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Immigration for a Better Nation

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Michaell Santos, a first-year student at Yale University, graduated in June 2022 from Bronx School of Law, Government and Justice in New York City, where he wrote this paper for Stanford Digital Education's writing course Raise Your Voice.

Michael Santos

By Michaell Santos, May 20, 2022

The United States has had a long history of immigration, from the European settlers who turned the thirteen colonies into the country we know today, to our current high population of Hispanic immigrants. As an established superpower, the country has opened its arms to those who are seeking opportunities and a better life. However, immigration has also become a controversial topic because of how immigrants are processed through and welcomed into the country, especially at the southern border. Many immigrants are leaving corruption, violence, and economic instability, and are just seeking refuge. When arriving to the United States many are faced with the harsh reality of being detained in centers where mistreatment is common. Many immigrants are abused and left powerless in a country they don’t know much about. It is thus important to question: How can the United States reform its immigration system and make it more efficient and humane? By looking at the inhumane and inefficient American immigration system, we can see that the immigration system in the United States needs to be reformed. As the “land of opportunities,'' America must maintain its global standing with an ethical and fair immigration process.

Immigration has been an ongoing issue that Congress has consistently failed to address. Our government has focused so much on establishing an effective immigration system or a system of little immigration tolerance, that they have forgotten to treat the leading cause of the high numbers of potential immigrants: political instability in other countries. For example, when we look at migrants at the southern border, we see that “[m]ore than 80 percent … came from Mexico or Central America’s ‘northern triangle’ region (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras)” (Isacson). This fact is not surprising when we look at the current state of countries in Central and South America. One of the biggest issues they are facing is gang violence, which displaces around 600,000 people annually (Pagani). However, even when most Americans agree that there must be a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, our representatives have failed to act. The most recent presidential administrations have tried to handle immigration on their own, with some successful strategies such as DACA, but most of them enact failed strategies. With this, it’s important to look into what treating the root issue looks like.

The issue of immigration is not a new one for the United States. In fact, immigrants and their descendants make up a big part of the population in the United States. The United States has millions of undocumented immigrants, many of whom have lived in the country for decades and have U.S.-born children. Even with how long immigration has been an issue, Congress has not been able to pass legislation that targets immigration. The executive branch has shifted back and forth with its position on immigration, mainly because of the changes in administration. Over the past few years, many families and unaccompanied minors have reached the U.S. southern border to seek asylum. Many families were separated and with the pandemic, immigrants at the border could not seek asylum. At the border, immigrants’ encounters with ICE result in expulsion or being put in detention centers. Overall, the focus at the border should be the treatment of asylum seekers; it has become a humanitarian crisis that the focus is elsewhere.

Before looking at why the immigration system in the United States must be reformed it’s important to look at why people are leaving their home countries and risking their lives to enter the U.S. Many of the people who attempt to cross the U.S. southern border come from Central and South American regions that are culturally rich, but lack economic and political stability, which creates insecurity for those living there. For example, “a majority of Guatemalans and Hondurans live below the poverty line, and most people in the Northern Triangle are employed in the informal sector, which deprives them of social protections and insurance” (Angelo). Central Americans not having the proper means to survive and live a comfortable life is a factor that pushes them to leave their home countries. Aside from the lack of resources and employment, storms and natural disasters impact the Central and South Americas, and have displaced many. For example, “back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes struck Central America this past fall [2020]: the storms eviscerated subsistence farms, killed hundreds of thousands of livestock, and devastated large-scale agricultural production” (Angelo). While facing economic instability, Central Americans are face the damage caused by severe climate conditions that leave them without homes and the crops they consume and sell in order to survive. That means that without the proper living conditions, they are forced to find refuge; and the U.S., being labeled as the land of opportunities, is the obvious choice.

The immigration system in the United States must be reformed because of the overwhelming amount of people who are seeking help at the southern border. In “What’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border in 7 charts,” John Gramlich and Alissa Scheller find that “[t]he U.S. Border Patrol reported more than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in the 2021 fiscal year, more than quadruple the number of the prior fiscal year and the highest annual total on record” (Gramlich and Scheller). These numbers are a clear representation of an increase of immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. and to use our country as their haven. As the political instability, mainly in Central and South America, increases and more migrants seek to enter the United States, the country must change how immigrants can seek refuge to create a more efficient method. Currently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reports that an asylum application gets processed in 180 days. But with millions of immigrants using this process, and the caseload becomes more and more intense, those 180 days could be prolonged.

In addition, the immigration system in the United States must be reformed because of the inhumane treatment received by immigrants and asylum seekers at the border. In “Everything We Know About the Inhumane Conditions at Migrant Detention Camps,” Matt Stieb reports conditions at a U.S. detention facility in the Rio Grande Valley where “39 children under the age of 18 [were] facing conditions including ‘extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food’” (Stieb). This is only a glimpse of what goes on within the detention facilities where immigrants, in this case, minors, are not taken care of. When the U.S. provides detainees with inadequate attention or none, it violates their human rights. When U.S. facilities don’t provide adequate living conditions, the nation fails to fulfill its promise of providing refuge. In addition to the mistreatment within detention facilities, the U.S.’s mistreats people on the premises of the border. In “Border agents seen in controversial photos on horseback not yet questioned,” Quinn Owen and Luke Barr report on globally broadcast 2021 footage: “Images of mounted patrol agents using their horses to push back migrants, mostly Haitian” (Owen and Barr). Border patrol agents using horses to violently attack Haitian immigrants is only one example of what immigrants face at the southern border. Instead of being welcomed with open arms, immigrants are faced with violence and attacks. Ultimately, the United States must reevaluate all U.S. tactics and systems at the border to ensure that the practices are humane and safe.

Some have developed the idea that we need strict immigration laws because undocumented immigrants steal American jobs. This idea has further developed based on rhetoric from the 45th president of the United States, whose presidential campaign included the claim that immigrants were stealing American jobs. In a speech he delivered in 2015, he went as far as to say, with reference to immigrants: “They’re taking our jobs. They’re taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us.” To the contrary, undocumented immigrants keep our labor afloat and are not taking away jobs or creating a shortage of labor. In some U.S. industries, immigrants make up more than a third of the workforce (Sherman). It is obvious that our economy depends on immigrants and without them, our labor force would significantly decrease.

When we look at the immigration system in the United States it’s clear that flaws exist. From the conditions at the border to the waiting time for asylum visas to be accepted, there are many issues to target when it comes to immigration. These issues must be met with reform directly coming from our government officials and agencies. If this continues to be an issue, then the country risks losing and weakening a population that contributes so much to the country and the economy. When immigrants leave their home country, they make the U.S. their new home and therefore become contributing members to our economy and prosperity. Immigrants provide positive economic contributions with jobs and innovation, so we must assure that they have a way to enter the country. The United States needs an efficient and humane immigration system and by not acting on it we create the potential of being a failed state.

Works Cited

Alden, Edward. “The U.S. Immigration Debate.” Council on Foreign Relations, 2021. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/us-immigration-debate-0.

Gramlich, John, and Alissa Scheller. “What's happening at the U.S.-Mexico border in 7 charts.” Pew Research Center, 2021. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/11/09/whats-happening-at-the-u-s-mexico-border-in-7-charts/.

Hansen, Claire, and Kaia Hubbard. “Immigration Reforms Dealt Devastating Blow After Senate Parliamentarian Rejects 'Plan C.'” USNews.com, December 17, 2021. https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2021-12-17/immigration-reforms-dealt-devastating-blow-after-senate-parliamentarian-rejects-plan-c.

Isacson, Adam. “Weekly US-Mexico Border Update: 2021 migration numbers, caravan in Chiapas, Remain in Mexico, CBP Facebook group - WOLA.” Washington Office on Latin America, 30 October 2021. https://www.wola.org/2021/10/weekly-weekly-u-s-mexico-border-update-2021-migration-numbers-caravan-in-chiapas-remain-in-mexico-cbp-facebook-group/. Accessed 1 May 2022.

Owen, Quinn, and Luke Barr. “Border agents seen in controversial photos on horseback not yet questioned.” ABC News, 26 October 2021. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/border-agents-controversial-photos-horsebackquestione%20%20d-source/story?id=80801383. Accessed 1 April 2022.

Pagani, Daniele. “Fleeing to live: supporting violence survivors in Central America-Guatemala.” ReliefWeb, 8 October 2021. https://reliefweb.int/report/guatemala/fleeing-live-supporting-violence-survivors-central-america. Accessed 1 May 2022.

“Rising Border Encounters in 2021: An Overview and Analysis.” American Immigration Council, 14 Apr. 2022, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/rising-border-encounters-in-2021.

Sherman, Arloc, et al. “Immigrants Contribute Greatly to U.S. Economy, Despite Administration's ‘Public Charge’ Rule Rationale.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 15 Aug. 2019. https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/immigrants-contribute-greatly-to-us-economy-despite-administrations. Accessed 11 May 2022.

Stieb, Matt. “The Inhumane Conditions at Migrant Detention Camps.” New York Magazine, 2 July 2019. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/07/the-inhumane-conditions-at-migrant-detention-camps.html  Accessed 1 April 2022.

Young, Julia G. “The History Behind the Immigration Crisis at the Border.” TIME2021. https://time.com/5951532/migration-factors/.

Warikoo, Natasha, and Paul J. Angelo. “Why Central American Migrants Are Arriving at the U.S. Border.” Council on Foreign Relations, 22 March 2021. https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/why-central-american-migrants-are-arriving-us-border. Accessed 11 May 2022.