Forget Emma Lazarus’s poetry and the Statue of Liberty; you really don’t want to be an immigrant in today’s America. As Dara Lind recently pointed out at Vox, being an immigrant or the child of one (even if you’re a U.S. citizen) now means living in a “miasma of fear.” That’s the conclusion of two recent studies of immigrants of every sort, including those who are permanent residents and their children. And who could be surprised in an American world in which, from Donald Trump’s future wall on the border with Mexico to Attorney General Jeff Session’s court assault on California’s immigration policies, the very idea of being an immigrant has been transformed into a vision of crime, gangs, drugs, and that biggest bugaboo of all in our era, terrorists? Since Trump’s first day in the presidential race in June 2015 when he denounced Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” he and his associates have never let up. Demonizing the very idea of immigration, at least from “shithole countries,” which turn out to be just about anyplace not run by white people, has been the order of the day.
As in Europe, so here, the new right-wing populism has engorged itself on a diet of immigrants, refugees, and Islamist terror. And in a world that’s coming increasingly unglued, particularly under the pressure of Washington’s never-ending war on terror across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, we’ve undoubtedly had only a taste of what’s still to come. We already know from figures released last year by the U.N. refugee agency that in 2016 there were an estimated 65.6 million displaced people on this planet, almost 23 million of them refugees (that is, people who had actually crossed at least one international border), startling numbers of them children. Those figures haven’t been matched since the end of World War II.
And that’s just a beginning, given those that, in the decades to come, are likely to be uprooted by the ravages of climate change (and the droughts, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and potential wars that will be associated with it). One U.N. estimate suggests that, by 2050, up to a quarter of a billion people may be displaced by its effects and such figures could prove underestimates. As Todd Miller has written, “By 2050, 10% percent of all Mexicans between 15 and 65 might be heading north, thanks to rising temperatures, droughts, and floods.”
So, as a subject, immigration is likely to be alive and well in 2050, by which time god knows where the present criminalization of the immigrant will have gone. That’s why it’s so important to talk a little sense when it comes to the overheating world of the American immigrant, as TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky, author of Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal, does today.