Reconstructing our notion of immigration

Ericka Familia

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As a first generation Latina American, immigration issues tend to strike me more than most other topics in the news. Although both of my parents were fortunate enough to attain American citizenship fairly quickly, I often think about how drastically different my life would be if my parents had not been able to become citizens or had chosen not to emigrate. If I had not grown up in this country, I would not have even close to all of the opportunities I do today. My parents have made sure to often tell my siblings and I that that they wouldn’t trade our lives in the United States. for anything they could have had in the Dominican Republic.

Immigration is currently one of the most pressing issues in the US. The migrant caravan, part of which recently reached the US’s southern border, has given people a platform to express their anti-immigrant views. President Donald Trump has created an incredibly harmful image of immigrant families fleeing extreme violence and poverty from countries with the world’s worst organized crime rates. What he forgets to acknowledge is that organized crime affects the individual citizens of these countries, citizens who are most often those that flee in attempt to achieve a better life in America. He often claims that these people intend to “invade” our country. This harmful language suggests that immigrants are intentionally coming to the US for violent purposes. Can one honestly believe that thousands of underprivileged families in distress actually plan to attack our country? What so many people like Trump fail to realize is that the majority of these immigrants are parents with young children. They have had to leave nearly everything behind to seek safer and higher quality lives in the US—I don’t know about you, but if that were my situation, I surely would not be “planning to attack.”

Most of these immigrants wish to enter the country peacefully, by applying for asylum. However, this process takes six months or longer and includes extensive paperwork and interviews. In this process, the family has to provide suitable documentation as evidence that they are facing violence or persecution in their home countries. Coming to the US “legally,” as advocated by Trump and so many others, can take up to 10 years depending on the method. Unfortunately, families in need of immediate protection cannot afford to wait this long. In most cases, the person wishing to immigrate would require a sponsor, usually a family member already living in the US. The sponsor vouches for their good behavior and manages the paperwork associated with the sponsorship process in the US. I have experienced this process first-hand, and the apprehension and restlessness that comes with it, as my mom sponsored her sister about twelve years ago. Only just a few months ago, after over eleven years, my aunt and cousins were finally able to come to the US.

Trump has frequently called out immigrants, specifically Hispanics, as drug dealers, gang members, rapists, and criminals. Not only are these unjust generalizations, but they are also statistically inaccurate facts. Countless studies have shown that there is no direct correlation between immigration and crime rates, including a study by the Cato Institute published earlier this year. This study found that “native-born residents were much more likely to be convicted of a crime than immigrants in the country legally or illegally.” In fact, another study “concluded that not only does illegal immigration not increase crime, but it may actually contribute to the drop in overall crime rates observed in the US in recent decades.”

Harmful labels against immigrants, especially Hispanics, being propagated by the president of the US have a detrimental effect on how immigrants are viewed in this country. I ask that we be conscious of the language we use when referring to immigrants. Simple changes like saying “undocumented,” rather than illegal can have a significant impact on the way those around us perceive immigrants. Remember that all that separates undocumented immigrants from us is a piece of paper. Make a profound effort to challenge your own and others’ perceptions of people like many of my family members, who are simply chasing the highly-regarded “American Dream.” Strive to change negative notions about immigrants. In order for this dream to become accessible to everyone wishing to thrive here in America, we as the future generation of leaders must change our attitudes.