Immigration and the Cycle of Fear

Immigration may be the most contentious issue in the world right now. While those in the Americas may think of the drama over the US southern border and threats of raids by immigration officers, immigration has sparked a wave of political action across Europe among those looking to slow or even reverse the trend of those seeking refuge from economic and political instability within European nations. As is often the case, a cycle of fear is the primary catalyst of this issue, and that cycle threatens to pull people farther and farther apart.


It takes a lot for someone to leave their home and set off to a new country where they may not speak the language, know the culture, or have a path toward a secure future. In most cases today, it is fear that drives people to immigrate today; while there remain those who pursue a new beginning through the romantic drive toward a better tomorrow, the reality of those who live as “displaced persons” in refugee camps, or those who pay smugglers to get them across the Mediterranean Sea or the Mexican border, is that their current situation has them so afraid for their future that they will take desperate chances to save themselves and the ones they love.


The response of many in host countries, unfortunately, is also fear. Images of caravans or flotillas of refugees, inflammatory coverage of the rare violent crime committed by immigrants, rumors that those crossing the borders are actually malevolent criminals, gang members, and would-be terrorists, all feed the narrative that immigrants should be feared, not embraced. 


In the countries where anti-immigrant sentiments rule the government, threats of official action against immigrants already inside the country stoke more fear from those who have fled to a place they hoped would provide sanctuary. In the United States, reports from those here illegally show a level of fear and intimidation that all but rivals the mood in the places they fled.


Beyond those on the front lines of this issue – refugees, government officials, service providers – those watching this from a distance get sucked into the cycle. Depending on your media feed, you’re either being flooded with images of innocent refugees being detained in inhumane conditions or you’re seeing reports about violent protesters and criminal invaders. Either way, your media is trying to make you more fearful and more angry so you will keep watching.


It seems like there’s nothing we can do to stop the cycle, but there is. Here’s what you can do:


  • Recognize that watching the news isn’t the same as making a difference. We can be tempted to feel as though staying up on current events equates to making a contribution. It isn’t. 
  • Quit watching and get involved. Find a local agency or advocacy group that is working on behalf of the cause you’re motivated by and ask them how to get involved. 


And especially:


  • Find a conversation partner to help you understand the other side. Eventually, we can only solve our issues as a society if we seek to understand those we disagree with. In this time of amped-up rhetoric, it can be REALLY hard to find someone on the other side of an issue that who is willing to listen to our view AND willing to help us understand theirs. But if you think about the friends and family you have, there’s probably someone you love that you disagree with. The bravest and the best thing you can do to address this issue is to have that uncomfortable but honest and respectful conversation. It is only in growing a mutual understanding that we will break the cycle of fear. 



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