NY Dems: ‘Anti-Immigrant’ Sentiment Fueled by Bad Economy and Misplaced Fear, Anger

Bryan Thomas/Getty Images
Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

New York’s Top Democrats have identified the causes of the mass opposition to illegal immigration and Syrian resettlement: Anger, fear, and Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election.

Speaking to the National Immigrant Integration Conference on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said:

We have to understand—a lot of the challenge, a lot of the frustration people feel as this debate ensues—we understand there’s a lot of people all around the country who look at the question of immigration and they put it through the prism of their own lives and their own economic struggles. And that is something that has to be understood and respected. Because, for so many people in this country, making ends meet has become increasingly difficult.

For so many people who thought they were solidly in the middle class, they have found themselves economically actually falling backwards over the last quarter century. For so many people, their economic frustrations have become so intense that they’re looking for someone to blame. They are looking for something that explains how their situation could have gotten the way it is—despite their hard work, despite playing by the rules. And they feel pain at what their families have gone though. And they need to find an explanation. And bluntly, they need to find the cause or the reason and the person they can point their finger at.

And sadly for some (and they’ve been stoked into this view by a lot of negative voices), they point their finger at immigrants. They think the immigrants have caused their own economic decline. They’re angry, they’re frustrated for perfectly legitimate reasons, and so they’ve turned that anger toward and frustration towards those that they think have undermined their economic position.

But here’s the truth—the truth that we have to incessantly and clearly explain—immigrants are not the problem when it comes to the decline of the middle class in America. Immigrants are not the problem. Income inequality is the problem in this country.

For the past 20 to 30 years, we have seen the concentration of wealth and power such as we have never seen before. And that’s what has held back the middle class. We’ve seen government policies that used to protect the middle class and protect working people diminish. The cause and effect is not hard to trace here. People have been working hard and falling backwards, and when you look at the choices made—particularly in Washington since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980—it’s not surprising.

The wealthy have been taxed less and less, the laws that have protected working people have been diminished, so many of the efforts that helped make sure that people have decent wages and benefits have been undercut. And so there are millions and millions of people who are economically frustrated, who turn that frustration toward immigrants when in fact they should turn that frustration towards the people who actually created this crisis—towards the wealthy and powerful who have rigged the system in their favor. It’s as simple as that.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo picked up on the theme, with a twist:

The American people are afraid, make no mistake. There’s been economic anxiety for years. The middle class, working families, feel like they’re not getting ahead anymore—they feel that they can’t get ahead. They’re not so sure that their kids are going to do any better then they are. They’re angry about what happened with the recession, the 2007 recession—with Wall Street bankers that ripped off the country, stole the equity for their homes. The bankers get off scott-free, and the American citizens paid the price in bailing out the banks and saw the value of their homes fall. You have many people living in homes that still are not at the level they were at 2007. Just think about that, you have many people living in their homes that are still under water. So they start anxious, and they start angry.

And on top of that, you have this international situation, and you have these terrorist attacks. You have San Bernardino, you have Paris. And people say, “well I thought that was over 9/11, I thought that was the last time that was going to happen.” And now you say no, no, no. It’s happened again, and happened again, and it’s happening more, and it’s happening more. And it’s more casual, and it’s more frequent. And people are afraid. And people are nervous.

And when people get afraid, their natural instinct is to close down. When you get startled [claps his hands loudly into the microphone, then crosses his arms defensively], right away, what do you do naturally? You tighten up, you close down, you protect yourself. And that’s the American people’s natural instinct as a response to fear. And that natural instinct, that fear, can be prayed upon, especially in the political environment. And people can say, “I know you’re afraid. I know you’re thinking we have problems. I have the solution.” And it’s a nice simple solution.

Here’s the solution: “We have to stop the immigrants from coming into this country. Because they’re competing with you, and they’re taking your jobs, and they’re taking your money, and their costing you money—when it comes to Medicaid and education—and they’re not paying their taxes. So if we can keep them out, you will be stronger, you will be better. And I will solve your problem, and I will end your pain.” And the American people are saying, “oh, that sounds great. That sounds great.” How do we do it? “We’re going to build a wall. And we’re going to kick people out. And we’re going to close the gate. And you’re problems are going to be over!”

We say the exact opposite. We say that we believe in the American dream. This state is the laboratory of the American experiment and Democracy. This state is unique in the way it said, “you want to build walls? We want to open our arms.” And we want to invite people in. And we’re not threatened by diversity, we celebrate diversity. We think it’s our strength.

Come, bring your culture, bring your people, bring your cuisine, bring your manual skills. And we believe you are going to enhance our society and enhance our community. You want to build walls, you want to keep the Muslims out? We believe in freedom of religion, it was one of the founding promises of our country… You want to keep the Syrians out? You’re going to keep the Mexicans out? “This is our land.” By the way, who are you, that “This is our land.” Who are you? Who are you? Are you a Navajo?

At that last line, Cuomo received a standing ovation from the left-wing audience.


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