Immigration lack of debate

So I am more than a little annoyed at my classmates.   In my SOC310 course, Race, Gender, and Ethnic Relations in the U.S., we recently had a board discussion on the history of immigrants in America within the context of current experiences.  I was a little late to start, and found upon joining the discussion a few pervasive myths about immigrants.  First, the entire debate centered on Hispanics, which given the SB 1070, perhaps shouldn’t be surprising, but the immigration issue is broader than that.  Second, my classmates had nearly uniform perceptions of Hispanic immigrants, namely that they cost U.S. taxpayers a lot of money because they use all of our services (Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Welfare, Social Security, etc.), they don’t pay taxes, they are criminals, and they don’t know English.  Lastly, rarely did my classmates offer citations and if they did, they were peer-reviewed, unbiased citations.

I found myself wondering a few things:

A)  Do people really believe all of the garbage in the airwaves?

B)  Does nobody question motives or check facts?

C)  Where was my professor?

The other thing that bothered me is that when I challenged class assumptions, nobody responded.  Grrrr.

Outlined below is my (perhaps too emotional) response to the prompt:

It is impossible to ignore the issue of immigration if one is to understand race/ethnic, class and gender dynamics. Discuss history of immigrants in America within the context of our current experiences.

Be sure to cite appropriate, credible sources to support your discussion.

Patrick Rock was a young boy when he traveled to the new world with parents and brothers, fleeing Cladybeg, Ireland, in County Armagh, for the promise of land and a better life.  Landing in Baltimore, the Rock’s found an environment hostile to the Scotts-Irish family, with little food, shelter, nor free land.  The Rock’s moved inland, eventually finding their way into Kentucky, Ohio and later Indiana.  Like many immigrants at the time, Patrick quickly settled in to his adopted country and defended her interests in the Revolutionary War.  Patrick’s story is much like the story of many immigrants that seek a new life in the U.S. today.

They come because the conditions in their home countries are deplorable and many choose to take enormous risks to build a better life for they and their families.  In an earlier post, I described the journey made by Alex Cuevas, my father-in-law, which is remarkably similar to story of my Great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Patrick.   When the similarities are viewed in this context, it is clear that most overriding difference is time.  Patrick, might be viewed as a settler, a colonist, a founder of the nation, because his immigration is distant.  Alex, on the other hand, might be viewed as a freeloader, an illegal immigrant that mooched of the American system, using services meant for Americans and not paying taxes, probably committing crimes to boot.  However, future pace to 20 years from now, when Alex’s grandchildren are adults, or even 100 years from now, how might Alex’s story be perceived differently?

Immigrants have come as colonists, settlers, slaves, indentured servants, both legal and illegally (Hodson & Sullivan, 2008).   Most come to America because of market forces (Hanson, 2007).  In short, there are jobs here that represent an opportunity that immigrants do not perceive in their countries of origin.  Immigrants often occupy lower social classes due to a variety of factors including liminal legality (Menjivar, 2006), language barriers, racial discrimination and/or prejudice (Fiske-Rusciano, 2009), and employment in marginal jobs (Hodson & Sullivan, 2008Menjivar, 2006).  Immigrants, including Jews, Irish, Italians, Latinos, African-Americans, and Asians have historically been discriminated against based on their dissimilarity to the dominant class of white Europeans (Fiske-Rusciano, 2009).

Immigrants in the United States have a long history of being used as scapegoats for U.S. economic woes (Sothern Poverty Law Center, 1994).  The blame game has been used to fuel nativist movements and create restrictive policies, resulting in penalties for certain racially identifiable groups (U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, 1980).  There are a number of specific, historical examples of immigrant groups being blamed for U.S. economic woes.   The poor economy in the 1870s was blamed on immigrants that were accused of taking jobs meant for Americans and driving down wages (U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, 1980); while the Mexican Repatriation Campaign, which “repatriated” more than 500,000 persons to Mexico, many of whom from U.S. citizens, was “spurred by the economic distress of the Great Depression” (U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, 1980, p. 185).

So I suppose that given the dire economic conditions in the U.S. today, that we shouldn’t be surprised that illegal immigrants are being blamed for taking American jobs, using up all of our services, costing the U.S. $113B annually, not paying taxes, raising crime levels and being a general burden on the backs of hard-working Americans.  Of course, there is some evidence that gets in the way of the blame game.

  • “For the U.S. economy, immigration appears to be more or less a wash” (Hanson, 2007)
  • Illegal immigrants pay a significant amount of taxes and cannot receive the benefits.  For examples, as of 2005, the Social Security Administration’s Earnings Suspense File had grown to $520 Billion dollars and is growing at more than $60B a year (O’Carroll, 2006).  The ESF is a result of unmatched SSNs and the Social Security Administration believes that the unmatched SSNs are largely the resulted of undocumented workers (O’Carroll, 2006). Illegal immigrants cannot collect Social Security or Medicare, our two largest, means-tested, programs.
  • There is evidence that indicates that Hispanic illegal immigrants account for less crime than U.S. citizens (Hagan & Palloni, 1999)
  • The $113B annual cost of illegal immigration to taxpayers was developed in a report by FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a powerful lobbying group whose founders and early funding sources include overt racists and proponents of eugenics (The Pioneer Fund, 2011Zeskind, 2005).

So despite evidence to the contrary, blaming immigrants for the woes of our country is an old, familiar pattern, where politicians can divert our attention from the real reasons for our problems, and instead scapegoat minorities that aren’t able to protect themselves from the “tyranny of the majority” (Tocqueville, Reeve, & Spencer, 1839).  We have a $14 trillion dollar deficit, two wars, 9.4% unemployment, and a double-dip recession and the Wizard of Oz is telling us to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”(Fleming et al., 1939), instead telling us that illegal immigrants caused these problems.   Unfortunately, so many believe the rhetoric, and consequently, despite my family’s long and storied history in this country, my children will suffer continued prejudice and discrimination, simply because they are growing up Latino in a bad economy.


Fiske-Rusciano, R. (2009). Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Fleming, V., LeRoy, M., Langley, N., Ryerson, F., Woolf, E. A., Stothart, H., . . . Turner Entertainment Co. Collection (Library of Congress). (1939). The Wizard of Oz (pp. 1 videodisc of 1 (laser) (ca. 102 min.)). United States: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  MGM/CBS Home Video

Hagan, J., & Palloni, A. (1999). Sociological criminology and the mythology of Hispanic immigration and crime. Social Problems, 46(4), 617-632.

Hanson, G. H. (2007). The economic logic of illegal immigration. Council on Foreign Relations, 26(April 2007), 1-52.

Hodson, R., & Sullivan, T. A. (2008). The social organization of work (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Menjivar, C. (2006). Liminal legality: Salvadoran and Guatemalan immigrants’ lives in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 111(4), 999-1037.

O’Carroll, P., Jr. (2006). Statement for the record: Administrative challenges facing the Social Security Administration.  Washington DC: U.S. Senate

Committee on Finance Retrieved from

Southern Poverty Law Center. (1994). Anti-immigration violence rages nationwide. In R. Fiske-Rusciano (Ed.), Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

The Pioneer Fund. (2011). The Founders  Retrieved August 10, 2011, from

Tocqueville, A. d., Reeve, H., & Spencer, J. C. (1839). Democracy in America (3rd American ed.). New York: G. Adlard.

U.S. Commission On Civil Rights. (1980). Historical dimiscrimination in the immigration laws. In R. Fiske-Rusciano (Ed.), Experiencing race, class, and gender in the United States (5th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Zeskind, L. (2005, October 23, 2005). The new nativism. The American Prospect  Retrieved August 10, 2011, from


4 Comments on “Immigration lack of debate”

  1. Tom Tonkin says:

    Richard, you are correct in highlighting the ‘latest trend’ in the lack of rigor when submitting a point of view. Galvan (2006) suggests that written discussions, such as the one you mentioned, should be based on primary sources, and when possible, empirical ones at that. Primary sources allude to those sources that address original work, while empirical sources denote first hand observations to the phenomenon in question (p. 1). I would submit that any work submitted which does not confirm to these practices, could only achieve a ‘suspect’ status at best. Thank you for sharing.


    Galvan, J. L. (2006). Writing literature reviews : a guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences (3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak.

  2. rjrock says:

    You should be the professor!

  3. […] Rock, R. (2011, September 1, 2011). Social Media, Social Change: How the National Council of La Raza Uses Social Media to Advance Latino Issue. journey24pointoh  Retrieved September 2, 2011, 2011, from […]

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