Every nation needs a sensible and flexible immigration policy, one that balances the needs of the country with the plight of would-be immigrants. Here in the U.S., a country largely built on the toil and energy of immigrants, we have traditionally placed a high value on the contributions of newcomers.
That is not to say, however, that immigration has been widely embraced here. Certainly, tolerance for immigration has always been higher in New York City than in, say, Dubuque. And there has long been a regrettable strain of nativism in American politics.
So enter ProjectUSA. Rather in the mold of the Know-Nothings of the 1850s — although certainly more up-front — it is organization whose website declares that "the unprecedented level of foreigners arriving in the U.S. every day is eroding our quality of life."
ProjectUSA calls for putting immigration policy at the center of the national debate. Fair enough. History tells us that a fair, open-minded and comprehensive debate on the merits of immigration has often tended to favor immigrants. What’s particularly disturbing about ProjectUSA, however, is its decision to place a billboard that read "Over 80% of Americans support very little or no immigration. Is anyone listening to us?" in Sunnyside, Queens, itself a diverse village in the heart of the most diverse county in the U.S. Though the billboard has since been removed, ostensibly because ProjectUSA rented the space for only a month, it clearly struck a nerve, as no doubt it was intended to.
Such an in-your-face move only invites trouble by stirring up anti-immigrant sentiment. Fortunately, community leaders and immigrant advocates took it is an opportunity to speak out on behalf of immigrants of all nationalities, citing their ongoing contributions to the economic and cultural health of the city and its neighborhoods.
We’ve likely haven’t heard the last of ProjectUSA and its outrageous claims. But lets hope we can keep our cools and offer rebuttal with facts, not raw emotions. Eventually, ProjectUSA will disappear — and another group of latter-day Know-Nothings will come along.
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