What Are We So Afraid of When It Comes to Immigration?

A Collection of Short Essays on Immigration

Local and national voices weigh in on the immigration debate. 

The Catalyst asked a variety of contributors to address the anxiety that surrounds the nation’s protracted immigration debate. We specifically asked people with differing opinions and backgrounds to answer this question since it’s hard to resolve any debate without knowing the contrasting views. That’s why we have invited immigrants and non-immigrants, national and local figures, religious and political leaders, writers and policymakers to take on this volatile topic.

Tim O’Hare
Chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party in Texas and the former mayor of Farmers Branch, Texas
"People believe laws matter. We are a nation of laws. If immigration laws are ignored, then what other laws are we free to ignore?"


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The question contains somewhat of a false premise. To discuss the issue, you have to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. 

Realistically, only a small portion of the U.S. population is afraid of issues related to legal immigration. What many Americans are actually concerned about is illegal immigration. There are some who are against illegal immigration for dishonorable reasons, but, by and large, the overwhelming majority of people who are against illegal immigration are against it for sensible, intelligent reasons.  

People believe laws matter. We are a nation of laws. If immigration laws are ignored, then what other laws are we free to ignore? If ignoring laws is acceptable, and there is no real punishment for breaking them, I'd wager to guess millions of people would avoid paying all income taxes. 

Another reason people are against illegal immigration is the costs imposed on local schools, hospitals, and social services. Simply put, people don't like their tax money spent on government programs and services for people who aren't in the country legally.

Legal immigration, administered in a way that meets our country's needs, strengthens our economy, and improves our nation on the whole finds enormous support in every corner of the country. Unfortunately, the issue has become so politicized that common sense has been thrown out the window. The matter is now strictly viewed through partisan lenses, leaving us with California-style sanctuary city/state laws, making us less safe.


Imam Shpendim Nadzaku
Resident Scholar of the Islamic Association of North Texas
"Immigration strikes at the very heart of a central metathesiophobia, or fear of change."


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Immigration strikes at the very heart of a central metathesiophobia, or fear of change. This anxiety can come from a fear of the unknown or an expectation of loss — loss of identity about religion, language, and culture and the power and privileges associated with that identity. The discomfort is a very natural one.

Life is full of irony. Aside from Native Americans, who isn’t an immigrant? The natives welcomed the immigrant Europeans despite everything about them being different. They even helped them to settle so that they could thrive. 

The venerated Prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (God’s peace and blessings be upon them) were immigrants and refugees. Without their emigration, humanity would have lost the priceless good they brought. Let’s just mention the scriptures that guide the lives of billions — the Jewish and Christian Bibles, and the Quran. O mankind, indeed, we have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (Al-Hujuraat 49:13)

If only we looked back in history, we could learn that immigration is human and the associated changes present challenges and opportunities. As Americans, can we imagine an altered reality, had the immigrant parents of the many great men and women of our country never come?

Within a multicultural, pluralistic society people should celebrate their diversity, not feel threatened by it. “... one Nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”


Mark Krikorian
Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C.
"Limiting immigration to spouses and minor children of citizens, plus a handful of genuine Einsteins and refugees who cannot be helped where they are, would still yield an immigration flow larger than any other country’s."


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"Afraid" isn't the right adjective, but we must be concerned about continuing the federal immigration program at the current level of 1 million-plus each year because mass immigration is incompatible with the goals and characteristics of a modern society.

Most agree on the outlines of what we would like America to be like: Widespread opportunity for upward mobility, a smaller rather than larger income gap, security against threats from abroad, a responsible system of social provision for the poor, a strong sense of fellow-feeling for our countrymen.

Mass immigration undermines all these goals. By lowering the earnings of the poor, it redistributes upward some $500 billion a year (according to the National Academies of Sciences) from those who can least afford it.

The small economic gain created by such lower labor costs is entirely negated by the extra social-service costs imposed on taxpayers by the admission of less-educated people who cannot earn enough to feed their children without government assistance. (About half of immigrant households use at least one federal means-tested program.) Advanced communications and transportation technologies are a boon, but also complicate the task of assimilating newcomers and securing the homeland.

Immigration isn't the sole cause of any of these problems, but it exacerbates them and makes addressing them more difficult. Limiting immigration to spouses and minor children of citizens, plus a handful of genuine Einsteins and refugees who cannot be helped where they are, would still yield an immigration flow larger than any other country’s, but would give us a chance to digest the huge wave of immigration from the past half-century.


Ana Rodriguez
Director of the SMU Cox Latino Leadership Initiative
"It is time to admit an uncomfortable truth. Economic concerns do not drive fear of immigration. The changing face of America’s demographics drive that fear."


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It is time to admit an uncomfortable truth. Economic concerns do not drive fear of immigration. The changing face of America’s demographics drive that fear.

Specifically, the nation’s demographics are skewing toward a kaleidoscope of identities more diverse than the European-centered tapestry of the past century. Our composition will continue to change, regardless of whether borders are closed or not.

Many immigrants who came to this country 50 years ago had children here, and those children eventually had families of their own. This pattern has existed for generations, thus permanently altering America’s demographic landscape. As a result, our culture is continually alive and evolving.

The challenge is this: Can we adapt to the fact that our futures may look different from what we imagined? If the answer is “yes,” then each of us must identify what we can personally do to make that future better.

The topic of immigration is both relevant and personal to me. My very existence is due to immigration. I am a first-generation American, and chances are minimal that my Mexican father would have met my Peruvian mother had they not both immigrated to the United States. My mother raised me to help those in need, thereby giving back to the country that gave my family and me so much.

For generations, people have looked to America as a bastion of hope and opportunity. This is a critical part of our national ethos. If we reduce or eliminate the hope of improvement to future generations of immigrants, we not only attenuate the realization of dreams, we alter the fabric of our American identity as well.

We need to be courageous now more than ever, and nothing takes more courage than being honest.


Mustafa Akyol
Author of Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty and The Islamic Jesus, is a contributing New York Times opinion writer and Senior Visiting Fellow at The Freedom Project at Wellesley College
"It is crucial, therefore, that America keeps up that great tradition of openness, and keeps being the beacon on the hill. If America rather falls for xenophobia, others will fall more easily."


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In my country, Turkey, in the early 2000s, a bizarre group of nationalists emerged. Based in the more affluent Western cities, they complained about “the Kurdish invasion” from the East. “The Easterners,” in their eyes, were corrupting the high Turkish culture with their less polished ways. “O Turks, do not eat lahmacun,” they seriously argued, referring the East’s spicy answer to pizza, “for it is not our food.”

As a Turk who always enjoyed the food, the music, or the literature of the “Easterners,” I rejected the xenophobia of those Turkish nationalists. They missed the fact that diversity makes a culture richer. They dismissed the fact that immigrants from rural areas gradually adapt to urban life — unless they are looked down upon and forced to ghettoize. They also did not understand that integrating more Kurds into broader Turkish society was not capitulation but rather antidote to the P.K.K. — a Marxist Kurdish terror group that has been fighting Turkey since the early 1980s.

These days, I recall those nationalists in Turkey when I hear the anti-immigrant voices in the West. The latter seem to be making the same mistakes: obsessing with cultural purity, fearing from the unfamiliar, and also turning the justified worry about terrorism into an unjustified demonization of a whole people.

The best argument against this parochial view, in fact, lies in the very history of America — a nation of immigrants that has been able to integrate so many diverse peoples under one flag. It is crucial, therefore, that America keeps up that great tradition of openness, and keeps being the beacon on the hill. If America rather falls for xenophobia, others will fall more easily.


Jeff Kim
Recent Baylor University graduate who works on the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative
"They live in constant fear of not knowing what’s going to happen to them. They also live in fear of having no voice or power to change what affects them the most."


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As a child of an immigrant family from South Korea, the one thing that was always in the back of my mind was our legal status. Will I be able to live in the country that I only know of, or will I be forced to go back to the country that I knew little of?

I am now a citizen of the United States, and so are the members of my family. But it was a long wait  14 years to be exact  to receive our citizenship. We were few of the very fortunate ones. For many like us, this is not the case. 

Coming to the United States to live is not as easy as one thinks. For many who try to do it the right way, they face many obstacles and restrictions just for the chance to be here. And every year, this process has gotten harder and harsher. Many come to America thinking they will start their “American Dream,” but in reality they can’t even imagine about having one until they can get their status resolved. 

Sure, a few find loopholes in the system and try to control their own destiny. But, for the majority who try to do it the right way, the process is tough, time-consuming, and requires some luck.

Many Americans fear immigrants, thinking they are taking over and replacing them. But, in truth, the system makes it so hard for immigrants to do so and to have equal opportunity. They live in constant fear of not knowing what’s going to happen to them. They also live in fear of having no voice or power to change what affects them the most.


Jannet Barrera
Gates Millennial Scholar and a Texas A&M University graduate who will enter the University of North Texas Public Health School this spring
"My family is everything to me, so losing all I have known would be hard. I would lose part of my identity. This keeps me up at night. I worry about them and losing them."


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This debate also is scary for immigrants. My mom is a resident, but I have family members who are not. My family is everything to me, so losing all I have known would be hard. I would lose part of my identity. This keeps me up at night. I worry about them and losing them.

I know some will say they broke the law so they are here illegally. But most of my relatives were brought here as children. The U.S. is all they have ever known. They have no other option.

Some people fear immigration because immigrants make them feel uncomfortable. They are not what they think of as normal. But America is home to many legal immigrants, too. This brings change. And they are human beings, not just a number.

For example, my fiancé is a DACA  recipient. I am so proud of him. He is more determined than ever to succeed. He is in marketing in College Station. He is showing that he still can work as hard as anyone. He has taken his determination and faith to another level. He is not letting his status define him, although he is more hesitant socially, more private. I would have panicked.