicion, political ranting, violent terrorism, vandalism, and deep fears. I am deeply concerned for the future of the USA in this area. Immigration is not the real problem; it is the social conflicts that arise from multiple ethnic groups inhabiting the same geographical space. If Americans do not find resources to blend in peace, then our current social problems will escalate to social wars and violence.
Historical Perspective The history of immigration in America really begins with the immigration of White Europeans. The indigenous Native Americans would rightfully have had a fear of losing their cultural norms, lifestyle, and lands. In retrospect we can see that whatever fears they had were well founded. Historically there were many success stories of the new Anglo immigrants and Native Americans living in harmony. But in the long run, after all the battles, the indigenous people did lose all that was precious to them. The sad irony of today’s immigration conflicts is that the roles are reversed, as the majority White culture is slowly being displaced by arriving ethnicities. We may be sympathetic to the natural fears of Anglos as they feel their cultural norms and lifestyle being displaced. Maybe we could call this problem the story of the White man’s karma!
The next significant migration to America was the forced migration of thousands of African people brought as slaves. The economic principle of cheap labor to support big business was radicalized through slavery. For a long time ethnic cultural conflict was suppressed as one culture used force to subdue the other. A long slow struggle for equality has ensued.
The website of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service tells the history of Immigration (USCIS). In America’s first century immigration was free and open. In 1875 immigration law was declared a federal responsibility. Events then led to further legislation to protect the interests of the majority population, “The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Alien Contract Labor laws of 1885 and 1887 prohibited certain laborers from immigrating to the United States. The general Immigration Act of 1882 levied a head tax of fifty cents on each immigrant and blocked (or excluded) the entry of idiots, lunatics, convicts, and persons likely to become a public charge”.
Between 1900 and 1920 over 14.5 million new immigrants arrived (USCIS 2012). This wave of immigrants was from various parts of Europe, with similar cultural norms as the majority Anglo culture and actively pursued assimilation into the majority culture.
After World War 1 for the first time immigration was restricted with numerical quotas. Then due to illegal immigration and smuggling, the U.S. Border Patrol was established in 1924 (USCIS 2012). After World War 2 regular immigration quotas were still low but immigration policies shifted to aiding refugees fleeing communist countries (USCIS 2012). Current Mexican immigration policies took shape after the war in an age of American economic prosperity, “the Mexican Agricultural Labor Program, commonly called the ‘Bracero Program,’ matched seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico with approved American employers. Between 1951 and 1964, hundreds of thousands of braceros entered the country each year as non-immigrant laborers” (USCIS 2012).
By the mid-20th century, the majority of applicants for immigration visas came from Asia and Central and South America rather than Europe (USCIS 2012). These new immigrants were brought under the humanitarian category rather than as laborers. The humanitarian category covers asylum seekers and refugees which is a major portion of today’s immigration.
Since the terrorist events of 9/11/2001 security has been tightened and overhauled. Multiple agencies were combined under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002, including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Even though restrictions are tight, in principle the, “United States retained its commitment to welcoming lawful immigrants and supporting their integration and participation in American civic culture” (USCIS 2012). And as Leon-Guerrero says, “the United States still has the most open immigration policy in the world (2014, p. 83).
Major Immigration Dynamics We can observe from this brief historical overview two key dynamics governing immigration. #1- Economics have been a major factor in who migrates to America; slaves, migrant workers, and special talent workers. #2- Humanitarian principles also contribute to immigration as people flee wars, oppression, and persecution to find sanctuary in the Land of the Free.
Perspectives from Sociology The purpose of sociology is to examine the dynamics of how society is formed, how it functions, and seek solutions for social problems. The three dominant sociological theories are: functionalist, social conflict, and symbolic interactionist.
From the functionalist perspective assimilation is the solution. The functionalist view favors the role of the majority and institutions because they maintain the norms and social solidarity within society. It views the struggles of the poor as an acceptable and beneficial to the whole body of society. If the main solution this view offers is assimilation, I think it would be difficult to persuade American minorities of the benefits. (I wonder how this view would treat slavery).
The social conflict perspective is very accurate in describing this social problem but is also the most pessimistic because this conflict does have potential for violence. The conflict perspective is based upon the views of Carl Marx, and would view the majority as desiring to maintain their grip of power over the minority immigrants and encourages conflict to overcome the majority – even violence. The Marxist conflict theory is based upon biological evolution and the principle of natural selection, or “survival of the fittest.” Marx viewed struggle as the essential social dynamic. Viewing immigration tensions primarily through his lens would be very pessimistic with our future only perpetual conflict.
The symbolic interactionist theory focuses on how our society is formed through the labels we use and that all society is a social construct. This means that things like race or gender are concepts developed by society. In the case of immigration they would say that borders are just our inventions and solution would be to deconstruct our social constructs. They may say that terms such as “immigrant,” or “illegal immigrant” are labels we have constructed to perpetuate social roles. If we mix in conflict theory then we may assume that these social roles are negative roles constructed by the majority for oppressing minorities. However, I wonder if this theory places too much weight on the power of symbols to shape society rather than seeing symbols as an outward manifestation of society, and there by ignore the deeper forces that shape our society.
Solutions I propose that we analyze immigration and the social conflicts that arise from multiple ethnicities inhabiting the same geographical space, through another paradigm. I have been taking some freedom to form my own sociological theory to analyze society. It is very biased towards creationism and personal accountability. My social theory begins with a premise that life was created as good, but humans distort things to create oppressive structures. Capitalism is not inherently oppressive but because of greed capitalism can be horribly oppressive and often needs to be restrained. Gender roles are part of nature as based upon biology, but humans distort nature and use gender as a means of oppression. Even in race, it is natural to value and appreciate one’s own group, but racism is when we elevate our group above others or oppress members of another group or race. To God there is only one race, the human race.
My theory holds to the premise that a healthy society is one in which individuals and groups are held accountable for their actions. It recognizes the significant contribution of agency that all humans make to their own life and to society. It also recognizes systemic structural problems which limit human choices and holds those institutions accountable. From my proposed perspective humans are capable of and expected to rise above basic biological instincts of survival of the fittest and greed of power, to acknowledge our accountability for treating others with justice and compassion. I will continue working on my sociological lens but this is my starting point.
Economics: If global economics were not so out of balance then workers would not be rushing to America for jobs. Global economic stratification as left about 40% of the world living on under $2- per day (Chambliss & Eglitis 2014, p. 426). The irony is that we are a country with two signs; “help wanted” and “keep out.” We need structural reform on a global level. The USA must be willing to pay a living wage to workers in all countries that produce our goods. We must be willing to promote global economic equality. This may result in our dollar not having the same purchasing power but that will be the price of peace. If economic conditions are better around the world then there will be less incentive to migrate to America which would reduce the magnitude of the problem. I recommend my essay, “Wages to Live By” in the Pages section of this blog.
When resources are low then competition between work groups will result in conflict. Consider the rapidly changing demographics of foreign born workers. In 1970, 4.3 million, and in 2011 there were over 24 million foreign born workers in the USA (Leon-Guerrero, 2014 p. 231). The structures of society should promote equality. All workers within the country, including immigrants, must be paid a living wage. An ancient text promoting equality within a newly formed utopian society (Israel) says, “You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born” (Leviticus 24:22 NIV 2005). This passage specifies that the alien, or migrant worker, must be treated equally within society.
The Bible actually speaks several times about proper treatment of immigrants and it is crazy that with all the religious political talk these passages are ignored. In the 10 commandments we are told to take a day of rest from work. This command is given to Israel which had been slaves in Egypt. Slaves don’t normally get days off work so this command to rest was significant. Now, I can imagine ancient laws that gave nobility a day of leisure but this command is given to all the people. In fact the verse reads, “you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates” (Exodus 20:8 NIV). Even the animals were to rest! These laws were given to Israel, not to all nations. We should use caution before trying to apply the laws of the Bible to America or any nation. However, we do see a valuable principle of justice applied equally to all the people.
Therefore When greedy human nature goes unrestrained we oppress others for our gain such as over running Native Americans or slavery. Solutions to conflicts in the economic arena work when people recognize a higher mediating Authority and choose to be accountable to It. Government laws as a secondary authority do need to restrain capitalism and provide basic equal opportunities. If employees choose working over starvation or thievery, then even in the lowest jobs they should receive enough to live on. It is fair for government to intervene on their behalf.
Those in power; financial, political, or majority, have a choice to treat others with justice and compassion. If not, perpetual conflict between ethnicities and classes will be the result.
Copyright; Mark Anderson 2016
Chambliss, W. J., & Eglitis, D. S. (2014). Discover sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Leon-Guerrero, A. (2014). Social problems: Community, policy, and social action (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Marx, K. (1888). The communist manifesto (F. Engels, Ed.; A. Lutins, Trans.) [Release date 1993 Etext #61]. Retrieved April 27, 2014, from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/23905
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U.S.A., Department of Homeland Security, USCIS History office and library. (2012). Overview of INS History. Retrieved February 24, 2016, from https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/History%20and%20Genealogy/Our%20History/INS%20History/INSHistory.pdf