Editor’s note: MisCONceptions is a column with four contributors. This article was written by João Ribeiro.
St. Patrick’s Day was just about two weeks ago. Across the country, non-Irish and Irish Americans gathered in the streets for a series of celebrations — parades, drinking, green costumes and more drinking. For 40 years, the holiday has been a symbol of how Irish immigrants have altered American society; not only is it a celebration for all to enjoy, but St. Patrick’s Day also celebrates Irish-American heritage. Both sides of the political aisle agree that America is a nation built by immigrants. Yet, there is much disagreement about what should be done with immigration in the contemporary United States. These disagreements have paved the way for the caricaturization of political opponents and their policies. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights how conservatives view liberal immigration policies as a direct threat to the country for both economic and security matters. On the other hand, liberals view the conservative approach to immigration as both inhumane and a direct contradiction to the foundation of our country. I disagree. If we truly love the immigrants who built this country, then it is time to consider curtailing immigration as an act of compassion.
It is likely that you have heard the expression “America is an idea” at least once. The statement often evokes the imagery of American standards to strive for, no matter our nation’s failure to achieve them. When applied to immigration, this ideal calls for the continuous welcoming of immigrants to our country, as if it is the same undeveloped nation of its inception. It’s not. According to the Census Bureau, the United States has a population of more than 330 million people. Families are fleeing states like Massachusetts due to an ongoing housing crisis. Many of these families are hard-laboring immigrants that have been in the state for years. I personally know of many Brazilian families who have been pushed farther and farther away from Boston due to rising costs. These are families like my own, who immigrated in the ‘90s — a decade when the Brazilian community in the country almost tripled. For people like my mom, America was a symbol of economic prosperity and opportunity. She doesn’t think so anymore, and most Americans agree with her. The ‘American Dream’ has seemed to be pushed farther and farther away from American families. America is not an abstract idea. America is a nation composed of people who have often been forgotten.
A large portion of Bernie Sanders’ early immigration policy was the restriction of immigration. Even the socially liberal senator believed that the introduction of workers into the country would lead to the diminishing of wages and the shrinkage of the middle class. The economic disparity between the upper and lower class has been increasing year after year. In 2022 alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that more than 2.76 million people illegally crossed into the United States. That number is higher than the population of 15 U.S. states. Even in 1925, the American Federation of Labor’s Samuel Gomper, an immigrant, stated that, “immigration is, in its fundamental aspects, a labor problem.” Needless to say, our failure to reform our immigration system has not changed things.
Although many look to America as a beacon of hope, we cannot tread down a path of negligence towards those who are already in our country. I don’t mean the rich billionaires or those who think they are entitled to a sense of nationalism. I mean it for people like my mom, who spent years waking up at 4 a.m. for her Dunkin Donuts shift. I mean it for the hooligans who filled our streets with green last week. Just as in relationships, the establishment of boundaries in immigration is an act of compassion towards our neighbors.