America is a country of immigrants
Our view: Anti-immigrant sentiment is fueled by lack of understanding and an unwillingness to learn about others
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/217128
One of the observations we have made about the acrimonious debate over illegal immigration is that many of the people who are complaining are new to Arizona. Others have noticed, too, that much of the intolerance concerning immigration comes from people for whom contact with immigrants is a new experience.
Such intolerance has to stop. It's not healthy for our communities and has the potential to lead to social unrest.
Anecdotally, we have noticed that whenever we editorialize in favor of comprehensive immigration reform or other changes that don't involve only increasing border security, we receive many letters from retirement communities or new developments in Southern Arizona. We also get a flurry of letters from across the country.
We've often wondered why this is so. We received a possible answer last week at an immigration forum in Phoenix sponsored by the Communications Institute. One of the recurring themes was that many Americans are having trouble adapting to changes in their communities — be it their hometowns or their adopted communities in the Sun Belt states, including Arizona.
Chris Simcox, president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, an organization that periodically watches the border for illegal immigrants, said, "The natives are restless. The natives have not had time to accommodate to the changes in their communities.
"Overnight in communities from Nebraska to Iowa to Minnesota — everywhere across the country — the social friction has increased beyond belief."
Daniel T. Griswold, director of the Center for Trade Policies at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank, noted: "There are some people who are not only opposed to illegal immigration, they are opposed to immigration — period."
The way we see it, some people don't like the fact that immigrants are coming into their communities, bringing with them their culture and languages other than English.
Also, people who leave the Midwest or the Plains and resettle in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona find, to their surprise, that places like Tucson are very different from the towns they've left.
Americans everywhere have a right to speak up about illegal immigration. But those who rail against illegal immigration should not expect the world to revolve around them.
Immigrant bashers cannot realistically expect that their hometowns will look the same way they did 50 years ago. Nor should they expect border communities that have always been bilingual and multicultural to conform to their ideas of what an American city should look like.
Yet some Americans believe it should be their way or the highway concerning immigrants — regardless of their legal status.
Sean Noble, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., said his office has polled constituents who call to complain about immigration and found that 95 percent are people who relocated to Arizona.
"Those of us who are native Arizonans have grown up with immigrants all of our lives — for generations — and for us to have an influx of people from Mexico is not a challenge," Noble said at the immigration forum. "People who have not grown up here don't understand how that dynamic works."
The bias against immigrants seems to occur whether they enter the country legally or not.
Noble said that when Shadegg introduced a bill in 2006 to expand the number of H-1B visas given to highly educated foreigners — would-be legal immigrants — his office received 11,000 letters, faxes, e-mails and phone calls, most in opposition to the bill. Noble said only about 3 percent of those communications came from people in Arizona.
Such intolerance of foreigners is not what made this country great. America has traditionally absorbed foreigners, their languages and cultures and become stronger in the process.
The vitriol aimed at the immigrant community, led mostly by ratings-hungry talking heads or idealogues on radio and television, is harmful.
Ward Bushee, a top-ranking editor at the Arizona Republic, said rancor around the immigration debate has the potential to lead to social unrest.
"Neighbors are being pitted against each other and the conversation has turned quite ugly," Bushee said. "There's a very angry tone to what's happening here. Where does that go? If you look at long-term racial issues, some very terrible things have happened in big cities when things got out of control."
We believe Americans can ease the tension surrounding the immigration debate simply by spreading the message of tolerance.
We can start here in Southern Arizona by telling new neighbors and Americans in other parts of the country that living in a multicultural city has many more benefits than pitfalls.