The Immigration Coin Trick

02/12/2008 08:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When I was a kid, my dad used to make a quarter appear behind my ear. He'd wave both his hands to distract me while, all along, the coin was hidden up his sleeve. That was the trick.

So the current attacks against immigrants in politics and the media feel very familiar -- arms flapping to scapegoat immigrants while ignoring the real, hidden issue. All Americans -- immigrants and citizens alike -- are suffering under a lop-sided economy that is designed to favor the super-rich at everyone else's expense, no matter which side of the border you're on. We're busy scapegoating immigrants, pointing fingers wildly in the wind, while the greedy corporate titans are hiding up America's sleeve.

Policies like NAFTA not only ruin local economies in the United States by shipping jobs oversees, they also ruin local economies in Mexico and elsewhere by driving down wages and flooding local markets with cheap, mass-produced products. Small family farmers in Mexico can no more compete with corporate corn from the U.S. than small factories in South Carolina can compete with clothing made in China. Workers on both sides of the border lose. The only winners are big business. That's the way the trick is designed.

The economy is now fully in recession. There aren't enough good jobs to go around for anyone. And most of the jobs we have aren't keeping up with inflation. Over 46 million Americans lack healthcare. Millions more face rising premiums and can't afford the healthcare they have. Three-quarters of a million Americans are homeless. Millions more face foreclosure because of sub-prime mortgages.

Attacking immigrants is just waving our hands. Citizens and immigrants are in the same sinking ship. We have to fix the broken economy to work for everyone.

This week, grassroots, immigrant-led organizations are convening in Washington with groups working on healthcare reform and economic justice to strategize around their shared vision of community values. At a summit on Community Values, leaders from the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and the Health Rights Organizing Project are meeting with representatives in Congress, the Bush administration and the media to demand an end to hateful rhetoric against immigrants and. They want a productive focus on our collective way forward. We need solutions that work for everyone, and not just some. And we can only get there together, not divided.

The Community Values summit launched a pledge campaign to end anti-immigrant rhetoric that is not only un-American but equally unintelligent. Instead, the pledge asks all of us to recognize the contributions of all communities and demand just, workable and humane immigration reform. I encourage you to add your name to the pledge here.

No matter where we were born, we all long for an America that works for everyone -- that ensures guaranteed, universal healthcare; affordable, accessible education from pre-K to college; real jobs with real wages and collective bargaining power; a foreign policy that makes friends not enemies; an immigration policy that respects and values us all. At the Community Values summit, I saw immigrants, African Americans, white folks, rich and poor folks, urban and rural dwellers all standing together for the same, shared agenda. The American people are clearly fed up with blame games and scapegoating and sky-is-falling hand waving that distracts us from the real issues. And it's showing in the presidential election, where messages of unity are defeating the fear mongering of the past.

No more tricks. That coin my dad produced? Like every coin in our country, it says, "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one. Together, we can build a better America for all of us.

Sally Kohn is the Director of the Movement Vision Lab at the Center for Community Change.