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Why the Immigrant Community and the Democratic Party must Oppose Over-Immigration

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Why the Immigrant Community and the Democratic Party must Oppose Over-Immigration

Nader Habibi

August 1, 2019

Should immigrants support pro-immigration policies in the United States? The answer is no! It is not unusual for an individual who has been fortunate enough to migrate to a developed country, like the United States, to help his relatives join him. It might even seem rational for an immigrant to advocate for pro-immigration policies. Excess immigration however, can lead to a native backlash with negative consequences for the immigrant community and all ethnic minorities.

Even in an immigration-based society like the United States, there is a limit to how many immigrants the native population is willing to tolerate-particularly when the ethnic and racial background of new immigrants is different from the majority ethnic group. When the number of immigrants from visibly different cultural and ethnic backgrounds grows too fast, the native population develops hostile attitudes toward immigrants . This hostility is partially rooted in fear of the native ethnic group about losing their majority status in political, cultural and economic spheres. As a result of this fear the political movements that call for immigration freeze or expulsion of immigrants will become more popular.

Overtime the immigrant-native ratio (I/N ratio)becomes a key factor in sentiments of the native population toward immigration. The natives will worry that this ratio might become too large and threaten their numerical majority, which will be equivalent to an I/N ratio larger than one. There is no specific common I/N threshold for the entire native population. Some extreme and ethnocentric groups might be opposed to even a small immigrant population (, feeling uneasy even if the I/N ratio stands at 0.1). Other native citizens might develop ratio anxiety at a higher threshold (for example I/N = 0.4). A 2018 analysis of public opinion in the United States by Sherkat and Lehma, for example, has found a diversity of opinion about immigration among various religious groups.

Nevertheless, it is not hard to imagine that as the number of immigrants increases, eventually it might pass the threshold ratio of a majority of the native population. In that case a country might find itself in a situation that more than 50% of natives will experience ratio anxiety. In a 2014 academic article, Benjamin Newman shows that residents develop anti-immigration attitudes if the number of immigrants in their local community increases sharply.

The social and political consequences of ratio anxiety among the majority ethnic group (natives) should not be ignored. The negative attitude toward immigrants might be rooted in racism for some individuals regardless of the I/N ratio, but for many others it can be a result of ratio anxiety. The anti-immigrant groups frequently play on this "ratio anxiety" of the majority population to gain support for their cause and recruit members. This ratio anxiety (the fear of becoming a minority as a result of immigration and higher birth rates among some ethnic communities) has been visible in Europe and the United States since 1970s and increasingly referred to as the fear of "replacement".

In recent years the fear of replacement has emerged as the dominant anti-immigration narrative in Europe. As explained in detail in a recent (2017) New Yorker article titled "The French Origins of You Will Not Replace Us", a growing number of mainstream citizens who do not identify with right-wing racist groups, are worried about the demographic changes that reduce the share of white Europeans in total population. The most recent champion of these demographic anxieties is Renaud Camos whose 2012 book le grant replacement articulates these ideas.

1) Native Response to Over-Immigration If the native population that is worried about the I/N ratio does not find a political mechanism to stabilize or reduce this ratio, some individuals might engage in negative and harmful behavior (toward "others") at personal (micro) level. These actions can lead to social instability and make life more difficult for the groups that are perceived as "other" by the native. The target groups might even be second or third generation immigrants or even established minorities. Yet they might face the same consequences because of the "otherness" of their appearance.

Strategic harassment: When the number of visible minorities (visible "other") rises to a level that it causes anxiety in a community, the native residents might engage in deliberate harassment and rejection of the target groups in order to encourage them to leave and also to deter other members of the target group from moving into their community. This type harassment rose sharply in Germany after the government admitted one million Syrian refugees in 2015. It also becomes a taboo for any native to show a warm and welcoming attitude. This deliberate strategic harassment can take the form of hate mail, dumping garbage on an immigrant's yard, and more harmful activities such as property damage.

Overtime, many communities might engage in competitive strategic harassment to deter undesirable families from moving into their neighborhood or community.

Strategic avoidance: In more sophisticated, more prosperous communities, the natives might express their displeasure not by overt harassment but by avoidance and exclusion. They will treat visible "other" neighbors as if they don't exist. They might avoid any interaction other than a minimum greeting ("Hi, How Are You?", "Good Morning!"), but never show any interest in them as individuals or engage in any social interactions with them.

Strategic Cruelty:
A local community, a state government or even the national government might adopt very serious measures to make the life experience very difficult for new comers and immigrants in an effort to deter further immigration. For example, a community might impose limits on social services for new immigrants, or it might deny bilingual education, or excessive search and ID checks on visible "others". Treatment of asylum seekers in the United States under Trump administration is an example of strategic cruelty that is intended to deter others from trying to seek asylum. Government bodies representing native populations engage in strategic cruelty when they cannot obtain sufficient political support for reducing or preventing immigration legally.

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Nader Habibi is the Henry J. Leir Professor of Practice in Economics of the Middle East at Brandeis University's Crown Center for Middle East Studies. His research has focused on economic and financial conditions of oil-exporting Middle Eastern (more...)

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