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Kavitha RajagopalanBack to OpinionKavitha Rajagopalan

Anchor babies

Illegal alien. Border hopper. Wetback. Now – “anchor baby.” Are these just words? Whether we call them descriptive phrases or racist slurs, we can all agree on one thing: the current language for undocumented people in this country allows us to think that immigration status defines a person’s basic humanity and right to dignity.

Following recent Pew Institute polling data showing that the majority of Arizonans, regardless of party affiliation, supported the state’s move to legalize racial profiling, Arizona Republicans last week suggested that they will introduce a new bill which would deny citizenship the children of undocumented immigrants, so-called “anchor babies” who anchor illegal people to life in the U.S.

Arizona’s recent legislation is currently under Department of Justice review for possibly violating the constitution, and has sparked massive outcry from civil rights groups, minority community leaders, and the president himself. So why do “we” support this bill and other efforts to criminalize immigrants? Because we think they don’t affect “us?”

In 1753, Benjamin Franklin wrote that immigrants who come to America are “generally of the most ignorant stupid sort of their own nation. Not being used to liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it. They are not esteemed men till they have shown their manhood by beating their mothers. Now they come in droves. Few of their children in the country learn English.”

He was writing about Germans. We’ve been stereotyping immigrants in order to blame them for our problems since before we were even a country.

Many activists and writers have made the case for all minorities and immigrants to speak out against the Arizona law, but why shouldn’t all Americans, regardless of census category, care about racial profiling? After all, race is not a biological reality, but rather an inexact and unspoken social consensus. What does an illegal immigrant look like? I have personally met undocumented people of practically every ethnicity, nationality and, yes, every race in the world.

Legal scholars like David Cole have proven that every time we have some crisis of faith about the economy or national security, we restrict the rights of immigrant communities. Why do we do this? It’s easier to scapegoat immigrants than to come up with real solutions to the biggest challenges to our society. It’s easier to round up undocumented Muslims than to develop an efficient, thoughtful strategy for dealing with Islamist militancy in the world. It’s easier to crack down on undocumented immigrants than to honestly ask ourselves why our economy must rely on a permanent undocumented population.

Now the president seems to think that we will only swallow the bitter pill of immigration reform with a spoonful of more border security, announcing earlier this month a plan to send as many as 1,200 National Guard troops to the border in a move to calm border-control advocates. In the meantime, the immigration system becomes only more and more unwieldy, expensive and inefficient.

Border states like Arizona and California take in higher levels of undocumented immigrants than much of the country can imagine, and of course they should have a right to develop policies that help them maintain the economic health of their residents. But immigration policy that targets immigrants and focuses on the border favors political sickness over economic health. The American Immigration Lawyers Association released a policy manual in March clearly showing that unless we fix the immigration system, we will keep on losing billions of dollars in potential tax revenue and thousands of workers and experts.

We can argue until we’re red or blue in the face about the pros and cons of immigrants, but it’s high time that we, as the most diverse nation in the world, learn to love ourselves. As long as we keep on trying to solve our economic and national security problems through immigration policy, as long as we keep justifying the unjust treatment of immigrants, we all lose.