Dear Immigration Extremist,
I’ll avoid using “we” in my letter, since I’m an individual human being and, as such, I can only represent myself. I cannot speak for any group of people, no person can — unless the movement in question is the 26th of July Movement, and the person in question is Castro.
But I digress.
I want to discuss your hardline stance on immigration reform. If I understand you correctly, you want President Obama to stop all deportations and grant deferred action to everyone. You even opposed the comprehensive immigration reform bill that the Democrats pushed for last year because you thought some of its provisions were “inhumane.”
You’ve been calling for the fairer treatment of immigrants for as long as I can remember, and while you’ve succeeded in shaping the debate over immigration around the plight of millions of family and community members, you’re frustrated by the slow progress and lack of political will to address such a crucial issue.
It seems as though it were just last week when hundreds of thousands of immigrants, documented and undocumented, and their supporters marched through the streets of Chicago, my home town, in May 2006. So much has happened since then, and yet, so little has happened too. I agree with you on one thing: there have been too many disappointments.
When Obama was elected two years after that first march, many were hopeful that comprehensive immigration reform would finally become a reality, or at least the DREAM Act would get signed into law. If you’re not going to help the adults who are productive members of their communities, at least help the children living here with little rights or opportunities through no fault of their own.
But the president inherited several separate crises at once, and he chose to put CIR on the back burner. Once he returned to the issue later in his first term, the opportunity had evaporated and his political capital had dried up.
Meanwhile he assumed the role of “deporter in chief,” a title I hear bothers him, though the numbers justify the label. Since taking office the president has shipped off nearly 2 million immigrants, tearing apart families and communities along the way.
Not my family, thankfully. I was lucky enough to avoid the lines by being born in the United States, though admittedly I had no choice in the matter. My wife, however, wasn’t so lucky.
She was born in Juárez and brought to the States legally when she was two. Then her family overstayed their visas, and for the next 22 years my wife did her best to reach for the American Dream from the shadows. She did pretty good too, graduating from high school, securing a decent-paying job and even earning a college degree.
Still, having no legal right to live or work in this country can really limit one’s options. Two and a half years flew by as we simultaneously dealt with her paperwork and hoped Obama would make her troubles disappear with his pen. In the end, we realized two things: first, without marriage, it would take at least several more years for her to legalize her status; and second, immigration reform would never pass the divided Congress, at least not anytime soon.
In February 2012, having lived together for over two years, and with no hope in sight of fixing her status otherwise, we flew to Vegas and got married.
Marriage made us feel better, but only a little, seeing as getting married to me didn’t automatically grant my wife permanent residency. There was still paperwork to fill out and fees to play (nearly $1500). We also had to show the Department of Homeland Security we weren’t poor good-for-nothings, which, if you haven’t noticed, is pretty tough to do for 20-somethings these days. It took another nine months before she could apply for permanent residency, which she was granted a year to the week after our wedding.
Even now that she has a green card, there are still her two sisters and her mother to worry about — not to mention her father, who was forced to self-deport by an immigration judge back in 2004, only months after my wife gave birth to her daughter. At this very moment my wife’s father is in Juárez awaiting the day when either my wife or the oldest of his American-born daughters (he has five daughters in all) can petition for him.
I’m worried that your uncompromising extremist stance is counterproductive, as it is hazardous to the cause of immigration reform and detrimental to the everyday existences of millions of the undocumented, who would do anything to see their lives made even a little less unbearable.
You, who claims to understand the heart and soul of every undocumented immigrant, must acknowledge that undocumented immigrants are not a monolith. They have diverse experiences and manifold politics. They also want different things.
The reality is most undocumented immigrants are desperate for even the slightest of chances to improve their lives. I saw it with my wife, and I see it with her family members still. Sure, they’ll support sweeping immigration reform enacted tomorrow, but they’ll also celebrate any tiny improvement to the system made today.
Your preference for a comprehensive reform to the immigration system over the piecemeal approach taken up by Congress is understandable. Each day that any part of U.S. immigration law goes unchanged is a day in which families and communities are disintegrated and others are left at risk of the same.
Yet, just as the undocumented immigrants I’ve known never advocated a full stop to deportation and deferred action for all (not a single one), I’m quite sure most Americans, Democrat or Republican, also don’t think the United States should stop all deportations and grant deferred action to all of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
A good portion of those 11 million, especially the serious criminals and the recently arrived, have to go.
The tens of thousands of Central America children traveling to the Texas border are of course exempt for this discussion. They’re refugees and should be welcomed with open arms and afforded decent housing and good care — seeing as it was the U.S. government and American consumers who made such a mess of Central America in the first place.
Measures should be taken and every precaution should be observed to keep families together as well, including same-sex spouses.
While I don’t agree with conservatives who say we need to secure the border before we begin addressing the immigrants already here (I’ve been to the border, and it’s secure enough), I do think the United States should identify the kind of immigrants it wants. Any nation has a right to erect an immigration system in which only the brightest, productive and most congenial newcomers are invited into the fold. After all, even some of the worst bars here in Chicago enforce dress codes.
Finally, don’t attack pro-immigrant politicians and pro-immigrant undocumented queer journalists just because they don’t advocate the way you want them to or support the kind of reform you’re pushing for.
The figures you’ve attacked so publicly have accomplished as much in their respective positions to shed light on the immigration crisis and change the system than any other person has. Surely tireless activism is to thank for much of the successes achieved in the campaign for immigrant rights, but so too is the work of people like Rep. Luis Gutiérrez and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who have staked their careers on the cause.
Any undocumented immigrant who steps out of the shadows should be applauded. Any politician who berates his colleagues for shuffling their feet and playing politics with people’s lives should be hailed (and reelected).
You want people to stop promoting the “good immigrant”? First stop pressuring people to conform to your definition of the good immigration activist.
Confronted as the nation is with an issue that requires a concerted effort, millions of people working separately and together, the last thing the pro-immigrant side should be doing is drawing more lines and putting up more fences.
You have a right to demand everything you’re demanding, Immigration Extremist. But I should be able to respectfully disagree and still call you an ally.
Let’s not divide ourselves. Not now. The movement has come this far together, and there’s still a way’s to go.
[Photo: Victoria Pickering via Flickr]