Immigrants Are Not Our Enemies
I was taught from an early age about the often desperate plight of the immigrant and the blazing hope that America held out to them. The immigrant story of today contains no less richness, variety, and contribution than it did a hundred or two hundred years ago.
– Marianne Williamson
We are a nation of immigrants, and we will always be a nation of immigrants. We need to re-examine our immigration policies to provide care and respect for those who come here. America, at its best, is a welcoming community, and we need to live up to our image, instead of tarnishing it.
Through stories about the lives of strangers, and about the lives of my own family members, I was taught from an early age about the often desperate plight of the immigrant and the blazing hope that America held out to them. The immigrant story of today contains no less richness, variety, and contribution than it did a hundred or two hundred years ago.
Immigrants are not our enemies. I don’t know any progressive who is arguing for open borders, but we are arguing for open hearts. This is so important to remember today as immigrants are often viciously scapegoated. Scapegoating immigrants, particularly Mexicans and Central Americans, is a deliberate dehumanization technique. Dehumanizing others has always been the required first step leading toward history’s collective atrocities. This is not the first time dehumanization has reared its head in our nation, and we must stand up against it now as other generations stood up against it in their time.
The deliberate attempt by some of our leaders to make Americans fear something so basic to our greatness in the name of our greatness will one day be seen as a dark, aberrational chapter in our nation’s history. Those who scapegoat immigrants, like all demagogues throughout history, are demonizing others to increase their own power. The hardening of the American heart is far more dangerous than the softening of our borders.
When someone says, “Yes, but what would you do about the immigration crisis?” remember this:
Although there are certainly reasonable changes that need to be made in our immigration policies, the idea that we have a crisis is simply a canard. Calling our border situation a crisis is simply a means of distracting Americans from seeing who and what is really leeching our resources, who and what is really undercutting our power, and who and what is really stealing our democracy.
In fact, over the last decade, undocumented immigration has been going down. There are no hordes of immigrants “infesting” us. And while no one wants violent criminals in our country, the current anti-immigrant fervor has little or nothing to do with such matters. The actual rate of criminality among immigrants—even the undocumented—is lower, not higher, than the rate of criminality among our non-immigrant citizens. Both documented and undocumented immigrants are 46% less likely than native-born U.S. citizens to commit a crime or be incarcerated.
And the rate of their contributions, in fields ranging from the arts to science to academia, are among the highest of any subpopulation, whether measured culturally, academically or economically. Children born of immigrants are more likely to go to college and get a degree and less likely to live in poverty. In fact, studies have shown that as recently as 2016, immigrants contributed around $1.7 trillion to our GDP. And rather than competing with U.S. workers, research has shown their skills tend to complement them.
Undocumented immigrants also contribute to Medicare and Social Security — without reaping many of its benefits. As recently as 2010, research shows undocumented immigrants paid $13 billion into Social Security but only received $1 billion in services. And they paid over $35 billion more into Medicare than they withdrew between 2000 and 2011. They also pay over $11 billion a year in state and local taxes.
The plight of the modern refugee—the vast majority of whom are asylum-seekers—is no different now than it ever was. What has changed is how anti-immigrant fervor has been weaponized, taking a wrecking ball to something previously considered a point of pride for our country. Today, when the world has a greater refugee crisis than at any time since World War II — with over 100 million people displaced or homeless, often as a result of tragedies at least indirectly influenced by U.S. foreign policy — America is closing its heart.
Right now, people seeking asylum on the southern border of the United States are being scapegoated as criminals, their children deceitfully taken from their arms with no plan as to how they will be returned. These tactics flagrantly violate American law, which mandates that most anyone who sets foot in the United States has full constitutional protection here. Seeking asylum in America is not a scam; it is a statutory right. These asylum-seekers who enter the country as a result of fleeing persecution in their country of birth, have been grossly denied fair protection. They are being prosecuted instead of welcomed, and their efforts to escape oppression are being met by new forms of oppression – by us.
While it’s legitimate to discuss conservative versus liberal options regarding how we help a refugee fleeing humanitarian horrors, it should never be a question of whether we do something or nothing.
A question central to our current immigration drama is this: who do we think America belongs to? How ironic that a people who stole this continent from Native Americans who had lived here for thousands of years before we arrived, now turn around and claim some God-given right to ownership.
Immigrating to America is not a crime. The modern immigrant is chasing the same dream of a better life that lured the ancestors of every American who isn’t descended from either slaves or Native Americans. Even the language many tend to use in describing undocumented immigrants – calling them “illegal,” or “aliens,” — is a means of dehumanizing the very people this nation was designed to cherish.
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Another canard is that building a wall across our entire southern border is needed. In fact, unauthorized immigrants are increasingly entering the United States perfectly legally, then simply overstaying visas. No increase in border security will impact this most common route into our nation. Yes, we can invest in smart border security when it’s actually needed, while also looking at underlying causes of the displacement of so many people south of our border, including our long failed war on drugs, which has created rampant crime and violence among our neighbors. A wall is expensive, impractical, and unlikely to address any of the real challenges we face.
When people say we must protect ourselves and our borders, we must ask ourselves what they are really afraid of. There is a reason to defend our borders, but it has little to do with refugees. It has to do with transnational criminal enterprises, who bring drugs and people (usually women and children) to be trafficked and sold in this country, and who move massive amounts of money and guns out of the US. Some legitimately fear that even a nuclear weapon could be smuggled in by these gangs or cartels. These are legitimate fears. They must be fought – with smarts – by smart people using the best of modern technology. Evil comes by airplane, by ship, by submarine. If it comes through the southern border, it usually comes in trucks through normal gates that will be built into any wall. We need not fear the refugee or the bright, well-educated professionals with their dreams and energy. We do need to protect ourselves against the really bad guys.
It is important that we have a president who distinguishes between threats to the United States that are real, and those that are not.
I support legislative reforms that include a full path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who do not have serious criminal background issues. I would also work to reduce the cost of naturalization and increase resources to help people navigate that process more easily. Furthermore, our foreign policy should seek to ensure economic stability in other countries so that people do not want to seek economic refuge in the United States.
The Williamson Administration will:
- Support comprehensive immigration reform and provide a timely, ethical, transparent, and straightforward path to citizenship for all immigrants who have not violated any of the serious laws of this country, living in the United States.
- Expand the number of visas available to immigrants.
- End Family Separation. The Federal government has a moral responsibility to keep families together.
- For those that have been torn apart by the current and prior administrations, we must take immediate action to locate the children and reunite them with their families.
- Direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and provide them resources to adjudicate visa petitions within 30 days to shorten the duration of Family Separation for legal immigrants and citizens. One reason for the separation of families is that the DHS and the State Department take a total of 2 years or more to adjudicate visa petitions to issue the immigrant visas.
- Eliminate discriminatory and harmful policies and practices by all federal immigration agencies.
- Speed up general immigration processing by expanding staffing and funding immigration courts.
- Ensure all immigration judges have civil service protection.
- Ensure that due process and constitutional protections are available to undocumented immigrants when it comes to deportation issues.
- Repeal section 212(a)(9)(B)(ii) of the Immigration and Nationality Act concerning Accruing Unlawful Presence. Currently, unlawful presence is accrued if: You are present in the United States without being admitted or paroled; or. You have remained in the United States after the expiration of the period of stay authorized by the DHS secretary.
- I fully support DACA. Our dreamers represent the best about our future. I would update the registration date of the 1929 Registry Act to 1/1/2022, restore Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which expired in April 2001, allowing people who have approved petitions to apply for their Green Card upon payment of a fine for the filing fee.
- Reduce the record number of detainees currently under DHS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) control.
- Abolish ICE and establish an Office of Citizenship, Refugees, and Immigration Services under the Department of Labor. Redirect all funding to processing centers that connect/provide immigrants and refugees with resources and housing, work, and healthcare upon arrival.
- Hold accountable all ICE and Customs and Border Protection agents who committed human rights violations.
- We will work to close private detention centers that are an arm of the Immigration Industrial Complex.
- Increase funding and training for patrol agents.
- The Muslim/African Travel Ban under the Trump administration separated thousands of families for years. The Williamson administration will urge Congress to pass the No Ban Act (H.R 1333).
- Expand LGBTQ Protection. LGBTQ immigrants and asylum seekers who experience discrimination here, as well as in their countries of origin, should receive additional protections. Government employees should be trained to be particularly sensitive to the issues they face abroad, in this nation, and during the immigration process.
- Call for a repeal of the “Patriot Act” which was the first of many changes to surveillance laws that made it easier for the government to spy on Americans by expanding the authority to monitor phone and email communications and collect bank and credit reporting records. The Patriot Act was also used to surveil law-abiding immigrants all over the country.
- Reject the use of unproven and dangerous extreme vetting analytics and tactics, and the use of surveillance data to prevent people from coming into the country based on biased and flawed information.
- Reject the use of facial recognition surveillance programs that are riddled with racial discrimination issues.
With all the external issues that need to be addressed, immigration remains an issue where the deepest problem lies within our hearts. When my grandparents came to America from Russia at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Centuries, they not only brought to this country their hopes and dreams but also felt appreciated for doing so. This made them want to succeed, and want to assimilate in ways that were appropriate. They didn’t wish to confine themselves to their own ethnic silo, because they felt welcomed by the culture at large.
Today, too many immigrants come to America and are not made to feel welcome. This increases their fear, which leads them to behave in ways that then increase ours. Walls in our hearts are the most dangerous walls, and that is where we must bring them down. Next time you’re at an immigrant-owned place of business, think of asking the owner where he or she came from…learn their story…bring them into your heart. That is how we will change America, not only through policy but also through love.