We Need To Change How We Talk About Immigration

Chris Hacker | The PhoenixThe Mock Border Wall Project, set up on Loyola's West Quad from October 18-20, 2016, was meant to highlight the way immigration was being discussed

Loyola takes pride in its international students, and our university should be proud. Loyola does very well recruiting students from other countries — something that has a clear positive effect on the campus, as I regularly meet people who I never would have otherwise. I’ve been able to talk about China, Brazil, Palestine and countless other countries with people who’ve lived or grew up there.

As an international studies major, this has often been more insightful than any amount of classroom learning, though Loyola’s positive attitude toward undocumented immigration can hurt these same students.

There has been an increasing trend of talking about these issues as if they were similar, if not the same thing, though doing this only merges one popular issue with a highly partisan issue. For evidence of this trend, just look to Loyola’s own Diversity and Inclusion Department. The resources for immigrants with and without a visa are all in one place on their website, even though the process is handled very differently.

In some cases, Loyola even provides more aid for undocumented students. Loyola’s Undergraduate Admissions Office highlights the fact that the university “welcomes applications from all students regardless of immigration status,” and the university even has the Magis Scholarship, which sets $2.50 aside from every student’s tuition — or at least $50,000 each year — specifically for undocumented students. While that’s good for those who don’t have a visa, it’s part of a general trend of talking about all immigration in the same way when the two are actually treated very differently by the public.

Americans largely agree that legal immigration, on the whole, is a definite positive for the economy. We give the limited number of visas to those who are able to do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do, and, in many cases, they’re very successful. Few people on either side of the aisle argue against this kind of immigration, and 84% of the country agreed immigration is a good thing overall based on a 2018 Gallup poll.

The problem is this when type of immigration — which the public overwhelmingly supports — is becoming conflated with illegal or undocumented immigration, a topic so contentious we can’t even agree on the basic terminology.  

That isn’t good.

This type of immigration is increasingly partisan and so unpopular it appears to have single-handedly won President Donald Trump the Republican nomination. Combining a fractious issue like this is much more likely to drag legal immigration down in popularity rather than bring illegal immigration up in popularity.

The question of how to handle immigration and how many immigrants to accept has been a highly contentious issue almost since this nation’s founding, and the current level of support for legal immigration is unprecedentedly high. Overall, the immigration system works quite well. It’s often long and laborious, but it’s also surprisingly popular.

This is a rarity in American history, as we have often had periods where we were very divided. There was even a point when a new political party — the Know Nothings — was created specifically to oppose immigration. There are clear problems with the immigration system, but the problems now are clearly different from those related to those who go outside of the legal system.

If we want to keep it that way, we can’t talk about the two issues as if they’re the same thing. The processes are different, the solutions to there problems are different and their public support couldn’t be more different.

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