As the dawn of a new day rises on President Obama’s second term as the President of the United States, we have finally begun to have an honest and robust debate over immigration reform. The President has proposed a plan that both addresses the 11 million people that are already here in the United States illegally while creating a path to citizenship for the missions of people who want to come to our country.
I firmly believe our immigration laws need to be reformed because our current system is long, expensive and much too complicated. We are after all a nations of ‘immigrants’ and should extend the offer of citizenship to all who want to share and be a part of the American dream.
It is truly reprehensible the way American employers exploit undocumented workers just to maximize profit margins. Many times undocumented workers are treated as if they are I indentured servants; forced to work under dangerous conditions, subjected to extremely long work hours often for a salary well under minimum wage.
We are perfectly content to have undocumented workers care for our children, clean our homes, cook our food and ted our lawns but are outraged at the thought of offering them citizenship or provide a decent education for their children.
Gone are the glory days of Ellis Island where millions of people passed through on their journey to become an American citizen. We once told the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Now it seems like the message we are sending to the world says, “Do not enter under the penalty of servitude.”
Yet, in spite of these harsh realities, the fabric of America is changing dramatically. According to the 2010 Census, 63.7% of the country is white, 12.2% African American, 16.3% Latino and 4.7% Asian. It is projected that by 2050, Latinos will constitute 30% of the nation’s population making them the largest ethnic or race minority in the United States. By 2060, African Americans will constitute 18.4% of the total population. Women make up 51% of the total population and 67% of Americans are between the ages of 15-64 years old.
What’s the significance of these facts? In the 2012 Presidential Election, President Obama won the majority of the votes in each of those demographics overwhelmingly. President won 55% of the women’s vote compared to 39% who voted for Mitt Romney. President Obama won 93% of the Black vote, 71% of the Latino vote and 73% of the Asian vote. The majority of Americans between the ages of 18-64 years old voted for President Obama (18-29 yrs- 60% & 30-44 yrs old- 52%).
The American demographic is changing and that means many of our historical views on issues such as marriage equality, women’s rights, reproduction issues and immigration are much different than the generation before. Each of these issues may be difficult to discuss and challenging to find a common ground to better serve the majority of society however now more than any other time in recent history, those tough conversations will need to take place.
It will be interesting to hear arguments on both sides of the immigration debate and see how will our government decide how to handle issues like- How to create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented works in the United States without slighting the millions of people who have applied for citizenship legally? Once citizenship is given to undocumented workers, how will we address the years they have lived and worked in the United States but didn’t pay into Social Security and Medicare? My concern is when that segment of our country reaches retirement; it will burden an already fragile system with an increase of payouts that doesn’t match the revenue taken in to sustain it.
What will happen to undocumented works that may have assumed another identify in order to obtain work? Will that person be charged with identify theft? If not, how can we charge other citizens who have committed the same crime just for a different reason? Would any restitution be owned to the person whose identity was stolen/damaged?
Many undocumented workers have been unable to obtain employment because they have no proof of citizenship so once citizenship is granted; will we see a rise in unemployment? If so, what provisions will be put in place so our economy can handle the budget increase of unemployment claims?
That’s not to say I don’t care for the plight of undocumented in the United States however there will be a huge impact to our country and government resources once they become citizens. We mustn’t forget while we are charting a path to citizenship for this population, the fact is they are here illegally.
Some supporters of making undocumented workers American citizens often give of a feeling of entitlement and/or hostility if Americans have questions or concerns regarding how this can be achieved. Every group of immigrants that have come to the United States earned the right to be here by blood, sweat and tears. From Africans who were brought here as slaves and had their language, religion and families taken away from them. African Americans were beaten, experiment upon, raped and were treated less than cattle.
African Americans had to fight in the Civil War just to gain their freedom and endured decades of segregation before winning their Civil Rights in 1965. None of these rights were given to them; they marched, protested, attacked with fire hoses and had police dogs turned on them while protesting. To this very day, African Americans are treated as 2nd class citizens. Just look at the way President Obama has been treated since he took office as President of the United States. But the one thing African Americans didn’t do was break the law to obtain freedom.
Between 1820-1860, 1,956,557 Irish arrived, most after the Great Irish Famine of 1845–1852, struck in Ireland. In New York City the public school curriculum portrayed Catholics, and specifically the Irish, as villainous. Prejudice against Irish Catholics in the US reached a peak in the mid-1850s with the Know Nothing Movement, which tried to oust Catholics from public office. Irish Catholics were targets of stereotyping in the 19th century and the media often stereotyped the Irish in America as being boss-controlled, voting illegally, alcoholics and dependent on street gangs that were often violent or criminal. Large numbers of unemployed or very poor Irish Catholics lived in squalid conditions in the new city slums and tenements. The Irish were the poorest of all immigrant groups that arrived in the United States in the nineteenth century.
Chinese immigrants in the 19th century worked as laborers on the Central Pacific Railroad and as laborers in the mining industry and suffered racial discrimination. In 1868, the government drafted legislation for the equal treatment of Chinese immigrants with the Burlingame Treaty. Some Americans were outraged and against Chinese American immigrants and regarded them as a degraded race and “cheap Chinese labor.” The hatred of some Americans rose so high that in 1882 the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited immigration from China for the next ten years. This law was then extended by the Geary Act in 1892. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the only U.S. law ever to prevent immigration and naturalization on the basis of race. These laws not only prevented new immigration but also brought additional suffering as they prevented the reunion of the families of thousands of Chinese men already living in the U.S.
During World War II, an estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals or citizens residing in the United States were forcibly interned in ten different camps across the US, mostly in the west. The internments were based on the race or ancestry rather than activities of the interned. Families, including children, were interned together. Each member of the family was allowed to bring two suitcases of their belongings. Each family, regardless of its size, was given one room to live in. The camps were fenced in and patrolled by armed guards. For the most part, the internees remained in the camps until the end of the war, when they left the camps to rebuild their lives.
The campaign for redress against internment was launched by Japanese Americans in 1978. The Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL) asked for three measures to be taken as redress: $25,000 to be awarded to each person who was detained, an apology from Congress acknowledging publicly that the U.S. government had been wrong, and the release of funds to set up an educational foundation for the children of Japanese American families. Eventually, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 granted reparations to Japanese-Americans who had been interned by the United States government during World War II and officially acknowledged the “fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rights” of the internment.
Each of these groups were discriminated against and were outcasts of the ‘American Dream’ but they all fought and worked hard to move closer to the promise American offers to all its citizens. The road wasn’t easy and many sacrifices had to be made but they never expected anything they weren’t willing to work hard to obtain.
I understand that what’s done is done and we are now faced with what to do to resolve this issue however each side has to take ownership of the current situation and have realistic expectations on how immigration gets resolved.