If learning from mistakes could actually increase my I.Q., I’d be a genius.
One of my greatest mistakes has been having an opinion on a topic about which I am very emotional but actually know very little.
And so it is with the issue of immigration.
I work for an organization that serves immigrants and refugees. On almost every work day, I overhear conversations in languages other than English, look into the eyes of beautiful children whose parents came to America in hopes of improving their future, and hear stories about families who fear they will never be reunited.
And so, my heart reaches out for these individuals. But being passionate without facts does nothing to help me speak articulately about the issues.
For that, I called upon my co-worker Brittany Young, an immigration attorney who has both the passion and the knowledge. Hopefully, her words enlighten you as much as they enlightened me.
One of the most common questions I hear about undocumented immigrants, is “If they wanted to come to America so badly, why they didn’t just come legally? “
The question seems straightforward: we have a laws that people should follow, so if you are here without documents, you should just go home.
Many people want an easy solution, like building a wall, but the issue of immigration is too complicated for a simple solution.
Our immigration laws are broken and beyond repair. Limits on the number of available green cards have resulted in backlogs for years, even decades. For example, an unmarried adult child of a U.S. citizen from Mexico will have to wait approximately 11 years before they can gain permanent residency. Additionally, punitive changes in immigration laws passed in the 1990’s prevent many immigrants from seeking green cards. An undocumented spouse of a U.S. citizen who entered the U.S. illegally has to return to their country of origin to pursue a green card. Because they have been present in the U.S. for more than a year without documents, if they leave the U.S. to go to an interview, they trigger a ten-year bar on reentering the United States. They may possibly qualify for a waiver of that bar, but there are no guarantees and not everyone qualifies. So, people get stuck without a viable way to enter the legal immigration system.
As an immigration attorney, I often meet with potential clients only to tell them there is nothing I can do for them despite the fact that they’ve lived in the United States for years and their children are U.S. citizens.
Additionally, many undocumented immigrants are doing are the jobs that, historically, Americans don’t want to do. If you enjoy eating fruits or vegetables, the odds are that undocumented workers picked that tomato or apple or watermelon. Without undocumented immigrants, farms struggle to find the labor to harvest their crops. Undocumented workers not only help do much-needed work, they keep the costs low. Those savings are passed on to the consumers. Many Americans who shame undocumented immigrants publicly are actually enjoying the benefits of their labor.
Also, being undocumented in the United States is not a crime. Violating our immigration laws is not a criminal offense. The act of crossing the border is a crime, but the deportation process is a civil law one. Immigration courts, which are tasked with deciding who to deport, are civil, administrative law courts that operate without many of the due process safe guards present in other parts of our judicial system. Despite the grave consequences, people, even children, represent themselves in immigration court.
Because of that, please stop using the word illegal. It’s is dehumanizing. Immigrants are people. They are moms and dads trying to provide for their family the best they can while giving their children the opportunities they never had. They are young kids terrified to return to their home country because gang violence permeates every layer of society. They are women who have suffered unimaginable abuse and are seeking safety. They are high school graduates who were brought here as children and are now trying to figure out how to pay for college.
I never look at a single one of my clients and think they are illegal, because they aren’t. They are people just like you and me who are I trying to do the best with what they have. Maybe if we move past the labels and actually sit down and talk to some of these individuals, we will discover that our commonalities outweigh our differences.