The Privilege in the Immigration Narrative

By Sam Stroozas

Credit: Barry Deutsch

Credit: Barry Deutsch

Immigration is what makes any great country consist of diversity, inclusivity, and expansion, but every immigration story is different. Immigrating to the U.S while as a white person, and immigrating to the U.S as a person of color both have different implications and outcomes. U.S naturalization works solely to benefit those that we ‘see’ as one of us. It creates more opportunities for immigration based on race, which leads to people of color who are immigrating to experience a longer and more complicated process. Through this, white privilege and xenophobia remains a notable contender in the immigration narrative.

The first Diversity Visa Program was created in 1987, and further instituted white colonialist privilege. Ireland, Canada and Great Britain were the main countries who were benefiting. The Irish won forty percent of the first 10,000 visas and more than forty percent of the visas over a four-year span. Regardless of the reason that one may choose or be forced to seek new status in another country, race still plays a monumental role within the system of who is praised as the hard-working, neoliberalist, goal-oriented focused protagonist, and who is seen as the foreign alien who ‘takes our jobs and opportunities.’

After the 1987 program, the U.S.worked to transition into a new phase that would offer equitable successes, “Under that system, in 1990 the top three recipient countries were Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt, with the Irish only receiving 1%” which meant that we were done prioritizing white, or white-passing immigrants more so, right? Wrong.

In the following years of 1991 to 1994, the Diversity Visa Program created further racial divides by uplifting white identities and favoring European countries. During these three years, “40% of the lottery visas, a total of 48,000, were reserved for Ireland and were known as the Morrison Visas for their sponsor, Bruce Morrison, (D-Connecticut). In 1995, Ireland was also given priority for diversity visas unclaimed between 1991 and 1993, and received 1,303 of the 1,404 visas.” The main goal of giving these visas to Ireland was for the retention of family values. Many members of Irish families had immigrated prior, and they spent the last half of the 19th century succeeding within the visa system by insisting on the necessity of the family structure.While this is a valid point, it did not seem to matter to the U.S. if others were escaping asylum from war-ridden countries or wanted to be the first of their family to immigrate, because white families came first by insisting that heteronormative parental units and extended family were worth more of America’s time and resources.

There is privilege within the immigration narrative that is hard for many white, or white passing families to acknowledge. We are taught through a neoliberalist viewpoint that if you work hard, you will make it, and that is what the American Dream is all about. The reality is, the ‘American Dream’ was created through white supremacy and hostility, and produced by people who were escaping religious persecution, but then enforced ethnic cleansing and genocide of land that was, and still is, not theirs.

By instituting this fallacy of the ‘American Dream,’ the U.S. could pick and choose what countries they wanted to be their spokesperson. The original colonizers created the innate feeling of division that they had longed to escape, but brought with them an internal fear of true diversity. Through this, the idea of ‘reverse discrimination’ was allowed to flourish through white privilege and serve as a cushion between reality and unreality. Not to say that those who immigrated from white countries did not face hostility, because they, like all immigrants, did, but to measure their experiences against that of people of color at the time is rooted in white fragility.

In a personal story published by Time, Francesca Gaiba discussed their personal experience with the hierarchy of immigration; “While listening to people of color whose experience of immigration had been either exponentially more harrowing than mine or altogether unsuccessful, I began to see my U.S. naturalization in the light of my white skin, my Western European background, my educational privilege. It became clear that my path to citizenship had been smoothed by forces that are meant to help some groups of people succeed in this society and hold others back.”

Gaiba serves as the perfect example of the ideal immigration story, until she became self-aware of the position she was in. For Gaiba and countless others, we extended our welcome to them and congratulated them on their accomplishments, or more so, their whiteness. White privilege succeeds because “it requires an intense, collective delusion that the supremacy of white people in America is normal and fair. White people in particular must practice a difficult, daily self-deception, studiously ignoring the plain inequities that have shaped their lives. And when reality forces itself into this delusional fog, a great many simply can’t bear it: They scream “Fake news!” and turn away.”

Immigration must be reintroduced through a diverse lens. We are so focused on ensuring that those who immigrate must work a hundred times harder than anyone who did not, but why? No one is entitled to anything, not even a lifetime U.S. resident. We glorify the struggle, the pain, and agony of the immigration narrative and turn our backs when it does not work out how we wish. There is privilege within immigration, and until we realize that racist immigration rhetoric is a tactic of the insecure, we are acting exactly how they want us to. Xenophobia is not something that just happens, it is taught and stoked through racist jokes, slurs, and division.