Latin American Immigration

Latin-American Immigration: It’s Time for Another Glance

Eli Samson, Carnegie Vanguard

A few hours south of Houston lies the small city of McAllen, Texas. In some ways, McAllen epitomizes the cosmopolitan nature of our country — — it is where the United States ends and Mexico begins, where two countries fuse and give us the multicultural heritage that America is known for. But the town hides a dark secret: the country’s largest migrant detention center.

Dubbed Ursula by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the repurposed warehouse harbors nearly 1,200 migrants, the vast majority of whom are detained along the Rio Grande just miles away. Released images by government agencies reveal young children kept in metal cages, forced to sleep on plastic mats, given crude mylar blankets to keep themselves warm. Other images depict their parents in separate detention units, huddled on steel benches, stone-faced and grim.

The photographs and detention center alike are inextricably woven into the fabric of an issue that is gripping the concern of Americans everywhere from California to Maine: illegal immigration. Now, when a whole nation was founded upon the ruthless conquest of indigenous civilizations and extensive immigration flows,stemming from Europe and Africa, it is difficult to demarcate exactly what makes current immigration efforts from our Southern neighbors illegal. To understand the current issue of Latin-American illegal immigration, we must first analyze the migration system that exists today, the misconceptions surrounding the phenomenon, and the range of factors that have contributed to its development.

To begin, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit organization and thinktank that analyzes data regarding both illegal and legal immigration and the United States Department of Homeland Security, illegal immigration is defined as “all foreign-born non-citizens who are not legal residents.” This leads us further down into the rabbit hole of immigration policy — — legal residency is given by lawful permanent resident certification, which can only be given through complicated sponsorship by a family member of work provider. However, the mess that is our current immigration system doesn’t end with vague sponsorship regulation: “immigration law is is complicated, and applies differently to different people in different situations,” says one law firm that specializes in legal cases regarding immigration.

This complicated set of rules and procedures can take years, if not decades to complete. From personal experience, I know that family members who applied for citizenship and legal permanent residency cards waited for approval twenty years after their first sponsorship. Considering the dynamic nature of American immigration policy, not to mention how much things can change in people’s lives, twenty years is an incredible amount of time to wait. Most Americans’ ancestors did not have to wait twenty years to migrate, all they had to do was buy passage to the Western Hemisphere, disregarding periods of immigration quotas imposed by the United States that mirror contemporary border protection policies.

Secondly, to better understand the phenomenon of Latin-American immigration, we must first address the misconceptions surrounding it that are simply devoid of factual evidence.

Among these misconceptions are the idea that most bad hombres are border-hopping Mexicans, here to take not only our jobs, but also cause civil misconduct, rape our women, and live off the American welfare system. Figures provided from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics state that “foreign-born workers are more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations, in production, transportation, and material-moving occupations, and in natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations,” jobs that many Americans consider to be beneath their efforts. These jobs, which face decline but also make up a substantial portion of American labor force opportunities, are being taken by foreign-born workers because they need a stream of income, and will work in industry to get it. In a sense, they’re taking our jobs simply because we don’t want to do them.

These misconceptions have been spread not only through current political rhetoric but also through the dissemination of stereotypes involving immigrants from certain countries that are perceived to contribute the most to the illegal immigration phenomenon i.e. Latin America. According to an experimental study done by Rene D. Flores and Ariela Schachter, the “white American public,” which incorporates around seventy percent of all Americans, “has [shared]… stereotypes about who illegal immigrants are,” regardless of political alignment. This spurs major discussion: even progressive White Democratic Americans cling to perceived notions that immigrants from Latin America, namely Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and other Central-American nations are illegal, solely based on knowledge of country of origin.

The problem generated by misconceptions is that while not necessarily true, they create a picture among the general public that is further enforced in voter behavior that shapes future policy. Misconceptions lead to inconsiderate policy decisions that create a feedback loop that worsen both the situations of immigrants and relationships between foreign-born and natural-born American citizens.

Finally, many Americans complain about illegal immigration and the problems generated by it, ignorant of the fact that our own foreign policy and other factors that American politics are responsible situations in the countries from which the United States receives the most immigrants. Through a combination of blind political backing of dictatorial regimes in Central America, to the institution of trickle-down economics that spread to its sphere of influence, the United States has contributed to the political and economic marginalization of Latin America’s poor that has led to the current immigration crisis we face today.

American intervention in Latin America was sparked by Kennedy-era efforts to sway the region from the influence of the Soviet Union. While this political move did work, the regimes instated by the United States in place of the democratically elected left-leaning anti-imperialist leaders contributed to the crushing economic and political stagnation experienced by the region in the later half of the twentieth century. This economic and political marginalization is the main reason behind the mass exodus of peoples seeking prosperity in the United States, and many are desperate to find work, a source of income, a roof over their heads.

What many Americans fail to understand is that we are the reason why millions are seeking refuge in our country today. The actions of our political and economic forefathers have worsened situations worldwide, and their policies created the conditions in Latin America necessary for illegal immigration on the scale that is being experienced today.

But there still is hope. After all, policymakers won’t be the only ones searching for solutions to immigration pressures — the American people as a whole will help shape future policy, and younger Americans seem to understand the plight of immigrants better than their predecessors. The more we understand, the more we as a nation can respond with commonsense policy reforms and, above all, compassion.