Racist language was injected into the United States’ foundation before we even became a republic. Indeed, before our pro-slavery Constitution was written, the Declaration of Independence decried “merciless Indian Savages.” So let’s dispense with the pretense (espoused by the book-banning bigots) that racism is a deviation from our founding principles.
That said, the ongoing surge in hate speech represents an alarming reversal from decades in which overt racism was (at least rhetorically) rejected by mainstream political parties and organizations across ideological spectra. We should guard against the tendency to stop being shocked and angered by outrages like:
- Tucker Carlson, the nation’s most popular TV commentator, spewing racist conspiracy theories nightly.
- A sitting Congress member sharing fantasies of assassinating a Latina colleague and facing no consequences from his party.
- Another U.S. Representative saying two Muslim colleagues—one U.S.-born, the other a citizen since childhood— “ should go back to the Middle East” and posting photos conjuring violence.
Of course, Donald Trump rallies have long featured dark-skinned immigrants and asylum-seekers being labeled “rapists,” “animals,” or an “infestation.” During Trump’s presidency, he offered no hint of disapproval when a rally participant suggested shooting immigrants. Just months later, the man who shot dozens and killed 23 people at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart mirrored the words of Carlson and Trump, calling the murders a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”
While facts alone won’t change the minds of people sympathetic to anti-immigrant sentiment, we should know the basics to help prevent misinformation from spreading. First, multiple studies show immigrants, including the undocumented, are more law-abiding than native-born Americans. FBI data on the ten U.S. cities resettling the most refugees per capita through 2017 show crime rates fell in nine of them—sometimes dramatically.
Second, the illusion of an immigration surge was largely created by Trump’s illegal order to incarcerate asylum seekers— falsely claiming refugees wouldn’t appear for court dates unless we lock them up. Instead of letting people try to work productively while awaiting a hearing, Trump doled out more than $300 per person daily to prison corporations caging refugees.
If you want to befuddle a nativist, show them the numbers on net migration. The first period in recent decades for which Mexican immigrants exceeded the number of Mexicans leaving the U.S. encompassed the first half of Trump’s presidency!
Finally, nativists accuse immigrants of taking jobs and driving up taxes, but immigrants do not burden our economy, they energize it. Immigrants start new businesses at double the rate of native-born Americans, creating many new working-class job opportunities.
And asylum-seekers are even more entrepreneurial. The Department of Health and Human Services determined refugees brought in $63 billion more in tax revenue over a decade than they cost. The Trump Administration blocked the release of the findings and it generated little attention when it leaked.
Embracing and welcoming refugees whose lives are at risk isn’t just the humane thing to do, it benefits our whole nation.
Reasonable people disagree on appropriate levels of immigration, and we should weigh concerns about environmental impacts, bargaining power of workers in certain trades, and other factors. But to have a substantive debate, we must refute racist scapegoating and tactics of dehumanization that preempt healthy discussion.
Unitarian Universalists are called to defend the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Let’s keep building our reputation as people who step up to combat racism wherever we see it, and get our nation back to following the arc toward justice.