An immigration-related protest at the White House. Photo: Joe Flood

Peter d'Errico: Addressing the real problem with immigration in America

President Donald Trump has ushered in a new era of immigration enforcement since taking office in January. Retired professor Peter d'Errico thinks the debate should include an examination of the laws and policies imposed on indigenous peoples:
History problematizes the notion of “the country.” Many peoples had countries in these lands prior to the colonial invasion of Christian settlers. That those colonies would eventuate in a “country” called the United States does not erase the continuing existence of the original countries, despite the strenuous efforts of the colonizers, who resorted to genocide, political violence, and myth-making in their erasure attempts. The invaders—immigrants to these lands—even developed quasi-scientific historical narratives like the increasingly discredited notion of the Bering Strait theory to insist that the original peoples were themselves immigrants. This colonialist imagery reverberates in the rhetoric of those who support immigration by claiming we’re all immigrants.

The position of those who distinguish between “legal” and “illegal” immigrants presents an equally problematic history. The most outlandish (to play with words: “outlandish” means “foreign”) aspect of the insistence on “legality” arises from the colonizers’ efforts to claim “title” to the lands they invaded through the “extravagant pretension” of “Christian Discovery.” The U.S. Supreme Court laid down that doctrine in 1823 (Johnson v. McIntosh), not to portray the original peoples as immigrants, but to dispossess them of their status as landowners and thereby “legalize” the status of the colonizers. This judicial sleight-of-hand echoes in the rhetoric of those who demand deportation of “illegal immigrants.”

These historical precedents to the current debate allow us to suggest a response to Professor Temkin’s question about xenophobia. A dictionary definition of xenophobia describes it as “intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.” We probably can’t find a better word to describe the world-views of the Christian colonizers, who arrived with full-blown xenophobia directed at the “foreign” peoples they discovered in the “new world.” The fact that these peoples typically welcomed and even assisted the colonists had little effect on calming the outsiders xenophobia.

Read More on the Story:
Peter d'Errico: American Xenophobia: A Force From the Colonial Onset (Indian Country Media Network 7/1)