Americans once backed immigration reform. But lately, the nation seems more frightened than welcoming.
The overwhelming flood of incoming immigrants does create concerns about how the expanded population may strain the existing infrastructure. It affects job availability on some levels, health care, social services and the economy. It may affect the nation in both good and bad ways.
However, political scientists say there is a greater fear at the heart of the immigration debate these days – a thought dubbed the acculturation threat hypothesis. (To read one University of Connecticut assistant professor’s analysis, click here.)
Even in the early days, when European settlers were making homes on U.S. soil, families were Dutch, German, Irish, Spanish, Eastern European and more. Their diversity was their strength in building the nation. That cultural diversity is still a benefit, but now more American-born voters feel they are becoming a minority in their own land, overwhelmed by a newly arrived foreign majority.
What happens on the political stage in the face of such mixed voter messages? Republicans are blocking attempts at immigration reform. The Democrats are attempting to forge ahead. With the tug-and-pull of voter angst and the political divide, the chances of passing immigration reform still seems slim. Some politicians have even been known, as recently as the Congressional election, to attempt to scare voters by telling them the border is wide open to serious threats: terrorists, Ebola, Enterovirus D-68, and illegal immigrants with criminal records. Little wonder, then, that immigration reform appears to be stalled.
According to the acculturation threat hypothesis, native-born Americans sustain a cultural shock when the familiar “American way” undergoes changes after exposure to different cultures. This shock is so great that it creates a divisive mentality between immigrants and those born on American soil. American-born citizens seem to feel their familiar boundaries and borders are breaking down, giving way to massive cultural shifts and their own alienation. To say that this environment creates vituperative intolerance is an understatement.
In reality, the fear of borders and boundaries disintegrating and life changing to accommodate immigrants is often more about racism (the non-white versus white boundary). The country must move forward into the future to find balanced cultural equality.