The U.S. Senate is taking action on the issue of illegal immigration, and attempting to give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
While this bipartisan action is a breath of fresh air compared to the toxic, paralyzed environment on Capitol Hill we have grown accustom to, it is also something more. It is the expansion of the American dream to a new generation of young heroes and citizens who thought their day would never come. It is the veneration of young people who have lived in this nation for as long as they can remember, but, until now, have not been allowed to call themselves citizens. For the 85,000 Wisconsinites and 11 million Americans who are undocumented, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, this is a moment of hope and empowerment that will echo in the winds of time.
While many look at undocumented immigrants with disdain and resentment, the issue should be approached with the utmost compassion and sympathy. The notion undocumented immigrants pay no taxes is false. There is little correlation between immigrant labor and the native-born unemployment rate. They often come, not to spit in the face of American laws, but to provide for their families. The notion the average undocumented immigrant is malicious toward this country or its values is baseless and faceless.
Growing up in California, I have gotten to know many of these people, sometimes calleed “illegals,” and they are as much a part of this nation and of their communities as I or any among us. They contribute greatly to society, even if they must do so in the shadows. Many choose to work hard jobs for long hours making less than minimum wage, because those are the only jobs they can get to provide for their family.
The notion the undocumented immigrant is exploiting the American worker is false, rather American society is exploiting the undocumented immigrant.
Undocumented immigrants don’t have to be paid minimum wage, they can’t get health care coverage or draw social security or welfare, yet according to the Congressional Budget Office, “the IRS estimates that about 6 million unauthorized immigrants file individual income tax returns each year. Other researchers estimate that between 50 percent and 75 percent of unauthorized immigrants pay federal, state and local taxes.” To call this group of people illegal aliens is to frame the debate against them. They should not be called undocumented Americans, because they contribute to our society but don’t reap the benefits of it.
The term “illegal” implies some people who I have known all my life, who I have grown up with and gone to school with, lack a certain legitimacy I am entitled to.
We should be a nation that values immigrants and their integration and contribution to our society. On the Statue of Liberty it is written, “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” The vast majority of Americans are the descendants of immigrants. To grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants is to add a chapter to the American story in which our society accepts a new generation of people who yearned to come here.
The issue of border security is separate from the question of a path to citizenship. There is an issue of safety at play. Immigration, on the other hand, is a long drawn-out bureaucratic process that ought to be shortened.
Undocumented immigrants deserve a path to citizenship, as they have become part of the American story. We should not as a society reject people because they lack our stamp of legitimacy. I am proud we have finally reached a point in which all of my American friends may be called Americans.
Spencer Lindsay (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sophomore majoring in political science.