Professor Tomas Jimenez used historical data, poll results and crime statistics to show that current hysteria about immigrants threatening the U.S. is unfounded, shining a spotlight on the issue in his April 16 presentation to the Morning Forum of Los Altos, “Making Sense of Immigration Hysteria in the Nation of Immigrants.”
Jimenez, associate professor of sociology and comparative studies in race and ethnicity at Stanford University, is the author of “The Other Side of Assimilation: How Immigrants Are Changing American Life.”
He began his talk by reminding his audience that “America has always been a country of immigrants.”
The current fear of immigrants, Jimenez said, ignores studies revealing that crime rates have dropped as immigration has increased, and that the U.S. “is safer than it’s been in 60 years.” For example while San Jose’s immigrant population tripled, its crime rate decreased by 40 percent.
The fear of the “out-of-control border,” Jimenez explained, is also not based on fact.
“We already have hundreds of miles of walls and lots of security,” he said.
What has changed, Jimenez noted, is the makeup of those coming to the U.S. from Latin America.
For more than a hundred years, Mexican immigrants dominated the influx from the south by a ratio of 9-to-1. Since the recession of 2008, that is no longer the case. Now, 6 percent more Mexicans are leaving the United States than are coming in, and the number of people sneaking into the country is way down.
Today’s immigrants from the south are families – asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador trying to escape the crime and hopelessness of their native countries. These OTM (other than Mexican) refugees now outnumber Mexican immigrants by 9-to-1.
The real crisis, Jimenez said, is the slowing of immigration integration because of the stress of being undocumented in the U.S.
After President Barack Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, protecting from deportation those who came here as children and were born after June 15, 1981, a study in Oregon showed the toll that fear has taken on the mental health of families threatened with deportation. It compared the anxiety level of children who, though born in the U.S., had parents who didn’t qualify for this protection because of their birthdate to children whose parents were protected.
The latter had a statistically significant greater sense of security than those whose parents didn’t qualify for DACA.
Jimenez cited another study that found that immigrants living in New Mexico, the state with the “most welcoming policies toward immigrants,” were far happier than those living in Arizona, “the least welcoming state.”
“There’s a disconnect between people’s opinions and current policy,” he said.
Polls show that the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the White House does not reflect the beliefs of most Americans, but unfortunately, Jimenez said, the “loudest voices get all the attention.”
According to a 2018 poll, more than 56 percent of Americans think immigrants benefit the country. A huge majority (88 percent) of Americans believe the U.S. should give the undocumented a path to becoming citizens. Even among President Donald Trump’s supporters, Jimenez added, a majority favor DACA.
Also unfounded on truth, Jimenez said, is the belief that most undocumented immigrants sneak through the borders. In fact, the majority of today’s undocumented come legally but overstay their visas.
Jimenez used his family history to respond to those who ask why today’s undocumented immigrants don’t just come legally as immigrants did in the past. His mother’s ancestors didn’t need to get visas when they came from Italy because before the 1920s, there were few limitations on who could come.
By the time his father’s family came from Mexico in the middle of the 20th century, entering “legally” had become much more difficult, he said, and now it can take decades for people to obtain visas to immigrate legally, not an option for people who fear for their family’s safety.
At the end of his talk, Jimenez admitted that it’s hard to define exactly what a “good immigration policy would be.”
He acknowledged that “we need limits and screening” but argued that we need to build more courts to listen to asylum claims.
Moreover, Jimenez said, many sectors such as agriculture and construction don’t have enough workers.
As a university professor, he also believes the U.S. makes it too hard for those who study here to stay so they can use their education to contribute to the country’s growth.
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. Subscriptions are open to new members. For membership details and more information, visit morningforum.org.