What if It Wasn’t About Immigration at All?

What if It Wasn’t About Immigration at All?

- in Progressive Voices

By Marisol Jimenez McGee, El Pueblo


As a newly elected NC General Assembly prepares to delve into another year of politics and policymaking, there is no question that the immigration issue will be on many legislators’ agendas. To be sure, political players on all sides of the debate will be vying to gain some traction for their particular policy perspective.

Immigration “restrictionists” will suggest state and local solutions that focus on eliminating undocumented immigrants’ access to every social safety net service that exists. They will offer their “theory of attrition” which proposes that undocumented immigrants and their families will not be able to survive in our communities if they are forced to live in fear of local law enforcement, without access to healthcare, and without civil rights protections. They will suggest that imposing such a level of societal isolation and suffering will push undocumented immigrants and their families to “go away.”

Restrictionists will also ask us to accept the civil rights violations forced upon legal immigrants and U.S. citizens who fit the “profile” of an undocumented immigrant as an unfortunate but necessary consequence. They will even suggest that we should consider eliminating birthright citizenship in order to mitigate the uncomfortable complication of punishing U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants.

Restrictionists will also point to individuals who have committed heinous crimes and attempt to convince North Carolina that these people are representative of millions of people. They will point at newly-arrived immigrants and question their desire to live here because they have not managed to master the English-language upon arrival. They will pull out arguments that are as old as this country’s long, immigrant history and warn that our country is not strong enough to integrate so many newcomers. They will tap into our fear, our anger, and our differences in order to advance this agenda.       

In contrast to restrictionist approach, we in the immigrant advocacy community will argue that the immigration issue requires federal solutions that recognize the long overdue need for comprehensive immigration reform. We will seek to draw connections between the lack of societal accountability by transnational corporations, the consequences of cheaper goods produced by cheaper labor, and the forces driving the global migration of people.

We will also argue that targeting immigrants through punitive state legislation will only divert scarce resources from our local communities towards a national, and even international, problem. We will point out that undocumented immigrants do not live in a societal vacuum and that we will all face the ramifications of their inability to report crimes, drive safely, vaccinate their children, integrate into communities, and fully contribute all that they have to offer. We will suggest the possibility that our immigrant communities share a common frustration with our broken immigration system and are just as interested and invested in strengthening our neighborhoods, schools, and communities.

We will propose that millions of immigrants cannot and should not be defined by the actions of any one individual. We will raise up examples of first generation immigrant children who have become fully bilingual and bicultural North Carolinians. We will look to our history as a nation of immigrants as a beacon of just how much our country has benefited and will continue to benefit from the integration of immigrant communities. We will call on North Carolina’s and this country’s humanitarianism, compassion, and empathy in order to advance our agenda. 

Our legislators will be asked to make some difficult decisions this year. Without a doubt, they and the rest of North Carolina will hear from both sides on this hugely polarized issue. In the midst of what has proven to be a political flashpoint, perhaps we will all take a moment to consider the radical notion that it may not be about immigration at all… that it may be about people, families, and our character as a state.

Marisol Jimenez McGee is Advocacy Director for El Pueblo, a nonprofit statewide advocacy and public policy organization dedicated to strengthening the Latino community.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.