Coming from a family of immigrants and refugees, I know the sacrifices people make when they travel hundreds of miles, facing countless dangers, to escape struggles in their country and create better lives for themselves and their families. Being an immigrant is definitely not taking the easy way out.
My parents immigrated to America, and I relive their journey through the stories they tell. The Vietnam War created waves of refugees. For years, my grandfather planned an escape from the communists for his wife and 10 children. With his life savings, he bought passage on a small cargo ship for them to flee Vietnam. For three days and three nights, they stayed hidden under the ship’s planks with about a hundred other families, praying that they wouldn’t be captured or killed.
When they arrived in Malaysia, the ship’s captain purposefully sank the vessel to ensure they would not be sent back. Known as the “Vietnamese boat people,” they waited in a refugee camp for months – in some cases years – to be allowed to enter America. They were considered lucky to make it across the sea, since hundreds of thousands starved, drowned, died of illness, were lost, caught in violent storms, shot by government boats, or raided by pirates.
My grandparents built a life from nothing in the United States. All their children – my parents, aunts, and uncles, graduated from college and either hold a job or run a business. They are all law-abiding, productive citizens who pay taxes, and consider themselves Americans. Although they may be of a different origin, they are as dedicated to America as anyone else.
Our current president believes that immigrants, both legal and illegal, burden American society, and that unemployment and crime rates increase because of them. The statistics, however, prove otherwise. A recent poll shows that only 20 percent of Americans believe that immigrants take jobs away from citizens, while 69 percent said immigrants do work that most Americans don’t want to do (but which needs to be done). Immigrants, as a whole, help America advance. They contribute much to society and improve the economy. Whatever “harm” individual immigrants may do is nothing compared to the benefits of immigrants as a group. Nevertheless, our president is pursuing policies to broaden deportation criteria, expand deportation centers, reinstate Secure Communities (a controversial program that partners immigration officials with local law enforcement), and put new limits on legal immigration and work visas.
Illegal immigrants who are already members of our society should be allowed a path to citizenship, not deported. Illegal immigrants overwhelmingly do abide by the law and are actually contributing to the decrease in crime rates in America. Tom Barry, an expert senior immigration policy analyst at the TransBorder Project, says, “Dozens of national studies examining immigration and crime … all come to the same conclusion: immigrants are more law-abiding than citizens.” To support his assertion, a 2008 study by the Public Policy Institute of California (the state with the highest number of immigrants) also concluded that both legal and illegal immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to break the law. For instance, according to the study, “U.S.-born men have an institutionalization rate that is 10 times higher than that of foreign-born men (4.2 percent vs. 0.42 percent).” This is astonishing, especially when you consider how a native-born citizen would supposedly be more familiar with U.S. laws and the legal system.
Another reason we need immigrants is that the U.S. military relies on them. Though they may not have been born in the U.S., immigrant men and women serve in the military, sacrificing everything for their adopted country. According to the Immigration Policy Center, there were 114,601 foreign-born soldiers serving in the military as of June 2009; 12 percent of them were not U.S. citizens. Foreign-born men and women make up nearly 8 percent of military personnel. Without their contributions, the military would not meet its goals for recruitment, nor be able to fill its demand for cultural experts, interpreters, foreign language translators, and more.
President Trump is famous for the assertion that immigrants somehow “steal” jobs from native-born Americans, leaving citizens unemployed. In fact, the opposite is true: immigrants create jobs. First, there is just no evidence that immigration drives up the U.S. unemployment rate. It has been proven that a large number of illegal immigrants does not necessarily mean that the unemployment rate will increase. America’s current unemployment rate is about 5 percent. Four years ago, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, the rate was below 5 percent, when there were 1 million more illegal immigrants living in the United States than today. As you can see, America’s rate of unemployment is not dependent on the number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S.
On the contrary, in 2011, foreign-born Americans were twice as likely to start a business. New businesses provide jobs. Many businesses, both large and small, depend on the labor of immigrants. Deporting them would cause businesses to suffer from a lack of employees, since most Americans would not want the jobs previously filled by the immigrants. The economy would very likely collapse.
On the surface, the president’s reasons for deporting illegal immigrants and restricting legal immigration may sound legitimate. But, as I have outlined, many of these are incorrect, inaccurate, or incomplete. For these reasons (and my personal knowledge), I believe our president should reconsider his position. Deporting illegal immigrants and restricting the options for legal immigration will result in loss of labor, skills, and talent, as well as cost taxpayers a lot of money.
In addition, reducing the number of immigrants would strip the U.S. of its rich cultural diversity. When people think of America, they picture freedom, diversity, and opportunity. Threatening to deport all illegal immigrants, separate families, and build a wall at the southern border doesn’t reflect those values. “We are not going to ship back 12 million people, we’re not going to do it as a practical matter. We would have to take all our law enforcement and put people on buses, and rip families apart, and that’s not who we are, that’s not what America is about,” said former President Barack Obama.
Our country is defined by the morals of equality and fairness. The way we treat immigrants who have sacrificed everything to come here should mirror those principles. Thus, we must call for reasonable, compassionate immigration policies. Immigrants aren’t threatening American society. They are American society.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.