“We, The Undocumented People”: American Values and Immigration


Kok-Leong Sow is a graduate from Wichita State University. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Computer Engineering, has published two research papers, has received numerous awards for his research, and even has a patent pending. Due to his numerous accolades and undoubtable work ethic, Sow was accepted into a graduate program at Columbia University, but the government will not grant him a stipend to further his education. The reason? His parents came to America unbeknownst to the government with Kok-Leong Sow when he was just six years old. In short, Sow is considered an “illegal immigrant”. He can’t legally work, drive, fly, or own health insurance, and yet still pays his taxes, and doesn’t live off of government aid (Seow, 2017). After the 2016 Election, people like Kok-Leong Sow live in a state of flux. Those who were brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age, and who often know nothing of their family’s home country, live in constant fear of deportation from the only home they’ve ever known. However, due to the help of local governments, many of these people remain off of the Federal Immigration radar, allowing them to live without fear of deportation, and live decent lives as their neighbors do. Enter Donald Trump.


Five days into his term as President of the United States, Donald Trump issued an executive order that put into effect his plan of removing federal funding from states, counties, and cities that designate themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, generally referred to as as “Sanctuary Cities”.

Due to this executive order, President Trump also caused a major discussion throughout the country on not only our current immigration policies, but the long-standing complications regarding federal government authority over state and local government. This current discussion is an example of how wonderfully open our country is to debate and rejection as forms of policy-making, a well-loved aspect of our legislation system that was put into place when the country was first founded in 1776. Donald Trump’s executive order shows his blatant disregard for state government authority, and would catastrophically change the financial power of state governments, further weakening them. This current fight by the federal government against sanctuary cities exposes the underlying problems with “American Culture”.


Before a well-expressed argument on our culture towards immigration can be made, America’s lengthy history of immigration policies must first be discussed. Before the Civil War, the United States had very relaxed immigration legislation, due to the relatively recent time of our founders immigrating here themselves. However, during the Civil War, states began to regulate who could cross through their borders. After the Civil War ended and the country began to stabilize again, western expansion became a must. During the California Gold Rush and the construction of the Trans-Continental Railroad, American companies often took advantage of labor from Chinese immigrants, who would work for less money than unionized American laborers. (“Early American Immigration”, 2017) However, after all of the gold was depleted and the locomotives began their cross-country trips, many Americans began to notice the large population of Chinese immigrants, and began to blame many of the late 1800’s problems on the large immigrant population, and thus, the “Yellow Peril” was born. Because of the rising awareness of immigration policy, the Supreme Court ruled immigration to be a federal responsibility in the 1870’s. (“Early American Immigration”)

The Naturalization Act of 1870 allowed “aliens of African descent” to become citizens of the United States (although these people and their descendants wouldn’t be treated as citizens until well after the Civil Rights Movement almost a hundred years later). While a major victory for immigrants from Africa, due to an increase in xenophobia, the naturalization process remained elusive for those of Asian descent. This discriminatory behavior continued with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese labor immigration for 10 years. This was because of growing fear that these people were going to ruin the economy, or worse: band together and fight against the discrimination cast upon them, resulting in America’s newest value: disenfranchisement.

The new policy of allowing labor immigration only until it satisfied American business needs continued with the Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885. This federal law banned American businesses from advertising for their companies by promising immigrants a job upon arrival to the United States. While in concept a good plan for any protectionist state, (which we are not), the practice of advertising jobs to potential immigrants is the only reason many came to the new world colonies in the first place.

The ebb-and-flow of immigration policy makers checking to see just how much they can get away with continued well into the 1900’s. The term “Sanctuary City” was coined during 1980’s protests against new federal immigration laws that denied asylum to refugees from Guatemala and El Salvador,(“U.S. POLICY IN GUATEMALA, 1966–1996”), countries where the governments was fighting civil wars, both backed by the U.S. government, and both recorded as to killing their own civilians, causing the refugee crises in the first place. The first city to label itself a “sanctuary city” was San Francisco in 1985, passing a city ordinance that forbade city police from aiding federal immigration officers. While this did kickstart the “Sanctuary Movement”, it is important to note that cities regularly do not have much power over their police. Police forces in an area are generally supervised by county governments. Cities that label themselves sanctuaries often do so symbolically, as a way to note that officials within the city will not ask citizens of their immigration status. Whereas when a county is a sanctuary, this often states direct disobedience to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, often not holding an immigrant in jail to wait for ICE, and just letting them leave after their crimes have been dealt with. While that may sound like a bad thing, ICE is often informed of people’s immigration status after they’ve been stopped by local law enforcement. Sanctuary status prevents these officers from complying with ICE immigration holds, which tell local enforcement to hold someone without a warrant in a jail until federal immigration officers can get there, often deporting someone for infractions as small as a broken tail light. These “ICE Detainer Requests” are considered by many to be unconstitutional, as the federal government is asking local governments to detain members of their community without any sort of warrant, making it an unconstitutional practice in the first place. Holding someone without reason is usually called kidnapping.

After San Francisco passed the city ordinance in 1985, many cities and counties around the country began to follow suite, along with many religious groups: primarily churches. These churches considered themselves “sanctuaries for the ill, impoverished, and undocumented” (Baker), stating that they could not follow the teachings of God accurately without giving haven to undocumented immigrants. Other cities also began following San Francisco’s policy of not asking or revealing someone’s immigration status, leading to a large but simple opposition to the federal mandate put in place. This rising opposition to the progression of immigration laws put in place in the United States is a sign that citizens are realizing the issues of immigration, and are aware that our federal government’s current and past policies aren’t solving any issues, only making lives harder.


Some people believe that city, county, and state policies that dictate sanctuary status, by hiding the immigration status of residents, help keep criminals out of prison, leading to rampant crime. President Trump states that sanctuary cities are “hotbeds of crime.”, his evidence for this is supposedly a new study done by the FBI on Sanctuary cities.

However, while it’s true that sanctuary city policies make it harder for authorities to find undocumented immigrants in general, it in no way hinders the detention of criminals. Anyone that commits a crime is still taken to jail, tried, and imprisoned. A study done by a group working for the Washington Post concluded that sanctuary cities, as the sole factor, do not lead to any kind of higher crime rate. In fact, some researchers are beginning to believe that sanctuary city policies reduce the level of crime in an area.


Donald Trump advocated heavily for stricter immigration policies during the 2016 presidential election. He brought to the public’s attention multiple stories of criminal immigrants getting away with murder because they lived in areas with sanctuary policies. One such story was that of Kate Steinle. Steinle was killed in San Francisco by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant and repeat felon from Mexico that had been deported five times prior. Lopez-Sanchez stole a gun from an unlocked Bureau of Land Management vehicle, and proceeded to murder Steinle as she walked on a San Francisco Pier. Steinle’s family, who is attempting to sue the city of San Francisco, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, state that if San Francisco didn’t have sanctuary policies, Lopez-Sanchez would have been deported, and would not have been able to kill Steinle. However, there are some major discrepancies with Donald Trump’s go-to martyr case.

First off, Steinle’s family says that San Francisco is to blame because local officials did not honor ICE’s request to hold Lopez-Sanchez until they were in San Francisco to deport him. The truth is that ICE never attempted to place a formal hold on Lopez-Sanchez, likely because he was considered a very low priority. The other issue is that ICE knows very well of the local statutes in San Francisco that require warrants in order to request detainers, which makes sense, since holding someone without a warrant or court order is unconstitutional. The truth is that sanctuary policies don’t provide any leeway for real criminals to get away. People are still held for crimes and charged as they would be regularly. They’re just not asked if they’re U.S. citizens. If Lopez-Sanchez has been deported 3 months prior to Steinle’s murder, when he was arrested for a petty drug crime, chances are he’d still find his way back. This incident had nothing to do with San Francisco’s sanctuary laws, and truly would have only been prevented if the Bureau of Land Management Employee’s vehicle had been locked, as it should have been.


A large demographic of American citizens that voted for Donald Trump state that they believe he upholds American values, evident in the fact that his slogan was even “Make America Great Again”, showing that Trump himself believes that he is the candidate to hold America to the values and standards that people consider necessary in American culture. Based off of conservatives like Trump, American values include equality, hope, fairness, and courage. Trump even flew a 15 x 25 ft flag on his Mar-a-Lago estate, from an 80 ft tall pole, a flag that he considers to be a symbol of liberty and equality, showing that he himself does truly believe in the values that our country was founded on: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Trump’s enormous flag was then cited as breaking zoning regulations, leading to an eventual 140,000$ in fines, because he wouldn’t take the flag down. Those that follow Trump’s ideologies also begin to follow in the hypocrisy of what we state as our American values.

When the man in charge of this country states that he’s a patriot, and a supporter of the pillars that the country was founded on, and then proceeds to punish cities that provide refuge to undocumented immigrants, it exposes the issues within these so-called “American Values”. These undocumented immigrants come here because of the same values and ideologies that our federal government praises, the same ideologies that the federal government continues to use to justify the forced detainment and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

America is taught, in a historical context, as a sanctuary for those seeking religious freedoms from their governments. The United States is taught to elementary school students as a refuge for these people, and as the country progressed, it is continuously referred to as a melting pot. Even the ideals that America prides itself on: Freedom of Speech, democratic ideologies, freedom of religion; these are things that were taken and built upon from other countries, and the things that make immigrants want to come to this wonderful country. It’s the very hypocrisy of these values that makes this argument necessary. Those that believe in the misinformed opinion that crime rates rise in sanctuary cities are often self-proclaimed patriots, and heavy patriotism in the United States has become a dangerous belief.


Patriotism is defined as the love for your country. The issue with this concept, even in a general sense, is that it immediately creates a barrier between “them” and “us”. No matter the extent of someone’s patriotism, the idea that love must be specified for an individual nation creates a bias against all other nations, when these borders are truly defined only by man. When a man brings his infant child from Mexico to the United States with him because he’s coming to the country to find work, that child will grow up in America. That child will be educated in American schools, they will grow up eating mainly American food when out of the house, and eating American ingredients even when in the their home. For all intensive purposes, a child raised in America has no choice but to cling to American customs. However, globally, nations still seem to attempt to define themselves through genetics rather than culture and custom, selectively applying the use of “American Culture”

The video above is a short documentary film created in the 1950’s to show the traditions and values in place in what was considered a “standard” American family. While not directly relating to immigration, this video and it’s implied traditions and standards can be used to show the malformation and interesting changes that have taken place within American values. This “standard” American family not only shows that the standard is to be a white family, but also to have two parents, living grandparents, and the thing most noticeable in this video: family meals. To have such meals suggests financial stability, which many people lack in our country. About 30% of the country is non-white, fewer than 46% of Americans live in a household with two parents, and the level of poverty on average in the U.S. has increased drastically in the decades since this video.

Perceived American values, those created mainly during the 1900’s during times of war in order to create a sense of nationalism among citizens in the United States, often directly contrast with the the values the country is founded on. Many have manipulate these values, and many still do, as Donald Trump and other politicians have often further their own agendas. The Ku Klux Klan was founded on the idea of the purification of American Society, it argued for ‘100% Americanism’. The Aryan Brotherhood runs an online publication called The American Renaissance. A hate group called the “White Revolution” advocates for the cleansing of the “corruption of American Value”.

A version of the banner of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)

All of these groups deal with exclusion of certain groups of people, just as immigration policies like those used by the US Federal Government currently does, using the concept of their “American Values”, values actually created explicitly to help develop these exclusions, to their advantage. These, however, are not true American values, just as the American values displayed in the above documentary film do not accurately display the people of America. The original values and ideologies used to build the U.S. constitution were used explicitly because they allowed for interpretation as time goes on and society changes, it seems however, that many people have decided to create their own pseudo-American culture to fit their own needs and that is the major problem with many saying that they advocate for American values. The values these people actually stand by are the values that further their own agenda, whereas American values are the values that benefit Americans, Americans today are easily benefitted by the values put in place at the founding of our country, those that protect Americans and those hoping to be Americans. A country made of and for immigrants has no place in changing their individual policies to benefit the political landscape of today. Making these drastic changes will just cause more drastic changes in the future. When patriotism is a concept that everyone that lives here can benefit from, it will be a powerful, integrating ideology. Until then, the selective patriotism used by our federal government only separates “us” from “them.”


Furthermore, the values created in America near the beginning of the 20th century, and that many consider to be the standard, suggest a constant willingness to agree with our government, as that government is the leading body of the country we should be so patriotic about. True American culture values questioning authority over everything else. After all, that was the reason the country was founded. A nation of rebels, of refugees, of the persecuted and escaped. We need to reapply these standards to our life today. The political climate of the United States in 2017 is considered by many to be more tumultuous than it has ever been, and when such a large percent of the country is unsatisfied, changes must be made. The issue is that the changes being created today refer to the values put in place in the 20th century, as I’ve mentioned before. Not the interpretable, open, flexible legislation the country is founded on. Where Donald Trump and his supporters and fellow politicians believe no is the time to make “Make America Great Again”, he’s referring to the 20th century policies of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, those of separation, of exclusion and disenfranchisement in order to keep the government powerful. Nixon’s war on drugs, as admitted by a former Nixon advisor, was created in order to separate and incarcerate the low-income, primarily African American demographic of voters that Nixon could not appeal to. We’re missing the ideals of Franklin Roosevelt, those of social inclusion and empowerment, ideologies the country was truly founded on.


Groups create values they consider to be good that further their own agenda. For Hitler, it was the Führerprinzip. For Gandhi, it was Satyagraha. For Gorbachev, it was Перестроика and Гласност. For Donald Trump, it is Make America Great Again. The names of these ideologies doesn’t change anything, and nor does what they actually mean. The aspect that is important is that they were all created during times of national distress, for better, or often for worse, and that they further the interests of the individuals that create the ideology. Ideologies are powerful tools, but America already has a solid, stable foundation to build our social policies such as immigration on. Donald Trump creating new policies will just cause more problems.

These policies often go to extreme measures, manipulating those under the rule of these people to submit to their leader’s values. Hitler was able to create the hatred of an entire race within his population. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. showed the use of non-violent protest as a way to get things done. Gorbachev attempted to save a failing Soviet Union from collapse, reuniting his once broken people under his policies. For better or for worse, leaders create the things that their citizens believe in. The best example of this, and an example that encompasses the entire issue that I am talking about, is that the same institution that registers the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood, and the White Revolution as hate groups, also lists the United States Border Control as a hate group. (The Southern Poverty Law Center)


Kok-Leong Sow has the intellect and accolades to further his education at Columbia University, which would likely in turn further the field of Computer Engineering overall. However, due to the hypocritical American Values that our government still bases its practices on, and the current executive branch’s push against sanctuary cities and policies guarding immigrants like Sow, it’s likely that Kok-Leong Sow will never be able to progress the field of computer engineering, just another progressive innovator that will never be able to benefit the society they live in, because that society doesn’t believe in their talents. If America didn’t accept immigrants, we may lack the innovation left by Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Bob Marley, Enrico Fermi, Audrey Hepburn, Neil Young, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. America has always been a melting pot, but now that pot is teetering, sputtering, spilling and burning.


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Design Statement

My chosen platform for my composition is the website Medium. Using Medium, I can use a format similar to that of a standard online news article. I think this format is the best based off of the information and topic of my composition, because it could easily be a standard article on NYTimes or the Washington Post, so to have it in the same style delivers a feeling of genuine journalistic writing to the audience, which I feel like help’s the audience understand the argument a little better. Besides the platform, I use the visual mode to provide vintage political cartoons that show historical context to United States Immigration, and use graphs to provide some quantitative data for the audience easily. I also provide a photograph of Kok-Leong Sow, who I use as a primary example of the issues of immigration as an anecdote at the beginning of my introduction. These things will be placed in very specific places to go along with the context of the section of the argument they are included in. I provide a clip of Donald Trump’s speech to show my audience the current events of this issue that I’m debating, which will hopefully help assert the importance of immigration policies as a current event.

I use section headers (I, II, III, etc) in order to section off my composition. This not only helped me provide a base foundation for the structure of my argument, but also helps keep information that I’m delivering to my audience from getting jumbled. It provides a streamlined, semi-chronological collection of information that is delivered in an order that helps make the full argument not only more complete, but hopefully more understandable. This use of the spatial mode is a huge component of my overall composition. The composition is dense, with a lot of historical and legal information involved in my explanations, so I decided to explicitly change these into sections instead of only breaking them into paragraphs will really help simplify the argument, and is very helpful in keeping myself writing the rest of my linguistic modes

Each individual section will also begin with “drop caps”. That is the literary term for the use of a large, bold, capital letter at the beginning of a paragraph. As used in the article we read on tracking anklets, I noticed this was a very effective way to split sections. Medium as a platform will also allow me to publish my work onto the internet as a real article, something that people outside of the classroom we are in could be able to read and engage with themselves, which is a very big plus for me, as my topic is something that is currently relevant for many and will likely be discussed more often and consistently for the next few years in the US.