The Paradox of Immigration: Opposition Is Strongest Precisely Where There Are the Fewest Immigrants


James Fallows is in western Kansas around Dodge City, where many of the cities are majority Latino and full of immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, and more recently Somalia and Sudan. Here’s what he says:

I can’t let this day end without noting the black-versus-white, night-versus-day contrast between the way immigration, especially from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, is discussed in this part of the country where it is actually happening, versus its role in this moment’s national political discussion.

….Every single person we have spoken with — Anglo and Latino and other, old and young, native-born and immigrant, and so on down the list — every one of them has said: We need each other! There is work in this community that we all need to do. We can choose to embrace the world, or we can fade and die. And we choose to embrace it.

I don’t have actual data on this, but my sense from both the US and Britain is that the most fervent opposition to immigration—legal or otherwise—comes precisely from the regions where it’s had the least impact. Here in the US, for example, immigration from Latin America has been heaviest in the southern sun belt states of California, Texas, Arizona, and a few others. And yet Donald Trump’s “build a wall” narrative played well in places like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, all of which have relatively small Latino populations. Similarly, Brexit did best in the small towns and rural areas of England, the places that have the fewest immigrants and that depend the most on EU trade.

That’s not to say that opposition to immigration is absent in places like London or San Diego. It’s not. But these places mostly seem to have adapted to it and figured out that it’s not really all that bad. It’s everywhere else, where immigration is mostly a fear, that anti-immigrant sentiment has the strongest purchase. And that’s why peddling fear is so effective.