Im­mi­grants, Trump: A com­pli­cated story

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion/national News - Opin­ion Gre­gory Af­tandil­ian

BE­FORE his at­tack on the Khans — im­mi­grant par­ents of a United States sol­dier who was killed in Iraq in 2004 — many im­mi­grants in the United States and their chil­dren had voiced sup­port for the Repub­li­can can­di­date Don­ald Trump. This may seem odd given that Trump has spo­ken about build­ing a wall along the Mex­i­can border, bar­ring Mus­lims from en­ter­ing the US, and mak­ing dis­parag­ing com­ments against var­i­ous eth­nic and re­li­gious groups.

One would think that such com­ments would have made Trump ra­dioac­tive among im­mi­grants and their de­scen­dants, but that was not the case.

A con­sid­er­able num­ber of le­gal im­mi­grants in the US say they played by the rules and waited many years be­fore they were al­lowed to im­mi­grate.

They be­lieve il­le­gal im­mi­grants took ad­van­tage of the por­ous US-Mex­i­can border or over­stayed in the coun­try with their vis­i­tor visas il­le­gally.

The main ar­gu­ment is that this fun­da­men­tally a ques­tion of fair­ness.

One Indian-Amer­i­can le­gal im­mi­grant told The New York Times ear­lier this year that “You should not re­ward peo­ple who have bro­ken the law … That’s why I like Don­ald Trump when he says, ‘Let’s build a wall.’” He added, “I be­lieve any­body who came to this coun­try il­le­gally should be de­ported.”

An­other rea­son many le­gal im­mi­grants have voiced sup­port for Trump is be­cause he is the quin­tes­sen­tial en­tre­pre­neur in their es­ti­ma­tion.

It is fair to say that most im­mi­grants who come to the US want to achieve the Amer­i­can dream that, in their eyes, means start­ing a busi­ness, pros­per­ing and giv­ing their chil­dren a bet­ter life than they had back in their old coun­try.

What about the chil­dren and the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of le­gal im­mi­grants? Many of them saw how hard it was for their par­ents to earn a liv­ing in the US — in real­ity the Amer­i­can dream was a real strug­gle — as they faced lan­guage bar­ri­ers and, at times, dis­crim­i­na­tion.

They say that their par­ents en­dured a lot but, through hard work and per­se­ver­ance, over­came ob­sta­cles and made a bet­ter life for them­selves and their chil­dren.

Cou­pled with this sen­ti­ment is the be­lief is that the govern­ment “did not give their par­ents any hand­outs”, nor were there any ap­pli­ca­tions in mul­ti­ple lan­guages as there are now. Im­mi­grants were com­pelled to learn English to suc­ceed.

Dif­fer­ent con­di­tions Of course, such be­liefs are not en­tirely ac­cu­rate.

To­day, while many le­gal im­mi­grants get some govern­ment as­sis­tance, the il­le­gals do not be­cause they would then have to come out from the shad­ows and be sub­ject to de­por­ta­tion.

In ad­di­tion, many of the ear­lier im­mi­grants lived in ghet­toised com­mu­ni­ties and never learned proper English.

Nonethe­less, the feel­ing that the new im­mi­grants — par­tic­u­larly the il­le­gal ones — are “tak­ing ad­van­tage of the sys­tem” seems to grate on many of the de­scen­dants of the ear­lier waves of im­mi­grants.

The coun­try that they knew grow­ing up seems to be chang­ing for the worse in their eyes.

That is why when Trump says he is “go­ing to make Amer­ica great again” this phrase has some res­o­nance with some im­mi­grants and their chil­dren.

For­get­ting the past Some of them tend to for­get that an­ti­im­mi­grant dem­a­gogues were quite promi­nent in the early part of the 20th cen­tury, mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for their par­ents.

In­deed, there was such anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment and talk of the coun­try “chang­ing for the worse” that the US Congress passed highly dis­crim­i­na­tory laws in 1924 that se­verely re­stricted im­mi­gra­tion from South­ern and Eastern Europe and Asia.

If Trump had just stuck with the is­sue of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, he would not be in such hot wa­ter to­day.

But as a nar­cis­sist, he can­not con­trol him­self.

His at­tack on the Khan fam­ily who ap­peared at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion was a bridge too far.

Although the US still has prob­lems of prej­u­dice, that prac­tice stops at a war’s edge.

The vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans be­lieve that any Amer­i­can sol­dier who has died in war and their fam­ily de­serves the ut­most re­spect.

When Trump went af­ter the mother, Ghaz­ala Khan, of the dead sol­dier, sug­gest­ing that her Mus­lim faith pre­vented her from speak­ing at the con­ven­tion, most Amer­i­cans were ap­palled by his re­marks.

Polls show that 74 per­cent of Amer­i­cans dis­ap­prove of Trump’s at­tack on the Khans.

In the US his­tory, wars are a great equaliser. In a 1970s so­ci­o­log­i­cal study of a Slo­vakAmer­i­can com­mu­nity that in­cluded many World War II veter­ans, one in­ter­vie­wee stated that be­fore that war, “ev­ery­one was in their own lit­tle group … Dur­ing the war, ev­ery­one got to know ev­ery­one else, and the old bar­ri­ers fell apart.

“They saw that ev­ery­one was hu­man just like them, that blood was all red.”

T h i s sen­ti­ment — that in war ev­ery­one is equal re­gard­less of eth­nic­ity or religion — ex­plains in large part why Trump has taken such a drub­bing in the polls in re­cent weeks af­ter hav­ing been tied with Hil­lary Clin­ton ear­lier in the sum­mer.

Un­less he apol­o­gises and avoids such com­ments in the fu­ture, he will re­main in sec­ond place and will not re­gain the sup­port of many im­mi­grants and their chil­dren, par t i c u l a r ly those who served in the mil­i­tary, of which there are many.

Gre­gory Af t a n d i l i a n is a lec­turer in the Pardee School of Global Stud­ies at Bos­ton Univer­sity and is a for­mer US State De­part­ment Mid­dle East analys

If Trump had just stuck with the is­sue of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, he would not be in such hot wa­ter to­day. But as a nar­cis­sist, he can­not con­trol him­self

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