Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants being “rapists” and “criminals,” and his suggestion that all undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. should be deported have continued to make national headlines.
His statements join a host of others in a catalog of persistent, false and negative narratives about immigrants.
EthicsDaily.com executive editor Robert Parham critiqued Trump’s views in a recent video interview, emphasizing that they are false and counterproductive.
“Trump has said that undocumented Mexicans are rapists,” citing comments the 2016 candidate made in announcing his presidential run in mid-June. “That is certainly unkind, perhaps hateful. And I believe it is untruthful,” Parham stated.
He explained, “To classify an entire group of people as rapists, and to identify an entire group of people as being a criminal class is untruthful. It’s simply not factual … and it’s something that Christians ought to challenge as out of bounds.”
Using negative immigration narratives transcends party affiliation.
The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that his proposed path to citizenship requires undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. to get in the immigration line and to pay their taxes.
In November 2014, for example, President Obama announced his plans for addressing the immigration system’s problems.
He offered positive affirmations of immigrants. “They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams and patriotism are just like ours.”
Yet he shifted quickly to negative narratives. “We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded.”
He added, “So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily without fear of deportation.”
The notion that immigrants need to get in line and pay taxes was exposed as inaccurate narratives in EthicsDaily.com’s 2011 documentary, “Gospel Without Borders.”
“The misperception among the population is that the people who have come here illegally chose to break in line, chose to do something illegally as opposed to legally; there is no legal avenue for them to raise their hands and say, ‘I would like to come to the U.S. and work,” said documentary interviewee Paul Charton, an immigration attorney in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Several interviewees explained that undocumented immigrants pay taxes – sales, income and property – that they often never recover or receive the benefits that U.S. citizens receive.
Charton revealed that many immigrants use tax services that cater to Spanish-speaking clientele to help them pay their taxes.
This way, he explained, “in case the law does change, like it did the last two times, they’re going to have to show that they’ve paid their taxes; how better to do it than to do it every year before April 15.”
Anthony Taylor, bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, explained the persistent misinformation regarding immigrants by noting “that we’ve got, in our society, demagogues who purposely promote things they know to be lies, but they do it because it sells.”
These assertions have been substantiated by an April 2015 report from the Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy, which revealed that the undocumented paid $11.84 billion in local and state taxes in 2012.
An August 2013 publication by the Social Security Administration estimated “that earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally, and that this effect contributed roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the program for 2010.” This net positive impact was expected to continue in future years.
Similarly, a March 2013 issues brief published by the Migration Policy Institute explained that there isn’t a single line, as Obama and other politicians often present it, but multiple lines with long delays and confusing processes.
Some political leaders have spoken against negative narratives.
For instance, many GOP leaders distanced themselves from Trump’s comments; Ohio Gov. John Kasich responded to an audience member’s assertion at a town hall meeting that immigrants were a burden on society by emphasizing that immigrants “are contributing significantly” to society.
Yet, negative immigration narratives persist across the physical, political and religious U.S. landscape. They also transcend borders.
Across the Atlantic, Christian leaders have critiqued United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron for his portrayal of immigrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life,” and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond for describing them as “desperate migrants marauding around the area” of Calais, France.
In a statement responding to these portrayals, Baptist, Methodist, Reformed Church and Church of Scotland leaders called for “a more informed and higher level of debate on the issue.”
They added, “Contributions to this debate should always adopt language, which better reflects the British values of compassion, hospitality and respect for human dignity.”
In an editorial expanding on his video interview, Parham echoed these sentiments, urging Christians to following the biblical imperative to “treat the undocumented kindly and with justice.”
“American Christians may rightly disagree about immigration policy,” he said, but they “ought to agree that hatefulness and untruthfulness are unacceptable.”