Much of the anti-immigration rhetoric from former President Donald Trump and his supporters alike have been geared towards the Latinx community, generating societal fear and fueling nativism. However, this controversy is not new or surprising by any means. Often depicted in cartoons, America has slewed through various target ethnicities in the past: Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, Chinese and many others. Today, it seems like all of this history has vanished out of this world, and we’ve been repeating the same anti-immigration rhetoric. The minorities that once were are no longer, and new target populations are responsible for the faults of our broken immigration system. 

Considering the migration and settlement history of North America, it is ironic that a large population of American families forget their immigrant beginnings. Many have a fervent attitude against immigration, even though one out of four children in the United States have at least one foreign-born parent, and 90% of those children are U.S. citizens. The topic of immigration is one that floats on the tongues of politicians, agricultural stakeholders and mainstream media moguls, but rarely do we hear voices from legal immigrants — and even rarer, the hidden population of unauthorized immigrants. 

The view of Trump and some citizens on legal immigrants — claiming that immigrants “steal” American jobs destined for American people and “use” too much American tax money is no different than the common view on undocumented immigrants. Why can’t undocumented immigrants just follow the “fair and legal” system we have now? 

At the root of this question is the disposition of blame on individual characteristics, such as a lack of morals or education, or criminal-like, parasite-like and alien-like behavior. These exclusionary views uphold the misconstruction of what it means to be a “true” American while undermining the harder problem of reforming the legal regime. 

There are countless obstacles in immigration policy that hinders the process for immigrants to integrate into our society — even getting an H-1B visa, “a nonimmigrant classification that applies to people who wish to perform exceptional merit or ability services in a specialty occupation,” is laborious and not guaranteed as there is a 65,000 cap for new H-1B visas. With the pandemic, we saw how international students were left deserted in the chaos after the Trump administration declared deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

The immigration system could be better, to say the least, because we heavily rely on one temporary bandage: border security. The U.S. Border Patrol budget has increased from $363 million to nearly $4.9 billion from 1993 to 2021 to cover enforcement personnel, surveillance technology, border fencing and more. However, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the “benchmarks” for border security can be met even with a lower budget, suggesting that this money is not efficiently spent. One of the many reasons that we cannot come to a bipartisan agreement on illegal immigration is the exploitation of undocumented workers. 

Undocumented workers are part of the free market and the low, unfair wages given to undocumented workers help the U.S. to maintain low prices for our agricultural goods. Why don’t we just kick out all of the illegal immigrants? Wouldn’t Americans take those jobs? Probably not. 

The repeals of the 2011 Alabama and Georgia bills proved so. The 2011 Alabama anti-immigration law denied unauthorized immigrants equal protection of the U.S. constitution and encouraged local and state officials to deny access to basic rights such as water or housing. The 2011 Georgia law gave power to police officers to indirectly racially profile people and request immigration documentation from them. The agricultural industry was so strongly opposed that the state legislatures repealed those bills just two years after enacting them; Alabama alone could lose $10 billion and 140,000 at the rate they were going.

The effects of immigration status and socioeconomic status compound specifically for undocumented immigrants in times of crisis. Although an estimated six million unauthorized immigrants file individual income tax returns yearly, they are excluded from any and all benefits, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Because they do not get any stimulus checks, they jeopardize their health and continue to work — sometimes even hiding that they are sick. 

These issues do not affect one generation. They affect whole families: pre-schoolers, first graders through high-school seniors, collegiates, graduate students and frontline workers.  

The 800,000 “DACAmented” individuals — children who were brought to or stayed in the U.S. illegally through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs — rely on immigration bills to be passed because changing their legal status is out of their hands. At the moment, there is no legal, step-by-step method for DACA recipients to become permanent residents, even with the new federal court order to renew the DACA program. They can not work harder or vote to have their voices heard. 

With President Joe Biden’s administration, there is hope that we consider an expedited path to citizenship for DACA recipients, enact the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program and Central American Minors program.

There are student organizations, such as Student Community of Progressive Empowerment and Mult-Ethnic Student Affairs, that seek to be the voice for undocumented and “DACAmented” students at the University of Michigan. 

Whether it be through attending student-led campus events, keeping up-to-date with immigration reform news or understanding the gravity of voting, your voice can amplify the voices of those who have been whispering and wishing for change. 

Sooin Choi can be reached at sooinc@umich.edu.

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