Last week I attended a training session on how to become an ally to undocumented students. Coming from New Mexico, I have had close contact with many wonderful documented and undocumented immigrants. I believe it is so important to educate the public on the challenges that these people face and begin to correct the misconceptions that so many people have.
One of the first things that I would like to share is the language that is often used to discuss the issues of undocumented people is inconsiderate and derogatory. This is especially true of the term “illegal” which we often see in the media and some may use without realizing that it could be offensive. The material given out in the training did a very good job of discussing this term: “… actions are “illegal” not individuals themselves. This term further perpetuates stereotypes of immigrants as law-breakers, foreigners, and a burden on society. It undermines the complex experience of undocumented immigrants.” As a society, Americans need to change the negative connotation that is associated with immigration and come to a realization that we are all descendants of immigrants.
The second thing I would like to share is a flow chart that was presented during the training depicting the complex path that an immigrant must navigate in order to achieve legal status.
This chart shows one part of their struggle: the bureaucracy that they must navigate. What it does not show is how much time the process takes or the green card application fee. According to the website that the chart was taken from, immigrationroad.com, one should expect the process to take 5-15 years just to get a green card and another 5-7 years to achieve citizenship. Furthermore, the fees for filing a green card application are $985 for a person between the ages of 14-78 and $635 for a person under the age of 14, as long as they are filing with a parent who is also paying an application fee. I wanted to share this flow chart and these fees because many people do not understand why undocumented people do not just “get their papers” or are not aware of the significant hurdles that a person must go through to achieve legal status.
I think one of the most powerful and important misconceptions that societies hold is that immigrants are “taking away jobs.” This viewpoint is so powerful because so many Americans are suffering economically and are having difficulty finding employment. I do not blame people for wanting to protect their families and their means for providing for them. The evidence is, however, that immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants, are not actually having a significant impact on the job market. The following is a link to the National Academies of Sciences report, from which these conclusions are drawn: The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration . The study found that the group that experiences the biggest economic impact from the inflow of immigrants are people without a high school diploma. I believe that instead of trying to exclude people from our country, we need to do a better job of educating people and preparing them to work in a world that is becoming more heavily dependent upon technology.
I am interested to hear what some other people think about this issue. In my experience, working with diverse people who contribute different perspectives has always created better results. Furthermore, I believe that policies based on exclusion are destined for failure.