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Why a US government agency deleted the words ‘nation of immigrants’

For more than a century, the identity of the United States has been grounded in the notion that we are a “nation of immigrants.” Immigrants have made innumerable contributions to our economy, infrastructure, and culture – building our railroads and bridges, bringing innovation and new ideas, and settling in communities that thrive throughout our country today. But now, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a federal agency charged with immigrant affairs, has turned its back on this rich legacy.

As of last week, the mission statement of the USCIS has changed. No longer does its mission speak to “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” that promotes “an awareness and understanding of citizenship” along with “ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.” Now, the new version focuses on “adjudicating requests for immigrant benefits” while “protecting Americans” and “securing the homeland”.

Why do changes to the USCIS’s mission statement matter? It may seem like just a few words, but this new language is happening within the context of other alarming changes to our national immigration policies and practices.

Refugee admissions have been curbed to a historic low, and people with “temporary protected status” who fled their homelands due to natural disasters or civil wars are being sent back.

Several crucial programs are at risk of being terminated, including programs that allow 50,000 people from countries underrepresented in current immigration streams to come to the US, pathways for those who arrived in the US as children without legal documents to remain in the US to work and attend school, and the family-based system of immigration – a cornerstone of US immigration policy – which allows US citizens to reunite with family members by sponsoring their migration to the US.

All of these changes have been presented under the guise of protecting against threats to our national security. But these policies stand in stark contrast to the will of the American people. Despite increased attention on anti-immigrant sentiments, Americans across the country largely embrace immigrants of all faiths and cultures and want our government to do the same.

Most Americans believe the numbers of immigrants coming to the United States should be kept at its present level or increased. And 60% percent of Americans oppose building a wall on our border with Mexico. Nearly three-quarters of Americans now support granting legal status to immigrants originally brought to the US without papers as children, driven by the same moral imperative that has guided family reunification efforts over the last 50 years.

These levels of endorsement in national polls are bolstered by the actions of US citizens from many walks of life who have taken to the streets in protest, boldly stating that “immigrants are welcome here”.

Indeed, across the country, people and communities have been sending the clear message that immigrants are not only welcomed, but valued. Hundreds of local governments have advocated for their cities and towns to be recognized as “welcoming cities” for immigrants.

Spanning from the industrial rust-belt of the midwest to our nation’s borders, civic leaders have gone to great lengths to welcome immigrants, because they open up new businesses, populate local schools, revitalize housing markets, and infuse new life into local communities. And while the majority of immigrants in the US are here legally, nearly 500 US cities have chosen to become “sanctuary cities” to protect immigrants without legal status from deportation, even at the risk of losing federal funding.

These actions by everyday Americans uphold our nation’s values and reflect the best of who we are as a country, while our federal immigration policies are seeking to close doors and build walls. One of the best ways to honor our values as a nation is not to close opportunities to immigrants, but to successfully integrate them into the fabric of our society. As researchers who have been studying immigration and race relations for 20 years, our research shows that one of the best ways to integrate immigrants into the fabric of society is to interact with and welcome them.

Such encouraging effects of contact between US citizens and immigrants are not limited to big cities or liberal-leaning areas. Recent immigrants have established themselves both in diverse urban areas and new destinations across the United States.

According to recent poll data, more than 75% of US adults report that there are immigrants living in their community, with about a quarter (27%) reporting many recent immigrants in the community where they live. Our surveys of US citizens, including both white and black Americans, show that the more they encounter and interact with immigrants, the more inclined they are to welcome them into their communities.

This significance of welcoming does not simply serve to express our national values or concern about immigrants and their wellbeing. Welcoming immigrants is also important for creating a shared sense of identity and community within our nation. Parallel surveys we have conducted with immigrants show that the more they feel welcome by Americans, the more they come to identify as American themselves and to seek to become US citizens – factors that can fuel greater civic participation and contributions to our society.

The recent barrage of exclusionary immigration policy proposals are attempts to sow the seeds of fear, anxiety, and distrust. Rather than pursue policies that set immigrants apart, we should seek to integrate immigrants and highlight the assets they bring to communities across our nation.

(Author Linda R Tropp is a professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dina G Okamoto is the director of the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society at Indiana University. They are both visiting scholars at the Russell Sage Foundation. Article Source: The Guardian)

‘It may seem like just a few words, but this new language is happening within the context of other alarming changes to our national immigration policies and practices.’ Photograph: Adam Gray-Barcroft Images)

Published Date: Sunday, March 4th, 2018 | 01:09 AM

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