Yearning to Breathe Free

Editor’s Note: In the hard copy of our recent issue, an insensitive picture accompanied this article. It was brought to the attention of the editor-in-chief, that the picture could be found offensive by some, if not a large group of people. That is not the goal of our paper. While we seek to publish thought provoking pieces that reach a wide range of political ideologies on controversial topics, we never seek to offend or hurt anyone. Please accept the apology if anyone was found to be offended in any way, shape, or form. 


In New York Harbor, the symbol of American freedom, Lady Liberty herself rests upon a pedestal that bares the inscription of a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus that begins “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Nearly 130 years after the Statue of Liberty made her debut, many Americans wish to revoke the invitation extended to newcomers that helped build our country.  Immigration reform has long been a controversial and partisan issue across the country. With 11 million undocumented immigrants and an upcoming presidential election, candidates have an array of theories on how such an issue should be handled. In particular, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, has fueled the immigration debate with explicit talk of building a wall at our Mexican border and in December of 2015 calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

We have all heard the racially-charged slur “illegals” or “aliens” being tossed about as if families who enter this country in search of a better life are outlaws of a different species altogether. What many Americans do not realize is that undocumented immigrants are not stealing our jobs or leeching off of our government, in fact, most immigrants do not have access to public benefits. Undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable population of people in our country, working long hours without the protection that American citizens have. They are often abused by employers and suffer silently in fear because speaking up would result in deportation. The deportation process alone is full of horrific tales of physical abuse and even rape by officials. Families are torn apart as children born in the US by undocumented parents are often placed into foster care while parents are deported to the country they were fleeing.

On Wednesday, April 18th the US Supreme Court heard arguments from a coalition of 26 Texas-led states who are against Obama’s executive action on the latest attempt at immigration reform. The immigration policy which has lately been referred to as the DAPA- Deferred Action for Parents of Americans-would grant temporary three year legal status and work permits to 4 million undocumented immigrants who have had American-born children prior to 2010. The bill, which was first announced in November 2014, was not passed into legislation by republican health leaders. President Obama took an executive action, passing DAPA in order to help undocumented immigrants work legally to provide for their families.

Texas, which has a lengthy history of opposing immigration reform insists that President Obama abused his power when passing DAPA. The Obama administration questions whether Texas has any legal standing to take this matter to the Supreme Court being that Texas has not suffered from Obama’s decision. Texas, on the other hand predicts a burden with issuing new driver’s licenses to those who are now (temporarily) lawful citizens. Obama sticks by his philosophy of focusing deportation efforts on those committing crimes, in Obama’s words deporting “felons, not families.”

In June 2012, the Obama administration created the immigration policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in order to protect those who arrived in the US before age 16 and prior to June 2007. The DACA policy protects the individuals who obviously had no say in their arrival to the US and have been raised as Americans, reciting the national anthem every morning in grade school, only to grow up and realize they are seen as inferior to other Americans. They are often valuable members of society, but do not have the ability to take out student loans for college, vote, or to receive Social Security benefits that they pay into. They live in fear of their secret being exposed which could result in them being separated from their family, friends, and the country they have known as their own.

Most Americans who oppose immigration reform argue that Americans would have better opportunities at employment if we shut the door on immigrants entering the country. The reality is, our economy would perish without immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, 5.2% of the US workforce is undocumented immigrants. Economists from Bloomburg News have predict how with less Americans willing to do heavy labored work, Americans will not see an increase of wages because these jobs will no longer be available in the US. Companies will continue to move overseas in search for cheap labor. Social Security funds would decrease as undocumented workers pay $13 billion in payroll taxes annually. Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, which is a federation that advocates immigration reform, warns that banishing unauthorized farmworkers from the US would be catastrophic to farmers by resulting in “not just more expensive produce, but the collapse of American labor-intensive agriculture.” This would result in the US getting meat, dairy, and produce from overseas. This scenario will play out by rising prices of goods leading to the demise of American farms.

In pursuit of the American Dream, undocumented immigrants are well aware of the necessity of having a college degree. For these individuals, many of whom arrived in the US as children, the burden of college goes beyond the average gripe over taking out loans or the quality of education. Undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial aid, leaving these young adults scrambling to find ways to fund their education.  Some colleges need to grant undocumented students special permission to even register for classes. After miraculously piecing together enough money to pay tuition as an out-of-state resident, because most states do not recognize undocumented immigrants as residents of a state because they are not legal permanent residents of the US, these students have to worry about being authorized to work after they graduate so they can begin paying back all of the private loans or family members that have helped finance their education.

As we sit in class we may not realize that the person sitting next to us, who may not even speak with an accent, has to pay three times more for tuition than us simply because, for no fault of their own, they are undocumented. A student here at CCP, who would like to remain anonymous, opened up to me about the hardships she has faced while trying to get an education as an undocumented immigrant after living in the US since she was a toddler. “There is shame in living in the shadows. You hear your friends say things because they don’t know your situation and they have no idea how hard you’ve had to work and how much you’ve had to circumvent the system to fund and be able to go to school and work.” Luckily, there are some resources here at CCP to help students who seek legal advice for immigration processes such as status adjustment and law inquiries. Single Stop in room M1-21 in the Mint Building offers free immigration services on the third Wednesday of every month from 2pm to 5pm.

Regardless of the strategy that so many politicians use to make the “huddled masses” appear to be criminals, the truth stands that our country is a melting pot of the world’s many cultures, with a history of immigrants imbedded in the very fibers of the nation. Generations before us have come to America for a better life and without new arrivals our nation would have a very bleak future.

“I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong”-President George Washington

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