Pardon my preaching, but as you know at this time in the holiday season (Thanksgiving or not) it is imperative that we remember for what we are grateful and how lucky we are for our respective blessings. For the majority of us, as providence would have it, we were blessed to have been born on one side of an imaginary line marked by a shady fence. And lest we forget those who did not have the good fortune to happen to be born on one side of that line, we ought to at least take the time to think of them, if not help. No matter how human they are, and no matter how arbitrary the deciding factor, birthing location evidently now determines human rights, or lack thereof.
To be sure, I don’t mean to paint immigrants as helpless victims. Strong of mind and spirit as so many of them are, adversity still comes at the hand of this country. Citizens are given information at birth, a social security number, a status, etc., and it is through that and that alone that they could register for any welfare programs, healthcare benefits, anything that people often see as a handout and use to paint immigrants as lazy or mooching, for lack of a better term. The only thing an undocumented immigrant can really utilize is public schooling—and what does that provide? Education? Food? Emotional support (sometimes)? Yes, how dare they be handed such things.
The most basic and the most propagated, I feel, is that immigrants take jobs from Americans and do not pay taxes. Think back to your job applications. Think back to what they ask for—a social security number, sometimes a birth certificate, sometimes a work permit, even a proper address—all things that an undocumented immigrant cannot have, or likely doesn’t have, to get even the most basic job that Americans often fail to even seek let alone have stolen. Their employment is typically informal and frankly unstable. It is possible for an immigrant to be hired for such a job over an American (though as I said it’s not often an American even tries), but that is because they are so determined to survive and most times to take care of their family that they will work for a deplorable amount of pay. And with no piece of paper to give them human rights, an employer can make them work inhumane hours, can pay them however cheaply he or she wants, can mistreat them, can fire them for any reason, can take full advantage of them and they can do virtually nothing about it, lest their family starve. Appalling, no? As for taxes, once again, a lack of legal status and often astoundingly low pay makes it all but impossible to pay taxes even if they wanted to—unless the employer decides to get an ITN and can force his employees to do so. Imagine being paid less $4 a day (even this is not guaranteed), and paying taxes meant for someone intended to make at least $8 an hour and reaping little to none of the benefits.
I won’t lie and say every immigrant that comes here is an innocent woman or child. Yes, as with any group, true criminals are inevitable. However, some 12 million undocumented immigrants are here (an estimate not including the thousands more about which we do not know), and they account for about 10% of the nation’s crime rate (which has declined by 48% in the last five years and happens to coincide with the loosening of immigration law, hint hint). Even so, how does one justify turning away those innocent children because of what someone else who happens to share their birthplace has done? Don’t we preach against marginalizing?
Why don’t they just save up and come legally? I would’ve thought it obvious that very few are in a financial situation to pay the $680 to become a citizen. And even if they can, here’s the thing—it’s not an easy process. Right now, at this moment, immigration is processing applications submitted in 2004 from Mexico and 1995 from the Philippines. If you have a family to protect and a town lacking in law enforcement and riddled with crime, I don’t think you have 12 years. Lastly, there’s a test. Apparently you cannot be a citizen if you don’t know our history precisely. Forgive me for saying, but I know an 18-year-old girl (an American one) who honestly thought Abraham Lincoln was our first president. These people from an entirely different country who often don’t even speak English can deserve to be here, apparently, only if they can answer questions that the majority of us couldn’t even answer. Do you know exactly when each Continental Congress was held? Do you know the name of the Speaker of the House? Do you know who was president during World War I? Do you know when men must register for Selective Service? For those of you who do, great, but think of how you learned those things and think of how that likely doesn’t apply to someone living in poverty in a different country. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know these off the top of your head, just remember that you still get to be here.
Even if you don’t work with immigrants in need, your support helps, and your vote helps even more. Whether you believe we should help make things better in their countries of origin to solve the problem and/or make it easier to become a citizen, it all helps. Rights for immigrants are rights for people. It’s basic humanity, nothing less. I can only hope for those who attended the recent panel on immigration held at the Mount, that something you heard opens your eyes to this if they are shut.