As expected the immigration debate has dominated the national political scene, most of it led by Donald Trump. Which is appropriate because Donald Trump represents the “white privilege” minority. There are two things that drive the immigration debate. These are changes in the cultural makeup of the United States and economics. Some of you are likely arguing that I forgot to include border security in the mix. As I am going to show you, border security is a red herring to what really drives the fear of immigration, the fear of cultural diversity and economics. The real underlining fear about immigration is cultural diversity followed by self-serving economic fears. The real truth is that these fears are being magnified by a minority fearful that they are losing “white privilege” in the United States.
Before I explain the white privilege problem, let me discuss the issue of economics and immigration. It is a fact that immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants keep wages down. For Mexican’s the great driver for immigrating to the United States is economic. We must accept that Mexican immigrants help keep wages low because they are willing to work for less. However, is that a bad thing?
Low wages are not a bad thing because the fact is that the majority of US citizens benefit from low wages. The problem is not the low wages but the fact that US citizens want low prices on consumer goods while at the same time they want high wages for their menial jobs. (High-tech and specialized jobs still command high wages in the US.) In essence, US citizens want their cake and to eat as well.
We do not need to look further than what I call the “Walmart effect.” US consumers, especially those that complain about immigrants taking jobs away, shop for their consumer goods based on the lowest price point possible. The fact is that the vast majority of the US consumer goods are Chinese. Their quality is low as their prices as well. Even higher-end goods, like iPhones come from Asia because the pressure to keep low prices has created a worldwide supply chain of components and labor based on the lowest price point possible. This keeps the iPhones as cheap as possible thus increasing the US consumer market. Those that complain about low wages ignore the fact that they benefit from them when they purchase their consumables.
The cultural diversity issue is the real driving force behind the Donald Trump immigration rhetoric. It is based on the fear of losing the US “white privilege” identity that Trump’s supporters have magnified through him. Make no mistake, it is a minority whose voices have been magnified by Donald Trump’s celebrity status.
“White privilege” is the fear of losing the Anglo-centric cultural identity of the United States. It is the fear that the English language is being replaced by other languages, especially Spanish. It is also the fear that the Anglo-centric culture is diversifying through cultural diversity. What “white privilege” adherents forget is that the United States has always been culturally diverse. What has changed is the rise of political assertions by the dormant majority, especially the Hispanics that make up the nation.
The Southwest United States, which is a significant component of the country in terms of population and area, has always been dominated by Spanish language and the Hispanic/Latino culture. When Mexico lost the US-Mexico War the inhabitants of the lost territories remained Hispanic and Spanish dominant. They did not assimilate into the Anglo-centric culture. What changed over time is that the Hispanic population emerged from a political stupor, slowly at first and growing as the population grew and self-determination began to assert itself.
This is the underlining fear of immigration reform and it is best exemplified by Donald Trump.
Look closely at Trump’s immigration rhetoric and his personal actions on immigration. The fact is that Donald Trump targets the southern border when he discussed immigration, ignoring the Anglo-centric northern border. Trump has also demonstrated that he has no problem with immigration as long as it comes from the right places. For example, he is married to an immigrant. As a matter of fact, Donald Trump himself came from immigrants, like many US citizens. The immigrants in Trump’s life all adhere to the Anglo-centric image.
But the fact remains that the “white privilege” is a minority when it comes to the view of US citizens, although Donald Trump’s celebrity creates the illusion that it is a majority of US citizens. To understand this let’s look at a recent report on the views of US citizens about immigrants and immigration reform.
Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute published “How Americans View Immigrants, and What They Want from Immigration Reform, Findings from the 2015 American Values Atlas.” The Public Religion Research Institute is a US non-profit and nonpartisan research institution focused on religion and US values studies. Clergy, scholars and journalists routinely use their reports as source material for a better understanding of US general public opinion.
According to the PRRI, the “American Values Atlas (AVA) is a landmark project designed to provide an unprecedented portrait of American attitudes on important issues.” The 2015 AVA is based “on data from over 42,000 bilingual telephone interviews conducted among a random sample of Americans between May 2015 and early January 2016.” [emphasis mine]
Clearly, the sampling is good indicator of US resident attitudes about immigration. According to the report, only 34% of US residents feel that immigrants are a “threat to American customs and values.” Fifty-percent of those surveyed agree that “newcomers from other countries strengthen American society.” When you break down the results by age group it becomes abundantly clear that “white privilege” is an important factor to the immigration debate. Only 36% of those 65 and older “believe that newcomers strengthen American society.” Forty-four percent of this age group believe that immigrants “are a threat” to the US. However, 68% of those between 18 and 29 believe that immigrants “strengthen” the US. As you can see, older US citizens are fearful of cultural diversity in the US.
Unfortunately for immigrants, it is the older citizens that are more likely to vote and thus their minority vote is amplified through the elections. That is changing though, and cultural minorities are beginning to exercise their rights to vote, thus the fear of the “white privilege” minority.
Look closely at the attitudes of the Anglo-centric respondents who were surveyed and you being to understand the “white privilege” phenomena. “Fewer than half of Mormons (45%), white Catholics (44%), and white mainline Protestants (41%) believe immigrants strengthen the country,” according to the report.
Even then, the gap between white religious groups and others in regards to their perceptions of immigrants is narrowing each year. Thus the fear of losing the “white privilege” is the underlining theme behind the Donald Trump immigration politics. Even among the Republicans, the gap is narrowing. Except for the “Conservative Republicans” who polled at 58%, the other two, the “Moderate” and “Liberal” Republicans are a minority who fear that immigrants erode US culture, values and customs.
The most surprising result of the survey is the attitudes about a pathway to citizenship of undocumented immigrants.
Of those surveyed, 62% agree that “immigrants who are currently living here illegally should be allowed a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements.” Only 19%, believe that “illegal immigrants should be identified and deported.”
Yes, you read that correctly, a vast majority of the respondents agree that undocumented immigrants should be provided a pathway to legalizing their stay in the US. Some of you probably do not believe that because Donald Trump has magnified the beliefs of a clear minority through the news media.
I realize that some of you will argue that the survey is skewed or that it did not survey the attitudes of the electorate. The fact remains that unless a more thorough survey is produced, the PRRI survey is the most accurate glimpse of the real attitudes of US citizens in the immigration debate. I would be willing to wager that a survey of the general US electorate would produce the same results.
Donald Trump’s voice may be loud and he magnifies a minority view point through the news media but the fact remains that the majority of US residents view immigrants and cultural diversity in a favorable light. Donald Trump represents that “white privilege” that fears losing its cultural identity in the ever-evolving US cultural identity.
I highly encourage you to read the report, it is very revealing about US attitudes towards immigration. You can download it by clicking here.