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  by  Roy Beck

Keeping the immigration debate civil not only reflects an official value of NumbersUSA but it also makes it more likely we can reduce overall immigration.

This week, I began sending the following alert to the millions of U.S. citizens who are part of our NumbersUSA network. Our network for 20 years has:

  • pushed Congress to set legal immigration at a level that serves the national interest
  • pushed all levels of government to enforce laws that ensure the legal numerical level is not exceeded

My request for civility does not in any way water down my commitment to NumbersUSA's stated goals to achieve those two overall objectives. Nor does my admonition against hostility toward the foreign-born mean that I don't recognize the moral culpability of illegal migrants or the possible security dangers that can be posed by some legal immigrants.

Dear NumbersUSA Partners,

The Brexit vote for Britain to leave the European Union -- and the central role that opposition to high immigration played -- has focused a lot of attention on how people in any country talk about the issue and how they respond.

I'm thankful for 20 years of NumbersUSA participants modeling how to argue for dramatic immigration reductions in a civil and effective way.

Civility is the mark of most of us fighting for less immigration.

Established in 1996, NumbersUSA from its earliest days has operated under this message:

Nothing about NumbersUSA's website or activities should be construed as advocating hostile actions or feelings toward immigrants and other foreign-born people in this country."

We believe in this principle so strongly that virtually every visitor to our website for two decades has seen this link at the top of every page:

NO to Immigrant Bashing

Much of what I write below comes from that page:

There are more than 5 million of you U.S. citizens who are now part of our advocacy network. We obviously can't control -- and don't want to control -- what every one of you says, or writes, or does about immigration policy. What we do know, however, is that the overwhelming style of your actions contributes to a civil discussion of an incredibly important policy topic.

One reason so many immigrants -- and spouses of immigrants, and children of immigrants, and adoptive parents of immigrants -- are members of the NumbersUSA network is that NumbersUSA never blames immigrants for the problems that come from immigration policies.

In my "charts & gumballs" videos (that now have been viewed more than 50 million times), I state:

If you're an immigrant, you have as much stake in this as I do."

In a quarter-century of speeches across the country and in our videos, I have repeatedly made the appeal that I make to you as you read this:

If you get angry about the problems that we show are a result of immigration policies, don't get angry at immigrants but at the government officials who are responsible for the policies."

Our approach on this subject rises out of a tone set in my book from the prestige publisher W.W. Norton & Co. (New York, 1996). Titled The Case Against Immigration: The Moral, Economic, Social & Environmental Reasons for Reducing Immigration Back to Traditional Levels, the book included this admonition:

The chief difficulties that America faces because of current immigration are not triggered by who the immigrants are but by how many they are."

Further from that book, I have noted that the task before the nation in setting a fair level of immigration is not about race or some vision of a homogeneous white America; it is about protecting and enhancing the United States' unique experiment in democracy for all Americans, including recent immigrants, regardless of their particular ethnicity.

This is a key reason we named ourselves NumbersUSA. It isn't as some of our critics have suggested that we think of immigrants as numbers rather than as people. No, it is because we don't want to focus on alleged deficiencies in the character and characteristics of these individual people but, rather, on how the sheer numbers of newcomers give rise to problems.

Members of our national community who are LEGAL immigrants have followed the rules in availing themselves of opportunities offered by our government. If the total number of legal immigrants has not been helpful to this country, the individual immigrants bear zero blame. Not only is it ethically wrong to engage in stereotyping of the foreign born, it is tactically short-sighted. There is much to suggest that immigrants already among us would support reductions in immigration numbers for self-interested reasons.

Virtually any reduction designed to help U.S.-born Americans would be even more beneficial to foreign-born Americans because they tend to live and work where each new wave of immigrants is most likely to compete.

Illegal immigration is another matter. Those who have illegally crossed our borders or illegally overstayed their visitor visas indeed HAVE done something wrong and DO deserve some blame for the problems from illegal immigration. But that doesn't mean that they should be treated as intrinsically bad people, just as I believe we should respect the human dignity of any American who might be a lawbreaker. I would hope that Americans can treat illegal aliens with civility, and we urge our government to accord illegal aliens humane treatment as the rules of our immigration system are applied to them.

Unfortunately despite our long history of providing leadership in civility, we are routinely attacked with labels like "anti-immigrant" and worse by many of the advocates for higher immigration. I know this can be infuriating to those of you who feel so unjustly attacked by this reckless name-calling, often even in the mainstream media. But as unfair as these attacks on us are, we cannot use them as justification for responses that even inadvertently might encourage somebody else to show hostility toward the foreign-born.

Here are some more thoughts from my 1996 Norton book:

I encounter too many immigrants and children of immigrants in daily affairs where I live in northern Virginia to take those risks lightly. From five continents, members of immigrant families have passed through my home, especially in the persons of friends of my sons. They are among the physical therapy patients of my wife; they are participants in youth activities which I have led; they are friends at my church, which has received national recognition for leadership in creating local service to new immigrants; they are neighbors; they are business clerks and owners where I trade.

Thus, as is the case for millions of other Americans, I have a very personal stake in not wanting to provoke hostility or discrimination toward the foreign-born who already are living among us.

But our kindly feelings toward immigrants must no longer stifle public discussion about the effects of immigration numbers.

To talk about changing immigration numbers is to say nothing against the individual immigrants in this country. Rather, it is about deciding how many foreign citizens living in their own countries right now should be allowed to immigrate here in the future.

None of this is to suggest that no immigrants are scoundrels or contribute to problems of immigration because of their bad personal behavior. It is not unfair, nor does it constitute immigrant bashing, to criticize the behavior of specific immigrants who violate our laws or otherwise behave in a manner unworthy of guests who have been invited into this country.

It IS immigrant bashing, however, to ascribe those bad characteristics to whole groups of people based on their ethnicity or foreign-born status. All of us should be careful of the language we use so as not to inadvertently appear to be making such negative generalizations.

This civility toward the foreign-born is not just my own approach but incorporated by our Board of Directors in the Statement Of Values it adopted years ago as a guide for everything our organization does. Especially appropriate to the discussion on this page is one of the six "values" that states:

Immigrant bashing, xenophobia, nativism and racism are unacceptable responses to federal immigration policy failures. Race and ethnicity should play no role in the debate and establishment of immigration policy."

You can find our Statement Of Values, our Mission Statement, our top legislative priorities and more on the ABOUT US page:

Once again, I thank the more than 5 million of you who have joined our civil efforts as American citizens to bring about a more fair, practical and sustainable level of immigration to our country. (If you are not a member of our network, join here: .)

ROY BECK is Founder & President of NumbersUSA

Updated: Thu, Jul 28th 2016 @ 10:30am EDT

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