Illegal Immigrant Doesn’t Mean Poor, Uneducated, or Criminal
This week president Obama made some drastic changes to the way we, as a nation, treat young immigrants. The new rules are by no means an easy way for illegal immigrants to gain permanent residency. There are quite a few restrictions based upon age, academic status, and other factors. I’m not writing this article to debate the finer points of the president’s new policy, I’m writing this article because of all the illegal immigrants I know who’ve contributed in a positive way to this country. I’m not ashamed to say I personally know and like several undocumented migrants and not a single one is poor, uneducated, or a criminal.
We’re not going to make any headway on the issue of what to do with our border policy until we change the narrative that all undocumented visitors work digging ditches and undercutting the American worker. I knew two men who came from Europe. They own a thriving restaurant, which employs nearly twenty Americans in a small town economy and they give back to local schools and civic organizations. They’ve been here illegally for over five years and even missed seeing their father on his deathbed because if they left the country they wouldn’t be allowed to return for a number of years. Their business would’ve fallen apart and left a gaping hole in their town’s economy. Americans would go jobless in hard times because of our immigration policies.
Another friend of mine was raised here in the states, but isn’t a citizen. Her parents split when she was out of high school and she decided to stay here instead of returning to one of two foreign countries she’s never known. Instead of being able to go to college and get a good job that allows her to contribute to this, the only country she’s experienced in 20 years, she has to take under the table waitressing positions to make ends meet. She lives scared of being deported, and with good reason.
Although he was spared from deportation to the Philippines, Jose “JB” Librojo, an alumnus of San Francisco State University and full time registered x-ray technician, has been fighting an on-going battle to stay in the country he’s lived in since he was 15 years old. In 1995 JB’s family entered the country under an asylum visa, after years the visa was not renewed. JB and his family made the choice to stay. JB is currently on a one-year suspension of his deportation order and his fight is far from over.
The Gulfin family, also from the Philippines, are likewise on borrowed time. They entered the US in 1991 on a tourist visa and legally filed for asylum status. They later cancelled that request for asylum believing they could be sponsored by a family member. Their alien relative status was approved in 2004, but due to a technicality an order to deport was issued between the withdrawal of their asylum claim and the application for their alien relative claim. This order cancels their approved resident status and these New Jersey business owners, true job creators, may be pushed onto a plane and sent to a country they haven’t seen in over 30 years.
Some of my friends are lucky. One such friend, a Russian-born Jew, fled the Soviet Union in the 1970s when he was 9 years old. He didn’t gain citizenship until he was 17. He was an attendee of Carnegie Mellon, and his family, again, are business owners and employers.
According to a United Technologies National Journal Poll conducted in December of 2011 60% of Americans were in favor of allowing illegal immigrants to join society under certain conditions. This number has only gone up over time with a June 19th 2012 poll by Bloomberg saying that 64% of Americans agree with the president’s plan. Why then is this being used as a hot button issue by the conservative right? Because they exist in an echo chamber where the vocal minority drowns out the silent majority. Not surprisingly, Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ) is attempting to implement state-level legislation to block the implementation of the president’s new policy. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is planning to bring the policy to court. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has asked the White House for their legal basis on the edict and describes the new policy as “amnesty”.
How can the GOP say they stand with job creators, the middle class, and family values when they’re actively engaged in kicking out the mainstreet underdogs who contribute to our society in a variety of important ways? They rip mothers away from their American-born families, with some statistics saying as many as 22% of deportees are forced to leave children behind. They say they stand for Christian values but the majority of those they deport are of their own faith. How can the average person stomach the thought of sending a bright young mind away from the only country they’ve known? Isn’t that a net loss for our society?
In truth, the challenges presented by the conservatives in congress aren’t about the content of the president’s edict. The challenges are about politics -- pure and simple. Although they know that this is the right thing to do they would never allow a Democrat to take credit for it. Even Marco Rubio (R-FL), who was tempted to introduce similar legislation to Congress, has joined his party line and is fighting Barack Obama on the issue. The GOP’s powerbase is consolidated in states where the phrase illegal immigrant means poor and Mexican. These border states have the fastest growing population centers of the fastest growing ethnic group in the country. They’re afraid of a changing way of life and the shifting balance of power that comes with it. It’s no longer about merit, it’s about cultural differences and institutional racism and it’s hurting the country.
In the past a xenophobic or discriminatory government caused a brain drain by oppressing a group of people. Under these conditions the United States gained such incredible thinkers as Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany made it a matter of policy to restrict the exit of these treasured individuals because of the inherent value they held. Now we’ve come so far that our conservative elected leaders are actively seeking out these educated, hard-working people who give jobs to other struggling Americans, and forcing them from our country. Our leaders are going against the majority will of the people of the United States to play on the most jingoistic element of their political base and it’s time we called them out on it.
Immigrants, no matter how they’ve arrived to our nation, should be given a fair chance and they should never be punished for giving more than they’ve taken.