Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your State

Anti-immigration sentiment in the Midwest is more nuanced than it seems, and often self-destructive.

Flyover States

Last week, President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida hired 70 foreign workers, legally employable through H2-B visas. Trump has been highly critical of companies relocating overseas to cheapen labor costs, and of Obama-era immigration policy he believes were too lenient, but his team justified the move by claiming that “no one else wanted the jobs.” A spokesman for CareerSource, a company that connects businesses seeking employees with those seeking work, disputes that, writing that more than 5,000 Floridians were available to fill the positions. Furthermore, the hotel has faced criticism in the past for making the hiring process for Americans exceedingly difficult—applications from locals had to be sent in by fax, and no phone number or email was advertised. In August, Mar-A-Lago requested permission from the Labor Department to hire foreign workers before it even began advertising in the country.

So much of Trump’s platform rests on the idea that immigration is bad for the country: From the proposal of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he has shown ideological opposition to immigration to be a hallmark of his presidency (though apparently, different rules apply when his companies are involved).

But Trump didn’t introduce anti-immigration sentiment to the U.S—it’s been prevalent in the country since our founding. Especially in the past 20 years, Midwestern voters have aligned themselves with conservative immigration policy, but feel especially vindicated by Trump’s blunt criticism of immigrants and Obama’s immigration policies. Ohio has the least inclusive and most dangerous immigration policy in the country, and Indiana is tied for second-worst. Most Midwestern states have similar tendencies.

Fear-inciting rhetoric surrounding immigration works well in the region often because rural towns in the Midwest are overwhelmingly white. Rural communities, on average, have an immigrant population of a little over two percent, while immigrants account for almost 15 percent of the population in urban counties. People accustomed to homogeneity are more easily convinced that the lack thereof is dangerous. Unacquainted with people who look or live differently than themselves, they are unable to imagine their community surviving change.

But this mentality can’t account for the entire region. Due to low costs of living, availability of space, and high employment, other places in the Midwest are havens for immigrants and refugees. Nebraska houses more refugees per capita than any other state, and despite the lack of resources for immigrants in states such as Michigan and Ohio, each of these states are in the top five for highest refugee population overall. State governments in the Midwest encourage immigration from foreigners to their states, as the decline of some industries in the Rust Belt necessitates economic stimulus, and the resulting emigration of its native-born residents creates employment opportunities.

Thus, urban Midwesterners, especially older ones, see a thinning out of white Christians like them, who they recognize and trust, and an influx of people of color who they don’t. While plenty of successful immigrants and people of color live in more urban areas and coastal states, racial income inequality is at its worst in the Midwest. The five cities with the largest gap between black and white earnings are all in Midwestern states.

Using immigrants for economic stimulus then failing to create a suitable living environment for them has become a hallmark of Midwestern legislation. Taxpayers, generally critical of immigrants, are unwilling to spend money on public health or education initiatives that would benefit immigrant populations, but readily welcome the contributions they provide to the local economy through both low-skilled and high-skilled work.

State governments realize this, and have begun to pass policy accordingly; since the election, state senates have introduced an abundance of bills regarding stricter immigration and refugee policy. As a result of these measures, on both state and federal levels, the states that depend upon immigrants the most will find themselves responsible for their own demise. Businesses and communities that have flourished because of the work of immigrants will be drained of vitality, unable to find a solution. On the bright side, maybe Mar-A-Lago, finding it “very, very hard” to find American workers, will go out of business.

Kelsey R. Thomas ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is an English concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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