In 2016, President Donald Trump won an election centered around immigration reform. Ever since, our country’s immigrants have been under attack, unsure of when new policies and procedures could end their time here. The College Democrats of UW-Madison believe this is unacceptable.

The U.S. was founded by and is composed of immigrants. From our very inception, immigrants have made great contributions to our country. Democrats want to provide the safety, freedom and security that our founders were once seeking because we know immigrants strengthen our nation.

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But our current policies are hostile to immigrants and must be reformed. Families are being torn apart, mass deportation is an everyday reality and our leaders were willing to shut down the government for a wall most Americans do not support.

As such, Democrats believe we must reform family immigration. Our current backlogs of family immigration applications must be eliminated, as families wait years or even decades before being granted citizenship. Furthermore, we must end child and family raids that sow fear into immigrants’ everyday lives.

We also need to ensure that President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program remains in place for our young immigrants. Some have essentially spent their entire lives in America, and forcing these individuals to “go back to their own country” puts them in an unrecognizable place away from everyone and everything they’ve ever known. We cannot be complicit in policies that harm numerous children and families.

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The deportation of immigrants is a pillar of Trump’s agenda, and this racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric is given a platform it does not deserve. In the 2019 State of the Union address, Trump called immigrants “ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers” — yet this is far from the truth.

Immigrants are significantly less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Furthermore, Trump exaggerated the crimes of MS-13, as there were only 228 arrests of such gang members in 2017 out of the total population of more than 500,000 illegal immigrants. Immigrants are less threatening than this hateful, divisive rhetoric makes them out to be, and we’re putting undeserved blame on our nation’s inhabitants.

Another significant aspect of Trump’s immigration policies is the proposed wall along the southern border. The idea of “build a wall and crime will fall” is foolish. Trump claims it could help eliminate human trafficking, but many immigrants seek refuge in America to escape the trafficking present in their previous countries, and a wall would serve only to force them back into a threatened life. Apologizing for these conditions while still demanding a wall is not enough. We must look into the poor conditions from which our immigrants are fleeing if we truly want to decrease illegal immigration.

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We’ve endured the longest government shutdown in U.S. history over this wall, and it shows that some of our leaders care more about hateful, nationalist policies than the needs of our citizens. In fact, the shutdown impacted hundreds of thousands of government employees, including the 420,000 employees who went without pay and the 380,000 who were furloughed. History has taught us that walls should not separate us, and in an increasingly globalized era, we believe it’s absurd to demand such a divisive structure.

The College Democrats of UW-Madison believe that immigrants make America strong. We must find ways to expedite the immigration process and welcome these individuals. A common talking point is that immigrants steal our tax dollars and take our jobs, but that’s a misconception. Immigrants do pay taxes while consuming fewer government benefits, and they make great contributions to our economy. Additionally, most immigrants take jobs in the service, construction or agricultural sectors. These fields are often viewed as undesirable, but they are critical to our economy and we need to protect these workers.

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The discriminatory policies of our immigration system must be revised. We must value all immigrants as humans, not just celebrities or those Trump uses as rhetoric to push his own agenda. Immigrants are people, and they deserve to be treated as such. They’re our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends. They make our country great.

Cecelia McDermott ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and geography. She is also the press secretary of the College Democrats of UW-Madison.