I met my boyfriend “Z” a little over a year ago. He’s smart, kind, funny, adventurous--and he’s an immigrant.
If you’re not sure why that matters, let me try to explain. To myself, and perhaps to you, the above traits don’t combine into an oxymoron. But to many people in our country, “immigrant” is seen as mutually exclusive with most positive attributes. Although I’ve never cared about the status of his citizenship, it seems more important than ever--now that our country is being led by a dictator who oversteps his reach every time he becomes involved in immigration policy--to understand how America actually treats its incoming outsiders.
Coming here from Belize at the young age of 13 to reunite with his mother, “Z” spent a majority of his life living in fear of deportation. Although today he is protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, this option was not put in place until 2012, leaving him to struggle as an “illegal” (i.e., undocumented) immigrant for 11 years.
Like a child, I find myself asking him endless amounts questions about his life--How did he live? How did he survive? How did he get here? Why did he stay? Yearning to understand our country in a more authentic and realistic way.
As a native-born American citizen, here’s what I’ve learned:
1. America encourages immigrants to obtain documentation illegally
Yes, you read that right: our government practically sends an invitation for immigrants to come and stay in America illegally.
First of all, the green card process is a lottery system, taking a minimum of 5 years and allowing priority people to skip the line. Those who do not have U.S. sponsorship from a family member or an employer can end up waiting for over 20 years to receive their green card.
I don’t know about you, but if I were living in a country with extreme poverty, lack of proper health care, and little to no hope of opportunity or personal success for myself or my family, would I really wait 20 years for a chance at a better life? NOPE.
Now, once an immigrant has come here illegally or has let their temporary visas expire, they are left with very little options.
If an immigrant leaves the U.S. once their temporary visa has expired, they withstand a very high risk of becoming banned from reentering the U.S. and denied any future citizenship possibilities-- thereby basically becoming a prisoner of our fine and free country.
Any hope for a green card or citizenship then falls on the not-so-romantic notion of marrying a U.S. citizen. According to research performed by the Center of immigration Studies, in a 9-year span between 1998 and 2007, 2.5 million immigrants obtained citizenship through marriage. Although it’s a nice idea that they all married for love, that notion is highly unlikely.
When marrying a U.S. citizen, immigrants can obtain their green card within 6 months and their citizenship within 3 years. Come on… the government is practically begging for fake marriages to occur!
2. Immigrants give the government a lot of money
Brace yourself, Mr. President: immigrants pay taxes. (gasp!) Undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $11.64 billion a year in state and local taxes, giving roughly 8% of their yearly income. Over the years, immigrants have contributed over $300 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund--without that contribution, legal citizens would not be able to receive full benefits until year 2037.
And obtaining citizenship is expensive. With a dollar amount that is increasing every year, freedom has a hefty price tag. Now, with the 2017 increase, a green card application alone will cost $1,760, and a two-year DACA membership has a $495 price tag--not to mention various work, travel and school visas costing $200 and up.
Therefore, despite what our fearless Cheeto-In-Chief may believe, immigrants are already pretty good at contributing to our country.
3. Immigrants are not climbing over walls to get to the U.S.
Does anyone else feel like Trump is building the wall to keep us in more than to keep immigrants out? Because I’m sorry to tell you this, Mr. President, but they’re not coming into the U.S. that way.
An estimated 40-50% of all entering immigrants who overstay their visas are entering on planes, with others finding ways to cross the border that require a little more creativity than hopping a fence. Also, it is estimated that 66% of all immigrants living in the U.S. have already been here for at least a decade. And despite Trump’s belief, a majority are not even incoming Mexicans.
4. Immigrants are not “aliens”
It seems so ironic to me that a country whose name begins with the word “united” focuses so much on being divided. Let us never forget that America was built by immigrants. We were founded on the beautiful idea of uniting and making a melting pot of individuals who sought a better life for themselves--one predicated upon peace and equality.
Yet now we place labels and judgment on those who come here seeking the American promise of freedom, calling people aliens--as if their forebears aren’t the very reason that we are lucky enough to able to call ourselves Americans.
As we are faced with hate and adversity, taunted daily with warnings of “bad hombres” and threats of ginormous walls designed to keep outsiders out, let us never forget: we are all immigrants.