Don’t Let Illegal Immigrants Become State’s Boogeyman -Tuesday, January 3, 2006 – Concord Monitor
With the criminal trespass arrests of a few illegal immigrants in New Ipswich and Hudson last year, the issue of illegal immigration arrived in New Hampshire.
Based on the national publicity, you might think our state faced a major influx in illegal immigration. It doesn’t.
New Hampshire has few illegal immigrants. In September, the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization, listed our state as one of nine in the nation with fewer than 10,000. The number may be much smaller. The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, a pro-immigrant group, puts it as low as 2,500.
Nevertheless, some state legislators appear to be alarmed about an immigrant threat. In reviewing the agenda of the legislative session that opens today, it is hard to ignore the large number of immigrant-related bills. Virtually all seek to restrict immigrants’ access to services or benefits.
Why the focus on immigrants when the number of illegals in our state is so small?
A primary reason is the need to create a bogeyman. It is politically convenient to create scapegoats to run against and to blame. There is mileage in scapegoating a subterranean population.
The bogeyman is a horde of faceless, dark-skinned illegal immigrants. Jumping the border from Massachusetts and points south, the bogeyman has come to take jobs or go on welfare. He doesn’t want to learn English or become an American. He may have ties to foreign terrorists.
The bogeyman myths bear no resemblance to actual circumstances in our state. Neither do the facts in our corner of New England have anything in common with the large immigration issues in California or Arizona.
Creating a threat where none exists is demagoguery, not rationality. In our post 9/11 world, fear is the great motivator. Fear overpowers reason and creates its own facts.
Inevitably, questions of immigration and race are intertwined. A large percentage of the immigrants in Manchester and Nashua are Hispanic.
The proponents of anti-immigrant legislation will deny any charge of racism. They will say state and local assistance should go to our own, the real New Hampshire people, not foreigners.
This is a form racism often takes in our era. No one admits to it. It is oblique and covert. Protecting New Hampshire and our quality of life become code for keeping more minorities out. We are not racist, the argument goes; we just want to keep more immigrants out.
Because we have been without large minority population centers, many New Hampshire people, especially in more rural parts of the state, have little or no contact with immigrants or minorities. Lack of personal contact with immigrants and minorities does not promote tolerance and understanding. It is more likely to promote the opposite.
We have many bad models for how to deal with immigration. Witness France or Australia. Then there are the vigilante types in our own country or those who favor absurd solutions like building electronic fences.
A rational approach begins with the awareness that we have always been a nation of immigrants. We have struggled, albeit imperfectly, toward the noble goal of inclusion in the American dream.
Illegal immigration raises difficult and complex public policy issues. The reasons people come here vary dramatically. Immigrants range from refugees from persecution to people who simply seek a better life economically.
The rule of law requires careful consideration of the rights of all people, including the undocumented. There is already a body of federal and state law legislating the area. Knee-jerk anti-immigrant legislation designed to strip all rights from categories of immigrants is dangerous. It is the wrong way to go.