Immigration has always been controversial in the U.S., but we can do better than using immigrants as political fodder.

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Immigration has always been controversial in America, and periodically it comes to a boil as a political issue.

It’s not surprising this is one of those heated stretches. The country has suffered a major recession and terrorist attacks, and is undergoing rapid demographic change that some people find challenging.

All of those issues get brought to the table in people’s attitudes about immigration and especially so when immigrants are used for political gain. Yes, I mean Donald Trump.

Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine said immigrants have been made part of a “toxic conversation” by one of the candidates in this year’s presidential campaign. Constantine had invited a few journalists to tour Public Health – Seattle & King County’s intake process for immigrants and refugees and to hear him declare the county’s dedication to helping immigrants thrive.

People can get emotional about immigration, nearly weeping in reverence for early generations of immigrants while fuming over current ones, or fawning over them depending on who they are and where they come from. And of course immigration is a political issue.

Polls show that sometimes people in the two major parties agree on whether immigrants are a benefit or a problem, and sometimes, like now, they are far apart on that question. A Pew Research Center poll found 78 percent of people who are either Democrats or who lean that way say immigrants are a benefit to the country because of their hard work and talents, while only 35 percent of Republicans or people who lean Republican say that.

Trump has called for “extreme vetting” of immigrants to make sure their values match American values, and last year he said he wanted to ban all Muslims, but might amend that to just ones from what he calls “terror states.” He wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and has attributed all kinds of evil to immigrants from Mexico.

Trump’s first general-election TV ad is about immigration and says he will make America secure.

I’d feel more secure if he weren’t running for president, but of course there’d still be all his followers out there clamoring for a wall.

Maybe it would help if his followers knew that the number of people crossing the border from Mexico has been declining for some time now, and the number of people in the country without documents is the lowest it’s been in a dozen years.

Or that immigrants come to the U.S. today for many of the same reasons they always have. Some come for better opportunities. Some come fleeing war. Some come because they are sought out, which is true for many immigrants who work for tech companies in the Seattle area, and for Melania Trump. America needs models.

Last week, Constantine was also touting a report from the county’s Immigrant and Refugee Task Force, which researched ways to better help refugees and some other immigrants.

Some of the help refugees and immigrants told the task force they need is particular to their circumstances — help learning the language and adapting to the culture. But much was similar to what Americans already here need: better transportation, affordable housing, access to good education and health care.

But immigrants aren’t a drag on the community. Some just need a little help getting started. One of the speakers at the county event, Geni Sheikh, a refugee from Somalia, got help when she arrived, then became an interpreter for other immigrants. Eventually she became a nurse so she could do more to help, and now she works in the county’s Nurse Family Partnership program, helping new mothers give their children a good start in life.

Another speaker, Lola Zakharova, came to the U.S. from Uzbekistan and is now an immigration attorney. She was part of the task force, which recommended the creation of a permanent commission to coordinate services for immigrants.

 

I don’t know about Trump’s values test, but mine would certainly include offering support to Americans who need it, regardless of when they arrived in the country.

That’s in the best interest of the whole community.