Change is Hard: Corona-level change is really hard.
For supporters of immigration and immigrants, crossing the pandemic portal requires a strategy reset, one that prioritizes gaining new supporters in a critical segment of American public opinion and avoids unforced errors.
I came to this realization gradually after having spent most of 2017 and 2018 thinking about how an explicit anti-immigrant agenda could gain traction and be electorally successful in a diverse nation like ours. Then, in 2019, I honed recommendations for how to defend against the success of grievance politics. The result is Change Is Hard, a paper explaining my research findings and recommendations, which was released in January of 2020. Although COVID ushered in an entirely new era in dramatic fashion, the key insights from my research are highly relevant in a post-COVID world.
So as immigration and identity issues rise to the fore once again, in the midst of a global pandemic, I’ve updated my top takeaways to reflect the new challenges we are facing.
America has experienced nativist waves before.
The post-2016 period isn’t our first nativist convulsion and it won’t be our last. One hundred years ago, for example, America shut the door to immigration for 40 years after the last great immigration wave. Today America is home to about 45 million or 14% foreign-born individuals, nearly as high a percentage as the peak at the turn of 20th century. Demographic change of this magnitude can be destabilizing, especially when it’s not managed. If you compound that with fears of virus spread, conspiracy theories about the source of the virus, and a demagogue who pits immigrants against the US-born, that’s the perfect recipe for growing nativism and isolationism.
Change is hard and needs to be managed.
The immigrant justice movement has been laser-focused on the challenges immigrants and refugees face coming to America and settling here, one type of change, but hasn’t spent enough time in receiving communities, appreciating how longer term residents were processing the many changes taking place around them, transforming their neighborhoods, and making some of them feel like ‘strangers’ in their own land. As it turns out, those changes were priming them to…