Thursday, August 27, 2015

Immigrant Is not a Dirty Word!

Immigrant Is NOT a Dirty Word
Conflicted. It's hard sometimes to change  your point of view, but that's where I've found myself heading over the past few years. I used to hear the word immigrant, and like many others immediately thought of those undocumented people from just south of our border who came into the country illegally to have  anchor babies (what an offensive term, then took our jobs, forced hospital ERs to close, and reaped billions in benefits that they weren't paying for -- and I was.  A lot of people also think gangs and high crime rates; and yeah, I guess if I'm honest I used to be subject to irrational and ungrounded fears concerning anyone who didn't look like me.
Where I grew up in New York, 'those people' worked the muck farms, topping onions, picking lettuce digging potatoes, and other poorly paying jobs that nobody really wanted to do because of the long hours in the hot sun doing back-breaking work. In other places there are jobs that no one really wants because of the same reasons, but people who come here looking to make a better life for themselves are willing to do these jobs because it allows them to support their family, to meet their immediate needs and send something home for parents, spouse, children.
But since my I've grown up a little, I've also come to understand that I really didn't have a clue. Some really nice people, from south of the border, and north of the border, and across both oceans  have come to this county as immigrants. A lot of them, like many of my ancestors (and yours too probably) came here to stay, back in the day when there really weren't a lot of laws in place and if you got to Ellis Island they probably let you in.  Many of our undocumented friends and neighbors actually came here legally -- as a tourist, a student, or on some other of temporary visa, and just overstayed the effective dates .  And yes there are some who are so desperate to find a better life for themselves and their families that they are willing to do whatever it takes to come to the 'land of opportunity', even if it means risking everything to get here.
And of course they are those who came here legally, under the auspices of the United Nations, as refugees from a number of places where they were being persecuted for their religious or political beliefs.
And while they are here, some of them have babies; babies who are, according to the U.S. Constitution, citizens of this country. Do some people have babies to game the system? Of course they do. And some undocumented women also have babies just so they can stay here. But a lot of people  aren't intending to scam anybody, they fall in love, get married, and start families.  Sometimes the rules don't work in favor of people who have really good reasons for being here: things like a spouse and children.
Does something need to be done with the issue of people here in this country without the proper documentation? Yes, to level the playing field and make life fair for everyone who lives in this country. Yes, to make it possible  for people to sleep at night without worrying about deportation.  Yes, to make it possible for children to go to college, to make it possible for them to join the military or get a career, to make it possible for them to collect social security or other benefits that they may have paid into for many years, even though they know that they will likely never see any of those benefits.

Immigrant is not a dirty word, and as a nation we need to realize that and stop  acting like anyone who wants to come here is a second or third class person.  Yes the discussion needs to happen, but the narrative has to change.  We need to learn to embrace diversity - it's what has made this nation great. We need a path to citizenship, should we reward people for breaking our laws? No, but a humane way exists for undocumented immigrants to atone for their past 'crime' and Washington D.C. needs to find that way and implement it now!

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