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Somewhere in America, sweat will drop from the brow of a father as he works tirelessly under the blistering sun. A mother will stand on her feet for hours without rest. Elsewhere, a 17-year-old high school senior with a 4.0 GPA, knowing no home but the United States, will not qualify for the scholarship she needs to afford the college of her dreams.
These are the real, human stories of undocumented immigrants—stories that are lost in the minds of too many Americans. Rather than viewing immigrants as human beings first, we condemn them as “illegal” and even as “aliens.”
The fundamental problem with how we discuss immigration in this country is that too often the conversation begins and ends with the false notion that 11 million lawbreakers have entered this country through the U.S.-Mexican border. In framing immigration this way, this nation is not only unable to effectively address the issue, but we have also turned 11 million human beings into faceless objects of denigration.
If we really want to address immigration in this country, let’s acknowledge one fact: Our immigration system is broken. In November 2014, nearly 4.3 million people were on the wait list for family-based visas. Over 100,000 others were waiting for employment-based visas. In our system, it is not uncommon for those seeking citizenship to face waiting times as long as 24 years.
The vast majority of those who are undocumented in the United States came to this country seeking to build a better life in an honest way. If you are an American citizen and you are not a Native American, it is likely that not long ago someone in your family came to this country seeking a better life too.
We are a nation of immigrants.
That is why it is unacceptable for any of us in this country to treat undocumented immigrants as a monolith of criminals. Whether someone is here because she crossed a border or because she stayed on an expired visa, the focus of our indictment should be on the broken system itself.
Fixing this system means making many of the changes that President Obama has been calling on Congress to make for years. This includes restructuring the visa process in a way that reduces government costs and improves services. It means ensuring that the government issues all of the immigrant visas that Congress accounts for every year, consistent with demand. And it means providing a fair path to earned citizenship for those who are undocumented and already waiting in line.
Some Americans do not support a path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants because they believe that most undocumented immigrants are violent and stealing jobs from native-born citizens. This is simply not true.
Studies dating back more than a century reveal that immigrants, regardless of nationality or legal status, are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes. Those who continue to make generalizations about all undocumented immigrants based on individual cases of violent crimes involving undocumented immigrants are misinformed. In fact, such rhetoric only upholds a form of prejudice that is no better than judging an entire race or religion based on the actions of a small group of people.
It is likewise misguided to blame undocumented immigrants for our country’s economic woes. The U.S. jobs market is not a zero-sum game between those born within and those born outside our borders. Because immigrants tend to have a different set of skills from native-born workers, most immigrants are not competing for the same jobs as native-born Americans. Deporting eight million undocumented workers today would not open up eight million jobs for U.S. citizens tomorrow.
The reality is that providing a path to citizenship for millions of hard working people would actually boost our economy significantly. Under a plan that would provide legal status today and citizenship in five years to undocumented workers, the impact over a 10-year period would cumulatively increase our GDP by $1.1 trillion, increase the incomes of Americans by $618 billion, create 159,000 jobs per year, and increase tax revenue by $144 billion.
Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “No human being is illegal.” These are the wise words that should be guiding the immigration debate today. The 11 million undocumented people of this country are not faceless. They are our classmates, our neighbors, our parents, and our children—and they deserve a path to citizenship.
Dennis O. Ojogho ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House.
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