“Change is Hard: Managing Fear and Anxiety about Demographic Change and Immigration in Polarized Times” by Suzette Brooks Masters, Welcoming America, February 7, 2020
In a sobering new report, Suzette Brooks Masters observes, “Immigration is being used as the perfect wedge to divide Americans and weaken our pluralistic democracy.” Brooks Masters poses the critical question of whether America today is “poised once again to shut the door to newcomers for decades to come, as we did in 1924.” The answer to that question—for the country’s sake—had better be no.
Immigrants who come to the United States are typically in their prime working and reproductive years and are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start new businesses. As Baby Boomers increasingly leave the workforce, not only will immigrants play an outsize role in caring for them as doctors, nurses, and home health aides, but immigrants and their children will also be responsible for preventing the nation’s working-age population from shrinking. It is their payroll tax contributions that will keep the country’s social safety net working to care for older Americans in the years ahead. Immigrants also contribute in myriad ways to the social and cultural fabric of the country, breathing life into communities and contributing new ideas to society.
The challenge, then—recognizing that fears and anxieties about demographic change are real and are being weaponized to pit people against one another—is how to best manage the change. In 2018, the Center for American Progress spoke with more than 70 key stakeholders in two rural areas in Nebraska to learn how they did just that. In “Proactive and Patient: Managing Immigration and Demographic Change in 2 Rural Nebraska Communities,” CAP found that small communities succeed when they embrace the intimacy, efficiency, and familiarity that larger cities can lack. Focusing on shared values—such as work, family, and faith—helps to bridge divides and counter an “othering” impulse. Outreach by local government officials and private businesses—particularly to bring newcomers into programs and opportunities made available to all community members—can enhance integration. In the end, CAP also found that this process takes time.
In recent years, the threat to pluralistic democracies has reared its head in countries around the globe, with fear of change tied to migration arising as a common theme. America cannot close its doors to the rest of the world—in fact, the current focus on erecting physical and invisible walls rather than constructing new and wider doorways not only runs counter to the realistic needs of the country, but also exacerbates the flaws in the outdated and inflexible U.S. immigration system. However, managing that change in a thoughtful and intentional manner can help the United States both avoid the divisions being sown by opponents of that change and realize the enormous benefits that immigration can bring.
For more on how a well-managed immigration system that comports with core progressive values can help restore the rule of law and prevent further polarization, see CAP’s report, “Restoring the Rule of Law Through a Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System.”