When I was about nine years old, something happened that I won’t ever forget. My family knew a large extended family who we were good friends with. I played with their children, we had dinners together, and we saw each other often. Although they didn’t have much money, they were always happy to help people around them. Then one day, my parents explained to me that one of the women in this family, who was kind, friendly, and hopeful, was facing the possibility of deportation to Mexico. Not only that, her son was now faced with the difficult choice of whether to go with her or stay in the United States.
In the end, she was not deported. But this experience has stayed with me. So often, people born in the United States forget that when we talk about immigration, we’re talking about real people. People who immigrate illegally know that they’re facing a lot of challenges, but they have decided that whatever happens here is better than what they face in their home countries. How can we turn people like that away?
The United States was built on immigration. The ancestors of most of the people who live here now came from other countries. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated in 2019 that only about 1.3% of the population is American Indian or an Alaska Native, and only about 0.2% is Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The vast majority of the people of our country are immigrants or are descended from immigrants. Furthermore, in the Declaration of Independence, the founders of our country even cited prevention of immigration as one of the ways King George III had wronged them. The Declaration states, “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.” Our country’s founders felt so strongly that prevention of immigration was wrong that it was one of their reasons for declaring independence and going to war! Immigration has always been part of our country, the way it works, and who we are.
These people need somewhere safe to come, and don’t have any less right to live in a safe place where they have opportunities. Immigrants coming to the United States now are much like immigrants who came in the past. They’re seeking freedom, hope, and a fair chance at life, and are willing to sacrifice and take risks for that, or even for the hope of their children having these privileges. According to the Pew Research Center, the top five countries for immigrants to the U.S. come from Mexico, China, India, Philippines, and El Salvador. In many of these countries, opportunities, safety, and religious freedom can be hard to come by. It’s wrong to deny people a chance at a home here when they have a right to the privileges we enjoy.
Many people say that immigrants, especially those who are from third world countries, don’t deserve to be here. However, shouldn’t the people who come from hard situations be the immigrants who are the most welcomed here? The Statue of Liberty, an important United States symbol, says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” We cannot claim to be more worthy of our privileges because of where we were born. Our society was founded on the idea that people from all situations should be able to have rights, and should be able to have them here if necessary.
Illegal immigration is a valid problem. According to the Pew Research Center, 24.5% of immigrants to the United States are unauthorized. That’s about one in four. Many of these people immigrate illegally because they are in desperate or urgent situations, and the immigration process takes a long time. Our immigration system should try to speed up the process, and make it easier for people who immigrated illegally to complete the process to become authorized while they are already here. This would encourage unauthorized immigrants to become legal residents of the United States. We should also deport less immigrants who have no crime except for immigrating illegally. Often, they have nothing safe to go back to and are being placed in danger.
We live in a country of immigrants. It’s important to recognize this and to realize how many people do not have the incredible freedoms and opportunities that we have. It’s impossible to give every immigrant a home here, but we should try to help as many people as we can. These immigrants are people just like us, who were not as lucky as those of us who were born into a country like this. People born in other countries have no less right to freedom and safety than those of us born here. As the Statue of Liberty says, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”