How to Address Our Immigration Anxieties

 In MCON, Trends

Sorry, millennials of America, but the rest of us are having an identity crisis, too.

You might like to think that I, as a Generation X-er, would have figured it all out by now. Actually, in spite of my distinguished (so distinguished) gray hair, I’m still working on it.

A big part of my identity crisis comes down to this: I was born in America, but I often wonder if I am American enough.

I think many Americans, whether born here or not, face some variation of this question at some point. And in today’s polarized immigration debate, some elected officials use this identity crisis to instill fear and turn native-born Americans against immigrants and refugees.

But as I wrote in my new book, There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration, many of us are scared.

And that’s OK.

When it comes to immigration, some of us, or our parents, are afraid of the cultural change we anticipate as a result of new neighbors who look and sound different from us. Others fear losing a job or a home.

The question is, how do we address these anxieties? How do we create a new, constructive way forward?

In light of this crisis, we are now faced with new challenges: to accept that change is happening, and to acknowledge that our fears are real. But it isn’t enough to acknowledge or accept these things. We can’t just leave them there.

Now is the time to change the immigration conversation so it’s about our values and our potential, and how immigrants strengthen both of these.

Those of us who value immigrants and immigration need to realize that demographic changes are continuously shaping the culture, politics, policy and people of the United States. Some 61 percent of immigrants now call the suburbs of American cities their homes, and the country’s Latino(a) and Asian populations are set to nearly triple by 2050, further diversifying communities across the nation.

These changes will create new potential for the U.S. economy. But they also raise a new question of identity: What makes someone an American?

I’ve learned we can always find common ground. In the faith community, the unity and sanctity of the family are core values. Law enforcement officers know that safety and security require the trust of everyone in our communities and that alienating certain populations, such as immigrants, is counterproductive. From the vantage point of business leaders, America thrives when all of us can reach our fullest potential — no matter where you were born.

Whether we came from another country or our families have called America home for generations, these values speak to our culture and our neighborhoods. They rise above politics and policy — but they also resonate with the political leaders who so clearly need to develop policy solutions.

America and new Americans need each other to thrive. Especially now, when many Americans feel our identity, culture and values changing shape, we must reinforce the values that unite us.

That common ground is how we will overcome fear and address our identity crisis as a nation, together.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, will be speaking at MCON 2017 on June 6.

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