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A 'bigly' divide on immigration

Trump supporters are rejoicing on Facebook over the recent administration travel ban with posts such as, "Finally a President who keeps his word!" It's an OJ moment for liberal America.

How did this bigly divide over such a core American principle as "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" materialize?

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Take a breath snowflakes. Americans have rarely favored taking in refugees.

Remember 1939? According to Gallup, only 26 percent of Americans favored allowing German children fleeing Hitler to find refuge here. We know how that turned out for Anne Frank. However, national remorse over that disastrous decision, along with vivid media pictures from places like Kosovo and Syria, may have grown the American heart.

A January 2017 Quinnipiac poll, touted by Fox News as good news for the administration and its controversial policy, which bans Syrian refugees and citizens of seven majority Muslim countries from entering the U.S., is actually not: 48 percent of Americans, reported Fox, support the president's "refugee ban." OK, but a whopping 42 percent oppose it — some so virulently they're running to protests at BWI, Dulles and LAX airports.

But let's examine the 48 percent who like the ban — or whatever the administration is calling it today. Many of these boosters are themselves the children of immigrants and refugees. Take my Pennsylvania friend, a former Democrat and now Trump booster. When he was reminded on Facebook that German Jews were sent back to Nazi Germany, and made an equivalence with today's Muslims, he posted this: "The US led the free world to victory during WWII. There may be a logical and excusable reason for their exclusion during that time of global war."

You see this kind of defense all over Trump Nation's social media feeds — a defiance of history's lessons and a view of America as a fragile life boat. "My ancestors got aboard this lifeboat and found safety," the Trumpers think to themselves. "But now you want to swarm our lifeboat with refugees and immigrants, and we don't have space! It's dangerous!" This fear has roots in three alternative facts that often go unchallenged.

The first is that America has limited physical space. Big Pinocchio, people! America has nearly the same land area as China, according to World Bank data. Germany, smaller than the state of Montana, has a population density of 234 people per square kilometer. We have seven times as much space, with just 35 people per square kilometer. Physical space is not an issue for us.

The second whopper is that influxes of refugees and immigrants hurt our chance of getting a job. Again, I've gotta give you the gong and call "pants on fire!"

There are so many studies, but how about this one from Indiana University and the University of Virginia, using decennial census data. It found if you look only at the sectors that must be fueled by local workers, such as hospitality, teaching, retail and construction, each new American immigrant produces about 1.2 new local jobs, "most of which went to native-born employees."

Immigration has given us co-founders of Yahoo, YouTube and Google. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant.

So that brings me to that hardy perennial alternative fact being pushed by our president: that immigrants and refugees bring crime, drugs and social disruption. Studies over many years have concluded that immigrants and refugees are less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans. Even the conservative Cato Institute says that the available evidence does not support the claim.

"There's no way I can mess with the numbers to get a different conclusion," a Cato spokesman told the New York Times just last month. The president and Internet trolls can cite atrocious examples of refugees or immigrants committing crimes in America, but these are anomalies, not exemplars of a trend.

However, there is one genuine fact that Trump Nation has right: America is getting less white. What do they make of that new reality? Well, as a Mississippi Trump supporter told me, "Yes I have to love my neighbor, but my neighbor is the person next door. My neighbor is not an African or a Middle Easterner."

The Pope wouldn't agree, nor would the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Anti-Defamation League and the 2,000 religious leaders who recently signed a letter begging the Trump administration to rescind its travel ban.

If only Trump Nation still listened to mainline religious leaders. They don't.

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Nancy Langer has worked on immigration and refugee questions for two decades on four continents, with such groups as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Her email is naflanger@gmail.com.

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