I Came To America Legally and I am Not Angry At Undocumented Immigrants

When the issue of immigration becomes a nation-wide hot topic in the United States, it is met with a clamor of opinions, many of which are reflective of people who have no idea the stress that the journey towards citizenship requires. But among the chaos, there are a select group of voices, voices belonging to immigrants who have the legal status and are very familiar with the struggle the pursuit of permanent residency and citizenship requires. I search for their thoughts amongst the sea of voices that lack the unique journey to American citizenship; quite frankly, I find their opinions, along with that of Native Americans, to be among the most valuable on this topic. And one by one, many of them assert their anger at people who dare to overstay their allotted time stated by their temporary visas. In some cases, there are no visas to begin with.

Undocumented Immigrants

Their anger makes sense and I completely understand. You, a legal resident of the United States, have sacrificed time, money, and sometimes even your sanity to get your green card. It makes sense to be upset at the ones who did not suffer the same and yet live and maybe even work in The States. Trust me; I get it.

I am familiar with the immigration process, not only in the United States but also in Canada. I know the frustration of having family separated for 3 long years just because one person was approved while others were not for bogus reasons. I know what it is like to be discriminated against in the immigration process just because of your country of origin. I know very well how providing needed documents as directed by the embassy isn’t enough to keep your nerves down. I know how good citizens in various countries are turned down for visa, not even citizenship, for reasons that are not reflective the motives of the person applying to The States. It’s rough to say the least. And it makes sense to believe that if I had to experience and witness these things happening over and over again to people who attempted to come to the United States, hearing about people overstaying their visas or crossing a border without consequence should irk me.

But it does not. And my lack of rage towards them is attributed to two things: empathy and that empathy being practiced within a certain context, that being the context of United States history.

Illegal Immigrants

Manifest Destiny, the pursuit of having the United States of America spread from the Pacific to The Atlantic, sounded so grandiose and inspiring the first time I heard it in grade school. Several history classes later, it was not until the middle of my university years that the reality of it sunk in; it required Native American death, whether by disease that was brought in or by shedding of their blood at the hands of European settlers. Sure, there was a mention of the Trail of Tears, the time in history when the  Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations were forced out of their lands to move further West which led to them contracting deadly diseases along the way. But, much like slavery (another integral component of this nation being built), it was only briefly discussed in class. And this experience seems to be reflective of many Americans during general history courses. Whether the point is to make history classes comfortable or to make sure all of the history content for the year is covered, it is this sanitized, watered down version of American history that makes us very comfortable with wagging our fingers at those who are undocumented while being unaware of the fingers that point right back at us.

Illegal Immigrants (1)“Immigrant” implies autonomy, that is, a conscious decision you make on your own to forgo your country of origin to a foreign country. Such option was not given to African people who were forced into slavery in America.

This week, while I was processing so much of the recent xenophobic comments by Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, and their supporters, I was thinking about a video I watched in which a Native American man disrupted a protest against illegal immigration. He called those who protested the “real illegals” and I found that to be quite telling of the hypocrisy that exists when American citizens proclaim their unabashed and abrasive ownership of The States. It’s yet another example of this sanitized view of history at work, one that does not require an in-depth look at the atrocities committed against the indigenous American people.

Illegal Immigrants (2)When xenophobia is not directed at the entire immigrant community in the United States, Mexican Immigrants are the ones who take the heat. With the issue of Mexican people crossing the border to enter the US without going through the immigration process, there are questions surrounding security and questions surrounding fairness in allowing those who are undocumented living in The States. But from the stories of my close friends who are Mexican Immigrants and in observing how many speak about Mexican immigrants, there is so much ignorance. There are too many who conclude that being Mexican means that you are undocumented and being undocumented means that you are violent and/or are a part of drug cartels in the U.S. While the issues of drug and sex trafficking by undocumented people are real and deserve swift attention, many are unaware that dialoguing about those issues does not require generalizing Mexicans as inherently evil people. In fact, considering that many Mexican people are mestizos, mixed people of Indigenous American blood and Spaniard blood, one could argue that they are the rightful inheritors of America and are more “American” that the descendants of European Settlers.

Illegal Immigrants (4)I am a third culture kid (TCK), meaning that I spent most of my adolescent years living outside of my parents’ culture. I know better than most the complexities that arise from living abroad as a child and how that impacts identity. I strongly empathize with undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as babies. Despite that fact that they were born abroad, the only land that they know to be home is the United States and plenty of them consider themselves American. Thinking about their reality brings to mind another video that shows undocumented immigrant high schoolers finding out they have no papers. Of all the moments they find out this information about themselves, it is during the season where high schoolers are applying for admission to universities only to find that their admission is meaningless. The school that they wanted to attend requires papers and they kiss that dream good bye.

I watched that video  a few years ago and it seems like a few things have changed since then since the implementation of the Dream Act which allows undocumented students to receive higher education. And while many of them go about their business and espouse their American identity with pride, there are American citizens who would rather have them deported along with the other 11 million undocumented immigrants here (3.5% of the United States population). But considering that all these adolescents know is America, I can tell you from personal experience as a TCK that being forced against your will to an unfamiliar country has every potential to be very traumatic for them. Why are they to be punished for something they had no control over? And why not allow those who are here in good faith to continue going on their path towards citizenship?

This week, while I was processing so much of the recent xenophobic comments by Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, and their supporters, I was thinking about a video I watched in which a Native American man disrupted a protest against illegal immigration. He called those who protested the “real illegals” and I found that to be quite telling of the hypocrisy that exists when American citizens proclaim their unabashed and abrasive ownership of The States. It’s yet another example of this sanitized view of history at work, one that does not require an in-depth look at the atrocities committed against the indigenous American people.

Illegal Immigrants (5)It is clear that there needs to be immigration reform and the immigration process needs to favor those who desire to come to the United States with good motives. Having the best interest of the nation in mind is a good thing and should be encouraged. But considering the past and current discourse about immigration, it is clear that many do not realize that they can talk about border security and immigration reform without insulting, dehumanizing, and shaming groups of people who seek the same freedoms you have. Not only is it disrespectful, it is intellectually lazy.

As we continue with discourse concerning this topic of immigration and better land security, may we do so humanely. And before we seek to condemn individuals because they did not go through the strenuous process required for citizenship, we ought to look at the log in American history’s eye before we scrutinize the specks the eyes of undocumented immigrants.

What are your thoughts on how the immigration conversation has played out in the United States? If you are not living in the U.S., what has the immigration conversation been like where you live?

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