We Need To Stop Saying 'We Are All Immigrants'

Silhouettes of refugees people searching new homes or life due to persecution. Vector illustration

While cooking breakfast today, I watched ESPN's First Take, one of my favorite shows on television.

Host Molly Qerim and a diverse cast of commentators including Marly Rivera, Claudia Trejos, and Anita Marks discussed a variety of current sports topics. One bit of news the team tackled was famed football coach Lou Holtz comments during a luncheon at the RNC this week.

The former Notre Dame coach said the high amount of immigrants coming to the U.S. was an "invasion", asserting the need for them to assimilate. He continued by saying "I don't want to become you. I don't want to speak your language, I don't want to celebrate your holidays, I sure as hell don't want to cheer for your soccer team!"

The commentators offered principled critique on why Holtz's comments were anti-immigrant (specifically anti-Hispanic immigrants), culturally callous, and just ignorant. But during their rebuttals, they repeatedly said the phrase "We are all immigrants".

Upon hearing that phrase, most people would understand its intent is to recognize how the immigrant experience is deeply woven into the fabric of this country's creation, and how our diversity makes us unique. However, we really need to stop using it as a rebuttal to anti-immigrant sentiment, because it erases the particular histories of two groups of Americans who did not immigrate here: African-Americans descending from slavery and Native Americans.

Conceptualizing all Americans as immigrants or descended from immigrants overlooks the experience of African-Americans, whose origin story in America stems from the transatlantic slave trade. The general "coming to America for a better life" narrative does not apply to them, since their relocation was involuntary, to put it mildly. The phrase also dismisses the history, experiences, and to a certain extent, the existence of Native American citizens living today. By definition, they are not immigrants.

I absolutely believe they had positive intent when using that phrase. They were attempting to dismantle Holtz ignorant and xenophobic comments. With that said, though the American immigrant experience is common, it is not universal. Let's be careful not erase the histories and contributions of those Americans whose passport was a bill of sale, and those who didn't need a passport in the first place.