“I don’t mind them being here, as long as they are here legally.” Let’s look at this statement, as I hear it frequently. Really frequently. I’ll start by saying the “them” that is being referenced are immigrants. And let’s face it, we are really only talking about immigrants of color, because no one really seems to care about the immigrant from France or Norway, for instance.
So to all those who might make this statement, I would like to pose this one: Do you honestly think they want to be here illegally?
Picture this, if you will; you are eight years old, you go to school every day just like everyone else, but you fear, every day, that you just might come home to one, or both, parents missing. Or you’re 17 years old and really smart, and would love nothing more than to become a doctor one day, but know that it isn’t a possibility in the country you know as home. Or you are 31 years old and are stopped for driving just a bit faster than you should have been, and you are sitting in your car frantically trying to remember the plans for your spouse and kids if you are taken away. These are all very real scenarios for the undocumented immigrant, and all bring tears to my eyes.
So why is this an issue? Why don’t they just come here legally? These are the next questions, right? These are often followed with the phrase, “like my ancestors did”. Well let’s begin with that falsehood. Your ancestors likely did not apply to immigrate here, nor were they likely to have waited a determined length of time for a response. They simply got on a boat and showed up! They were then processed through (likely Angel Island or Ellis Island) and on their way. There was no legal or illegal immigration. They were all, what today would be called, illegal. It was a different time and not comparable to today. Because today, the immigrants in question are brown, let’s be real. A research study by Brown University and MIT researchers, show that a full one third of all applicants are denied, for what appears to be no other reason than the fact that they are from a Latin American country. In comparison, those from other, mostly white countries, have a 90 percent application acceptance rate.
So let’s look at Latin American immigrants. They are often generally referred to as “Mexicans” regardless of the fact that those from Mexico only make up a chunk of Latino immigrants. According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), “In fiscal year 2016 alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted nearly 46,900 unaccompanied children and more than 70,400 family units from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
I’ll ask again, do you really think these folks want to come here illegally? Do you think they want to live in fear of being “caught” and deported? Do you think they want to work for low paying jobs, even if they are highly educated and skilled, because they can’t get any other jobs? Do you think they all want to work in hard manual labor jobs? Do you think they want to spend their youth going to school, even college, only to be denied a job in their field? Do you think they want to be constantly worried what will happen to their children if they are detained? Do you think they want to live in the horrible conditions that many of the detention centers have? Do you think they want to be surrounded by people who dislike them/don’t trust them/even fear them? Do you think they want to be in a world where they are struggling to even communicate? Do you really think they don’t want to learn English?
My friends, immigrants do not want these things any more than you or I want them. It is simply the better choice. I’ll ask you to picture another scenario, one that frequently exists for these families. As a parent, if you are living in a community where war, drugs, human trafficking, etc. are running rampant, wouldn’t you do whatever you could to keep your family safe? Wouldn’t you look for a better place? Wouldn’t you strive for the “Land of Opportunity” where you could be free? Free from all the dangers staring directly at your family? Wouldn’t you take a risk?
You may say, “Of course, but I would do it legally.” And that is where you might not understand the realities that these folks face. Would you really do it legally if your family was in danger and you knew that it could take 10, 15, even 20+ years? Would you be content to just wait it out and hope that your daughter doesn’t fall prey to traffickers or your son doesn’t become involved in the drug cartels that surround him? Or that war won’t touch you? Or your wife won’t be raped? Would you really?
In an NPR article (Feb. 2013) entitled, The ‘Line’ For Legal Immigration Is Already About 4 Million People Long, immigration attorney, Mo Goldman says “The date that they’re currently processing right now is back to 1993 — and it doesn’t move,” he says. Even grown Mexican-born sons and daughters of U.S. citizens are at the front of the line for permanent legal residency after applying two decades ago. They are approved, but that approval means little. Hiroshi Motomura, author of Immigration Outside the Law, and law professor at UCLA, says, “There’s something certainly questionable in the logic of a system that, on the one hand, says you qualify, but … you have to wait 20 years.”
So, if you can understand that these wonderful, hard working immigrants who are just trying to do the best for their families do not want to be here illegally, and if you get that coming here legally is just not possible because they can’t afford to wait a couple decades, then ask yourself, do you really mind? Because if you still do, ask yourself something further…. is it because of their race?
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