The term “ungrateful refugee” is designed specifically to remind us that immigrants will never be as American as the native-born, no matter how much time passes, how much good they do for their new country, and what citizenship they obtain. It is a calculated attempt to reinforce nativist power dynamics between the children of the rooted and the children of the displaced, to remind the latter that they will forever owe their lives to someone else. And yet, it is uttered most often by those who have never had or will ever have anything to do with anyone’s rescue—these are, in fact, the very people who wish to shut the door and throw away the key.
More baffling is that the term “ungrateful refugee” goes against one of Carlson’s (and his fans’) own loudest beliefs: the call for a quick assimilation. Though these nativists don’t actually care what goes on in the hearts and minds of migrants and refugees, they want them to posture weakness, thankfulness, subjection, and then a full and visible transformation—quick, theatrical Americanness for the benefit of the native-born. “You’ve had five, 10 years here,” they think. “Learn our ways already.” And therein lies the problem with Carlson’s argument: Real Americans dissent.
If a person is to assimilate and become American, they have to be allowed to participate in the American democratic process.