In immigration protests, love trumps hate
The anti-immigration rally that took place July 18 in front of the building that houses the Mexican Consulate in Philadelphia’s historic district gathered some 10 or so protesters as part of the “National Day of Protesting Against Immigration Reform, Amnesty & Border Surge.” The action was organized nationally by longtime anti-immigration groups ALI-PAC and BALA, among others, and locally by organizations like Pennsylvanians for Immigration Control and Enforcement. The protests were supposed to bring out and show the sheer number of people who would like to see the borders on lockdown and all undocumented immigrants immediately deported, including — maybe especially — the 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have been detained since October of last year.
It was hard not to note the differences between the groups. The anti-immigration folks were all middle-aged or older, white and the only accent in evidence was the Irish brogue of one of the women we spoke to. The immigration advocates on the other hand, were mostly Latino, much younger, and they, variously, spoke with accents and without, in Spanish and in English. The immigration advocates gave us their names — even the undocumented folks who were there — the anti-immigration people would not.
But the interesting thing about seeing both groups together was noting what they both had in common: a clear majority of each were women. While the faces and experts we see on the national news on both sides of the immigration debate are more likely to be men, the boots on the ground, as it were, are not.
Women, according to a Pew Center for the People and the Press report released in June of this year, are more likely than men to favor making undocumented immigrants who are already here eligible for citizenship (78 percent of women vs. 73 percent of men out of the 76 percent total who favor eligibility for citizenship). Only 16 percent of women (of the 23 percent of all people who do not support citizenship) say “there should be a national law enforcement effort to deport all immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally,” according to the report.
So was the overwhelming number of women on the anti-immigration side just a Philly anomally?
Not likely. A recent Rasmussen Report poll found that a majority of likely U.S. voters have sharply different views about the unaccompanied minors detained at the border than about the immigrants who are already here.
Fifty-nine percent of those Rasmussen polled said that the “primary focus of any new immigration legislation passed by Congress should be to send the young illegal immigrants back home as quickly as possible,” and 52 percent of those polled disbelieved that the children were immigrating to escape violence, rather that they “are coming here for economic reasons.” (Note that the poll questions were phrased in exactly that way, asking about “illegal immigrants” and “young illegal immigrants” throughout.)
Those gathered at the anti-immigration rally in Philadelphia certainly echoed these findings. The two we spoke to were vehement about the immediate deportation of the children on the border, and neither believed them to be refugees, just part of a continuum of what they consider “open border” policies.
Meanwhile, on the immigration advocacy side of the protest, at least one of the personal testimonies delivered via megaphone was a first-hand account of immigration prompted by an attempted kidnapping and pervasive violence.
While it is disheartening that women — who have felt keenly the effect of lived experiences being discounted in matters such as domestic violence, rape and sexual assault — should be rallying for policies that so roundly discount the lived experiences of immigrants, the difference in realities shouldn’t really surprise us.
A 2013 Pew report on “Civic engagement in the digital age” confirmed that the underlying demographic character of engagement, even in the age of digital activism, continues to follow certain long-established patterns: “Specifically, those who live in higher income households and those with college or graduate educations are consistently more likely than those with lower income or education levels to take part in a host of civic or political activities—in both online and offline spaces.” In terms of overall civic engagement — of which attending political rallies is among the most easily visible indicators — the report goes on to state that “(d)espite the increased prominence of online platforms when it comes to Americans’ political activity, much of the day-to-day conversation around these issues takes place offline. On an “every day” level, Americans are three times as likely to discuss politics or public affairs with others through offline channels (such as talking in person or over the telephone) as they are through online channels.”
Which means, of course, that we’re talking to our neighbors, friends, family — those who are most likely to share a similar view based on a similar set of life experiences. And since media coverage, too, creates a sense of shared life experience on a national level, we cannot discount the way all the “talking heads” — be they politicians or media commentators — have focused on immigration and the situation of the children at the border in particular. We don’t hear them referred to as children — much less refugee children whose flight may have a basis in our own past foreign policy in Central America — but as an impersonal (and threatening) “surge.”
So are anti-immigration and immigration advocates condemned to always be on opposite sides of this issue?
We choose to believe not. We choose to believe that as neighborhoods diversify and politicians and media commentators start coming from more varied backgrounds, our “shared national experience” will become less oppositional, less focused on one “default” way of viewing, speaking and understanding. We choose to believe that all of us, given the opportunity, will pick love over hate. Which is why we focus our coverage on the lived experiences of new and old immigrants alike, of the citizens and non-citizens who are an integral part of building up our city and nation.