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Why "America First" Is for Losers
America has long been a global leader economically, politically, and ideologically. Its greatness is bound to the founding ideals of acceptance, freedom, equality, and justice. The rhetoric and election of Donald Trump has signaled a significant ideological change in how America approaches issues at home and abroad. The policy of the Trump administration is called “America First”. This policy highlights the growing nationalist sentiment in the United States and promises that going forward, policies and funding will prioritize the immediate needs of America. On the surface, “America First” is described to promote American values and strengthen the nation. However the ideology and policies go against the fundamental pillars of acceptance, freedom, equality and justice that truly define American prosperity.
The current administration and its supporters ultimately blame immigrants for much of the economic, political, and social problems that plague America. Our president has promised to build a wall on the southern border to stem the tide of immigration from Mexico. He has plans to defund the refugee program and focus funds on American citizens. Through immigration bans, he has singled out Muslim immigrants in order to protect Americans from terrorism.
As an American youth, I am beginning to see the consequences of “America First”. Growing up, my classmates and I proclaimed our nation to be “indivisible with liberty and justice for all”. I have always taken pride in knowing that I live in a nation that values these ideas. Yet, I do not feel that I can say these words with sincerity when hearing my president speak about banning Muslim immigration, and defunding programs that aid refugees. I do not see this America in plans to build a wall to keep out Mexicans, Central Americans, and others seeking freedom and a better life. I do not feel pride when reading about plans to limit legal immigration, thus tearing families apart. If we truly believed in freedom, equality, and justice for all, then we would make thoughtful immigration policies that do not target the most vulnerable of humankind. It has become evident to me that “America First” degrades American values and weakens the nation.
Donald Trump’s immigration policies are supported by the justification that they will keep out dangers from abroad. The problem is that these proposed “dangers” are people, and by pointing blame at groups of people, countries of people, and entire races of people, we forget that they are people. In this way, “America First” promotes nationalist fervor and xenophobia and in turn justifies hate and violence. Tara Raghuveer is an Indian immigrant who now serves as the deputy director at the National Partnership for New Americans. In her article in Time Magazine, she describes the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was mistakenly identified as Middle Eastern and shot by a white man. The murder of Kuchibhotla is one hate crime among many in the name of nationalism and xenophobia. As Raghuveer states, “These ‘America First’ policies do not condemn hate; they authorize it”.
We as a nation have been here before. We will undoubtedly look back at this time with the same shame that we feel when thinking about the horrific way Native Americans, Irish, Jewish, Japanese people and many others were treated in the name of nationalism. This point was illustrated well in a comic by Doctor Seuss published in the early 1940s in the newspaper PM. The satirical comic shows a mother wearing a shirt reading “America First” reading to her two terrified children the book entitled “Adolf the Wolf”. The caption reads, “...and the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones...But those were Foreign Children and it really didn’t matter.”(Seuss, 1941-1943). This comical representation of American xenophobia illustrates the history of this same policy of “America First” used to justify the anti-semitic sentiment in America during WWII. The historical context of “America First” is enough to reveal its consequences in promoting hatred and xenophobia- while degrading the values that Americans so proudly proclaim.
“America First” puts the short term needs of the power hungry before the lasting needs of future Americans, and humankind. Pushing away immigrants and making discriminatory policies in an effort to evoke nationalism may make America seemingly more powerful, but, in reality, it is, and will continue to become, a fractured nation brimming with hostility and hatred. I see the effects of “America First” in my own community. I see them in community protests. I see classmates recoil at students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. I see fear in the eyes of my peers at the word “deportation”. Limiting immigration means that I will be going to college with less diversity and more fearful students. As Maria Larios-Horton has witnessed firsthand as a former undocumented youth, and current administrator for the Santa Barbara Unified School District working with English Learner and Migrant Students and parents, “America First” immigration policies have created paralyzing fear among immigrant youth. “The administration is targeting this group of people- who already have to deal with the struggles of adolescence, being a person of color, and the complexities of family and economic status” (Larios-Horton). She emphasizes how America is not benefiting from the resiliency, determination, and potential of this group because of the fear and trauma they experience resulting from these policies.
In describing her own journey as an immigrant, Larios Horton notes that the path to citizenship was long, painful and expensive. She benefited from the Amnesty program under Reagan, but fears for this generation of immigrants as there is now “no hope of a pathway”. She sees establishing a very clear pathway to citizenship as the highest-priority step towards mending this issue, so that immigrants can fulfill their potential and contribute to society in a positive way. Larios Horton also shared her fears for the future of America. In her work, she witnesses both segregation and integration within student populations. She has observed that segregation results in lack of diversity- diversity of race, ethnicity, and background- which “leads to misunderstanding and bias against others.” It is my view that the political and social problems that immigrants are accused of bringing to America, are widely exploited, and actually problems created by reactionary politicians and Americans who shelter themselves from diversity and therefore lack understanding and compassion for immigrants. For example, states with the most immigrants per capita, like California and New York, are states with great diversity of perspective. They tend to be the most accepting of immigrants because of the increased understanding, compassion, and wisdom that results from living in a diverse environment. On the other hand, states with the smallest immigrant populations like North Dakota and Iowa are notably most anti-immigration due to a lack of understanding that comes from living isolated from the perspectives of others.
I am tired of the hypocrisy of “America First” policies. I feel the effects in my student community, and I know that my education would not be as rich or “American” without my foreign-born peers. The poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the statue of liberty overlooking the Atlantic reads “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” (Lazarus). These are the words that have welcomed immigrants for over a century. Making more compassionate policies, including a clear pathway to citizenship, will benefit the United States by allowing diversity of perspective to empower our nation and world.
I realize that immigration is a complicated issue, and that a certain amount of control and regulation is necessary. The American economist Adam Ozimek, reasons that the sudden opening of our borders would create massive change in the factors that determine the nation’s wealth: the “...different levels of physical capital, human capital, technology, social capital, and institutions”(Ozimek). However, while it is not feasible to completely open our borders, we cannot resort to building walls. According to Ozimek, “we can easily absorb significantly more immigrants than we do right now.” Research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that “legalization of unauthorized workers would increase their contribution to 3.6% of private-sector GDP. The source of these gains stems from the productivity increase arising from the expanded labor market opportunities for these workers which, in turn, would lead to an increase in capital investment by employers.”(Edwards). This further supports the necessity of establishing a clear pathway for immigrants to legally become citizens. Not only would a rational and dependable pathway provide clarity and hope for immigrants to become citizens, but it would also strengthen the nation economically.
Whenever the basic tenets of human kindness are second, or last, youth are invariably hurt the most. Hurt now, because we see our friends as others. We learn how to discriminate, how to look the other way from those in need, how to characterize ourselves solely by race and borders. We are hurt later when our nationalist policies lead to conflict domestically and globally, and we will not know how to pick up the pieces as Americans because we will be so divided and unequal. Supporting immigrants is our duty as humans and as Americans. Empowering immigrants will empower our nation. Accepting immigrants builds a wall against hate.
... and the wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones... but those were foreign children and it really didn't matter., October 1, 1941, Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons. Special Collection & Archives, UC San Diego Library
Larios-Horton, Maria. Telephone interview. 12 Feb. 2018.
Lazarus, Emma. "The New Colossus." Historic American Documents. Lit2Go Edition. 1883. Web. February 20, 2018.
Edwards, Ryan, and Francesc Ortega. “The Economic Contribution of Unauthorized Workers: An Industry Analysis.” NBER, The National Bureau of Economic Research, 2017.
Ozimek, Adam. “Why I Don't Support Open Borders.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 27 Apr. 2017.
Raghuveer , Tara. “America First: Donald Trump Immigration Plan Creates Hate.” Time, Time, 3 Mar. 2017.