I am from a family of immigrants. Most of my family is straight from La República Dominicana, so I know that families who come here to live, to work, to make better lives for themselves shouldn’t be ripped apart. Families seeking asylum and separated at the US-Mexican border should be reunited and granted legal citizenship. They shouldn’t be forced to waste away in some detention center. They shouldn’t be forced to have their humanity stripped from them. Committing a victimless crime doesn’t mean someone should lose their dignity, it means they should be put on a path to a life where they don’t need to commit crimes.
To start off, the struggles of those who come to the United States illegally must be highlighted. According to “‘Like I am trash’: Migrant children reveal stories of detention, separation” (2018) by Daniella Silva, states that “16-year-old boy Sergio had already been separated from his father for 45 days by July 29, 2018,” (p. 1). Their belongings had been taken away before they were split into two groups and driven away. Sergio was told not to worry, that his father would be following, but the two were never reunited. It was a month, in fact, before they were able to speak to each other. In 45 days of separation, they could talk for a grand total of twenty minutes– that’s it. Since June 2018, over 700 kids have been separated from their families, as stated in “Spike in Unaccompanied Child Arrivals at U.S.-Mexican Border Proves Enduring Challenge; Citizenship Question on 2020 Census in Doubt” (2019) by Muzaffar Chishti, Sarah Pierce, and Herrica Telus (p. 1). To add to that, the administration responsible for not taking care of the children’s basic needs didn’t even ask for an increase in funds in the 2019 budget – though they DID project that more unaccompanied minors would be coming. It’s funny how a country built on family values is quite ready to break loving relationships apart.
The question we’re faced with is this: is citizenship something to be deserved? Should someone have to work for it? If so, what work have the rest of us done, as US citizens, to gain that citizenship? The only thing we’ve done to “deserve” it is being born here. The thing is, we were lucky to be born here. Lucky to be born in this amazing country, with our amazing opportunities, and the amazing gift of citizenship simply granted to us. We didn’t work for, nor did we have to ask, beg, or plead for citizenship. The families coming here must prove they have a “credible fear” for safety to be granted. According to “Asylum” (2019) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immgration Services, asylum seekers must prove that they will be persecuted in their home country due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a group (p. 1). Though many immigrants face these struggles, 80% of asylum claims are denied by immigration judges, though people are really and truly suffering in their home countries. Staying there could result in death–or, in some cases, something even worse.
But stories like this are always on the front lines of immigration conversations. What happens behind the scenes? What happens in court? As Anne Chandler stated in “What’s Really Happening When Asylum Seeking Families Are Separated?” (2018) by Katy Vine from Texas Monthly, the U.S. is prosecuting aliens seeking asylum for criminal entry and therefore charging them with a criminal offense (p. 1). (Anne Chandler is the executive director of the nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center, which aims to help immigrant women and children.) Prosecuting people who cross a border illegally may seem reasonable, but “8 U.S. Code – 1158. Asylum” (2019) from Cornell Law School clearly states that “any alien who is physically present in the United States… (whether or not at a designated port of arrival…) may apply for asylum” (p. 1). To put it all together, U.S. law allows migrants to ask for asylum regardless of how they got here, however many people are currently being prosecuted for exactly that: how they got here.
By now, my job of educating you here is done. All I can tell you now is to take my words to heart. Really try to sympathize with the people crossing the border. Imagine you’re one of them, really try to feel their pain. Because it is pain that these parents and children are feeling. It’s pain they’re feeling as they realize their homes are no longer safe. Pain when they leave in search of a better life. Pain as they cross a line they’re forbidden from touching, just to give their children the chances that are only available in a country as great as this one. All that can be done now is to go be advocates for these people that need your help. Even if you’re just volunteering to go sit with someone at a detention center, you’ll not just be helping them, but also changing their views of Americans. You’ll be showing them that we’re not all harsh. And giving them hope, which Lord knows they need. Stand up for them. Be a voice for people denied their basic human rights. It’s a way for us to impact the world, one family at a time.