Immigration and Independence

First written on July 1, 2014 by Kyle Southern

Issues of politics, national origin, security, and basic human compassion are playing out in a dramatic and devastating way across this country’s southern border. Official estimates indicate approximately 60,000 unaccompanied children have cross the Mexico-United States border in recent months, far outpacing the comparable number of border crossings in the previous year. Many families in Central American countries send their children, often under the guidance of exploitative smugglers, or coyotes, to the border based on a misguided belief that U.S. policy will allow their children to remain in this country and ultimately pursue a better life. Such decisions can only come under tremendous strain.

The situation recently prompted House Speaker John Boehner to lay the blame for encouraging dangerous border crossings by children on President Obama’s immigration policies. Ironically, the Obama administration is on pace to deport far more undocumented immigrants — an estimated 2 million — than its predecessor, and the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative of the Department of Homeland Security explicitly requires undocumented youth to prove their residency in the United States prior to June 15, 2012 to qualify for deferred deportation proceedings.

Earlier this week, the president announced his intention to request $2 billion in funding to support enhanced border enforcement, even as communities across the Southwest struggle to find safe, clean housing facilities for unaccompanied minors — a situation the administration describes as a “humanitarian crisis.” Obama also seeks the ability for Homeland Security to fast-track the return of young people who crossed the border without proper documentation.

As many people across the country prepare to celebrate Independence Day later this week, we also prepare to celebrate a nation of immigrants. Many immigrants were brought to this country in bondage.

Many others were brought to this country through no choice of their own, but now face the challenges of pursuing education and work ultimately tied to the fact that they lack a Social Security number. The Fourth of July marks a fitting time for us to pause and ask again, what kind of country do we want to be?

We cannot do anything to change the facts of our country’s history, but we can take measured steps to make it a better one. As part of that effort, Congress has a responsibility to address the broken nature of this country’s approach to immigration — an approach that now all too often serves to break up families otherwise contributing to community life and local economies and effectively denying young people access to the means that would empower them to contribute further. The president has taken some actions to enact a more humane approach to addressing the complications of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, while other actions have branded him the “deporter in chief.” Without formal legislation from Congress, however, the president has limited ability to enact a comprehensive approach to the problem. Speaker Boehner enjoys the convenience of blaming the president for the arrival of unaccompanied minors along the southern border, even as he has informed the president that his House will do nothing to address the need for comprehensive immigration reform before this fall’s midterm elections.

As the president and Congress continue to engage in predictable political gamesmanship, real people — many of them scared, alone, bearing emotional and physical scars, and far from their families — arrive in this land of opportunity to find themselves in the crossfire. A common reaction to their arrival is a desire to put those kids on a plane and send them back to the countries from which they came. Such an approach ignores the real suffering they have endured and the challenge of returning them to the families they left behind. It also denies the complexity of this country’s history as a place where immigrants have been both welcomed and brutalized, integrated and exploited.

Each person in this country, regardless of long he or she has been here, deserves the rights of due process. Each person deserves to be treated as a person and a member of human family, not just another number or another “illegal.” Actions can be illegal, and we need processes to redress them. But no person is illegal. Surely we cannot signal to the world that any person can cross our borders and expect to remain. But neither can we signal that the way we approach a humanitarian crisis is to fast-track the return, en masse, of thousands of people — many of whom may have legitimate claims to seek political asylum. As an immigrant nation, we must act on a higher standard than that. As a political entity, we owe it to ourselves to find the political courage to enact an immigration policy that reflects not only the country we have been and are, but aspire to be.

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Corey Ponder

Corey Ponder

Tech policy professional by day, wannabe superhero by night. Passionate about building communities, spaces, and platforms focused on inclusion and empathy.