Immigration Reform: Who is Going to Speak for the Invisibles?

The raging immigration reform debate has confused me so much that I don’t know what to make of it: the guest worker program and felony charges for anyone staying here illegally. Then there is the talk about giving citizenship to undocumented workers who have been living here for more than a certain number of years. One policy says stay, and the other policy says get out.

To better understand the dilemma an illegal person is facing let me give you an example. A student comes to the hoping for a university education, great job, green card and a peaceful life. Things don’t go as planned, he/she does not have an employer willing to sponsor for work visa (H1 or H2), and so the green card is out of the question. At the same time the visa expires, the person is unable to extend the visa and, not wanting to go back to the life at home, the person decides to stay. No social security number, no driver’s license, no insurance for the person struggling to live and work at a job that no American wants to take. Then one fine day, the whole nation erupts saying that the person is here to rob the nation, taking away the jobs and, sucking the benefits system dry. What is that person to do? You tell me.

Another scenario: A poor farmer in Central America, struggling to feed his family, hears about the opportunities offers. He goes to an embassy to get a visa, but under which category? Skilled labor? He does not qualify for that. A person with exceptional ability? No. Among all of the visa categories for entry into the , he does not qualify for any of them. There is no “a person who is struggling to stay alive under poverty and apathetic government” visa category. Or is there such a category? He decides to come here the difficult way, cross the border through the Arizona desert, and live his life with an “illegal” tag.

In this debate about ‘s border safety, the integrity of the legal system and protecting “legal” Americans, the tales of people willing to risk it all to come here is lost. There are no stories of families from fleeing the poverty. There is not story about the family from Kashmir fleeing the terrorism or the artist from looking for freedom to practice her craft. Their voices are just lost among the horse cries of politicians and those seeking to capitalize on human emotions to be on the Bill O’Reilly show.

People don’t leave their country, their families, and friends just to come to and enjoy their lives. For the most part, represents freedom, a chance to live a decent life, a hope, an opportunity. Americans have to understand that. The portrayal of immigrants as lazy, looking for free benefits and an easy way to citizenship has to end.

So what is the solution? Immigration reform has to happen, but it should be representative of a broad set of populations. It should not just focus on brining in the tech graduates or the multi-millionaires. There should be clear, fair provisions for people who are poor and marginalized in their nations looking for opportunities to come to . Of course, criminal background checks and other safety measures should be taken; immigrants should not be treated as criminals just for trying to come here.

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