Immigration Reform Starts with a Change in Laws and Attitudes

Mexican flag. Photo by Iivangm.

Editor’s Note: This guest article was written by Danni Ondraskova. It is a slightly modified version of an article that was published by The Wellesley News. The views of this author or any other guest author do not necessarily reflect the views of the New Revere Daily Press or its staff.

A crucial issue facing the United States today is the question of how to handle this year’s influx of undocumented immigrants. Since the beginning of 2014, 60,000 of these migrants have been identified as unaccompanied children from Mexico and Central America. Debate rages over whether President Barack Obama should use an executive order to prevent the pending deportation of these individuals before the 2014 congressional midterm elections. While fellow Democrats criticize his inaction, Republicans maintain that he should act in accordance with the Constitution and allow Congress to pass immigration reform. I believe that the President should combat this pressing issue by allowing the states most affected by the issue, such as California and Texas, to craft their own immigration policies and help streamline the country’s adoption and citizenship process.

Most of the 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are concentrated in the American Southwest and New Jersey. Congress is gridlocked between two intransigent political parties, and some representatives have little incentive to reform a policy that does not directly impact their own constituents. Because of this, federal immigration reform is unlikely to come soon. Legislatures from the aforementioned areas are cognizant of the implications of a broken immigration system on their communities so they are more willing to enact new policies. While states like Arizona have discriminatory immigrant laws, the beauty of American democracy is that individuals and grassroots groups can overturn the status quo by presenting their concerns to the government and wider public. If these affected states are allowed to legislate their own laws under the scrutiny of the state and their Supreme Courts, then the needs of undocumented immigrants wishing to become American citizens can be met more efficiently and humanely.

Undocumented immigrants are not the sowers of discord and leeches of social services so simplistically caricatured by American culture. It is well documented that they raise our standard of living by increasing productivity and our demand for consumer goods. According to the Cato Institute, the legalization of low-skilled undocumented immigrant workers can increase our country’s GDP by $180 billion in the next decade. However, their multiplicity of experiences, dreams and beliefs cannot simply be reduced to a set of impressive statistics. These immigrants enter the United States for a taste of economic and political freedom and a change to compose their own destiny. In the process, they challenge Americans to reconsider their beliefs and views of the world. And how are they treated? After getting low-paying jobs, many struggle to find an affordable attorney to aid them in filling out cumbersome paperwork before waiting for a court summons that never seems to come. The flaws do not end there: Even after becoming citizens, these immigrants endure discrimination in many areas.

While the United States immigration system is broken, it can be fixed in a number of ways. Besides allowing affected states to pass their own immigration reform, the federal government should increase its subsidies to pro-bono immigration attorneys to reward them for their efforts and encourage other lawyers to follow suit. The specific problem of the recent flood of migrant children can be solved through their incorporation into the U.S. adoption system. There is a surplus of people who cannot adopt because of the difficult procedure. This issue can be resolved through a new process that would provide attorneys who can help these children become adopted American citizens. The backlog of unexamined immigrant cases can be solved by hiring more employees in the Department of Homeland Security. While these policies may contribute to more U.S. immigration, they would also integrate new immigrants into American society and strengthen the country’s immigration system for future generations.

Ultimately, the success of America’s immigration reform does not depend on the choices of our nation’s leaders. Rather, it hinges on the ability of American citizens to recognize the inherent humanity of undocumented immigrants and shelve the stagnant prejudices about them that permeate our culture. Unsound political policies are dangerous, but not as dangerous as the assumption that some people deserve more dignity than others because of their country of origin. Until we can overcome the roadblocks of erroneous thinking inside of us, we cannot possibly hope to mend the rift that exists between us.

Danni Ondraskova is a sophomore at Wellesley College who is double majoring in Russian area studies and economics. She is the news editor of The Wellesley News.

[Also published by The Wellesley News]

Photo: Mexican flag. Photo by Iivangm.

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