America: The Land of the Free?

After what has been considered a historic moment in immigrant rights’ history, many in this movement are forced to deal with this question: “Do you support the Immigration Bill approved by the Senate?” I dare to say I am not the only one at odds with the long-awaited reform proposal. On the one hand, it opens the door to a pathway for legalization. On the other hand, its strong focus on security is a result of a misguided public debate on immigration.

There is an underclass of people currently living on the margins of society. Circumstance has pushed millions to immigrate to a country that has refused to recognize them as human beings with full rights while informally welcoming their labor and benefiting from it. A country that for decades has turned a blind eye to an undocumented status when it serves its best interest but when asked for equal treatment and fairness of a community that has been in the shadows, it has only responded by criminalizing it. It is a place where the most basic activities such as driving, attending school, and going to work have become inaccessible at best or a trigger for detention and expulsion in its harshest form.

Without reflection, in a near automatic fashion, opponents of immigration reform would respond, “It is a country of laws and they should be enforced” as a way to justify the treatment of its undocumented residents. Separating families and destroying lives that have been built for decades through deportation seem a fair punishment for such a “crime” of unlawful presence in this paradigm. If these laws we are so eager to uphold are criminalizing the most basic and essential aspects of the daily lives for over 11 million people, then isn’t it time to question whether they are working?

Under this bill, the DREAMers (undocumented youth) is the only group that sees an immediate path to permanent residency by meeting certain age and educational requirements. Perhaps the group that has received the most sympathy in this debate, as they never made a choice in living a life without legal status. Nevertheless, they along with their families have been facing the fear of loosing everything. It is such predicament that has led this vulnerable group in a position where they feel they can’t demand for fair treatment and to accept out of necessity, a flawed reform proposal known as Senate Bill 744.

Unfortunately, the parents and relatives of these DREAMers might never be able to adjust their status in a permanent manner due to the imposition of unattainable border metrics as a prerequisite in addition to strict requirements to maintain a temporary status. Family separation would continue with this Senate bill. Nonetheless, these same immigrants at risk of losing their temporary status at any moment, would still be required to pay income taxes and contribute to the American economy without receiving any public benefits like basic healthcare only available to permanent residents. This seems like one-sided deal and far from what the immigrant community has been fighting for decades.

View of the U.S. from Tijuana/San Ysidro Border
View of the U.S. from Tijuana/San Ysidro Border

On top of that of that, we have the southern border, the Berlin Wall of North America that will receive $40 billion for its militarization; A profitable enterprise for private prisons. Taxpayers will only see their public dollars go to waste in a fence that will witness an exacerbated humanitarian crisis that migrants currently face along the border region.

A security driven immigration proposal demonstrates that the public debate has been derailed by xenophobia rather than an understanding of the migration phenomenon. The criticism should also extent outside the U.S. It is irresponsible for emigrating countries such as Mexico to remain on the sidelines and watch the development of immigration policies that have distorted a human rights issue into a political negotiation gimmick. Migration is not only the concern of the host country as it should involve international dialogue, collaboration, and agreement. We do it for trade. Aren’t human beings as important?

It would be a shame that what immigration advocates refer to “comprehensive reform” would result in disappointment. Unfortunately, for an undocumented immigrant, such disappointment would be very costly as it might come in the form of a deportation. Can American do better? Only if the immigrant community demands it. The DREAMers and their movement have shown us it can be done.


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