By Matt Flaherty
Immigrating to the United States of America is a pursuit of happiness. There are so many reasons why people create their lives again in the States. They could be fleeing a war-torn country or a gang-controlled homeland. They could be looking for work to make a better life for their families, or they might love everything that America stands for and want to be a part of this great country. In fact, they could be, and most often are, all three of these things. However, immigrating to the United States as an undocumented citizen is not for the faint-hearted.
The most obvious difficulty in moving to the United States is the culture war that immigrants become a part of. The differing opinions on immigration make it very difficult for immigrants to navigate the social climate of the States.
The national rhetoric against immigration changed significantly after September 11, 2001. This is a natural evolution for a country that was the victim of a terrorist attack from a foreign enemy. Since then, there have been two presidencies (Bush and Trump) who were outwardly against many forms of immigration, especially against immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. The other presidency (Obama) did not have the same negative rhetoric against immigration, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported more immigrants under his watch than during any other presidency.
With all the negative rhetoric against immigrants, it makes it very hard for them to understand their place in society. “Sanctuary cities,” for example, are cities that do not offer undocumented immigrants to the federal government to be deported. But the federal government can issue a warrant for these immigrants’ arrests anyway. Portland, Maine, is known as a sanctuary city, but several undocumented immigrants were deported last year because a state trooper called an immigration agent during a routine traffic stop. If an immigrant is unsafe in a “sanctuary city,” who can they trust to ask for help?
Another issue is the legal system of immigration; this includes ICE, the Border Patrol and the Department of Justice. The problem with these three agencies is that they all have different rules and policies on how to enforce the immigration laws of the country. Even within the Border Patrol, there are several different sectors across the Mexican and Canadian borders. Each one of these sectors has different ways of controlling the traffic from one country to another. The rules are inconsistent.
ICE is a nationwide organization and has many policies, but since undocumented immigrants do not have the same rights as citizens, they are not given due process like citizens who commit crimes. For example, they are not entitled to an attorney and have to represent themselves in court. Many immigrants looking to start a new life in the States are in their early teens and end up representing themselves in federal court.
Immigration laws in this country, and any country, are complicated. How could anyone represent themselves in an immigration court case?
There are many people living in the United States who do not know whether they are documented or not. There are so many different ways to immigrate to the United States, it is easy for a person to become unsure of their current status. Perhaps their visa has run its course, or maybe they are on a tourist visa and they are not allowed to work. This leads to more people being unsure of when to look for help and support.
Undocumented citizens are also the most vulnerable population in the United States. They are often the victims of human trafficking, wage theft and other crimes, but they are reluctant to reach out for help for fear of being deported.
The recent rhetoric on immigration in the United States is troubling a lot of people right now, and not just immigrants themselves. The food industry, especially, is worried about what the future of immigration is. Every facet of the food industry, from agriculture to food service, depends on undocumented labor and they are worried that it won’t be available anymore.
The fact is, the United States depends on undocumented immigration. These immigrants give a lot more to the United States than they receive in return. Undocumented immigrants pay many different kinds of taxes including income, sales, housing, social security and yet they receive no public benefits in return.
The United States is at a critical point in its immigration debate. Its citizens can buy into the fear tactics about how new immigrants are harmful to the country, or they can decide to embrace these new Americans.