I started to notice this back in 2006 when the immigration debate was heating up in Washington. I was getting those annoying email forwards and this time they were of the Lou Dobbsian anti-immigrant variety. The surprising thing to me was that most of them were coming from older family members or acquaintances in the senior citizen set. And since then I've noticed that when I do presentations for civic groups or have observed focus groups on immigration, the older attendees seem to be more hostile. Certainly when one looks at the typical anti-immigrant activist showing up at a FAIR rally or making an anti-immigrant statement at a Tea Party event, the odds seem to be pretty good that the person is on the older side.
I have been a little uncomfortable raising this topic. But given that retirees are not worried about competition for a job, the chances are that the animosity stems from fears based on stereotypes. I hate to accuse seniors of simply being more racist, but there voting patterns and polling on issues of race seem to support the notion. I can tell you that here in the South, most younger people will tell you that there is definitely more racism amongst seniors who grew up during an era of segregation.
This morning, the New York Times examined this phenomenon at some length in an article entitled "The Immigration Gap" following a recent NYT/CBS poll that found that Americans older Americans were much more likely than younger ones to support the new Arizona law. Social scientists examining this phenomenon believe it stems in large part from the fact that older Americans that grew up in the pre-civil rights error encountered far fewer minority members and certainly far fewer immigrants. 1970 was the point in the last century with the lowest percentage of foreign born individuals living in the US. Just 4.7% of the population was foreign born compared to the 13-15% that was normal for much of the country's history. Today the number is back up to a "normal" 12.5%.
I'm sure I'm going to get some very hostile comments over this post, so I'll lighten the mood by linking to a clip that is actually relevant to this discussion from the recent Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Betty White. You'll hear the line in question about a minute and a half in.
Greg Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
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