Expert: America Has Had A Love-hate Relationship With Immigrants

By: Kira Barrett

Topics: Eldredge Public Library

Statue of Liberty.

CHATHAM – At the Eldredge Public Library last week, University of Oregon professor and immigration expert Daniel Tichenor discussed the turbulent history of America’s often hostile attitude towards immigrants and ways in which they have contributed to the enhancement and bettering of our nation since its founding.

Tichenor began by reminding the audience that we have always been reluctant to welcome immigrants into the country, although we ourselves are a nation comprised almost entirely of immigrant people. Tichenor referenced Benjamin Franklin’s hostility towards German immigrants in the 18th century, stating that Franklin was suspicious of their foreign language, their tendency to remain in groups and their strange-smelling food. He pointed out that these same sentiments are alive in Americans today; the only difference is the country from which the immigrants come.

“Americans have always tended to embrace and celebrate their immigrant past and dread the immigrant present,” Tichenor said.

The difference between the immigrants of the past and present is also racial. Said Tichenor, “We used to be a country in which the vast majority of immigrants were from Europe. The vast majority of immigrants today are from Asia and Latin America.” As a result, Americans have developed a further racial prejudice towards non-white immigrants.

Tichenor said that our aversion to immigrants stems from our fear that they are “different from us, they’re taking our jobs, draining our resources, taking our benefits, and threatening our security and well-being.” These sentiments often go hand-in-hand with what Tichenor referred to as “our insatiable appetite for immigrant labor.” He highlighted the tough spot that many immigrants find themselves in when beckoned by big businesses to enter the country and simultaneously told by the government to leave.

At the end of the talk, members of the audience were invited to ask questions. One of the questions regarded the Supreme Court’s recent decision to consider President Trump’s revised travel ban against people from six predominately Muslim countries. The travel ban perfectly embodies the anti-immigration sentiments that Tichenor outlined earlier in his talk. The audience member asked how the stipulation to only allow refugees into the country if they have an existing relationship with the United States affects those refugees who are already going through the vetting process. Tichenor replied that it depends on “how precisely other courts define that relationship,” but that if you’re not “somebody who is a returning foreign student or you have an employer here or a family contact,” then “you’re out of luck.”

Tichenor is the author of “Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control,” “Rallying Forces: Presidents, Social Movements” and “The Transformation of American Politics.” He is the Philip H. Knight Chair of Political Science and director of the Program on Democratic Engagement and Governance at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon.