Interestingly, our comprehensive introductory overview on immigration came on our final service learning day. On Thursday afternoon, we visited El Centro de Igualdad Y Derechos: The Center for Equality.
The Center was born from special project work at Enlace. Organizing often forms out of a call for action. Releasing that individuals need assistance as well, El Centro was formed. The mission of El Centro is to work with Latino immigrants and allies to strengthen the community and advance immigrants’ rights.
New Mexico has become a beacon for immigrant rights. Immigration laws are more liberal than most border states, especially neighboring Arizona. In spite of such a warm welcome, surprisingly, the immigrant population in New Mexico is significantly lower than the national average. Why would this be? For starters, New Mexico is considered the poorest state in our country, recently eclipsed by states in the Deep South. Secondly, families wish to immigrate near their families. Most immigrants settle in areas of opportunity or economic prosperity. As our poorest state, New Mexico would be the unlikely first choice.
To better understand immigration, one must take a look at migration. NAFTA, while first seen as a positive change for our neighbors to the south, forced many Mexican farms to close and thus the Mexican farmers out of work. Forced migration became necessary as a means for these farmers to provide for their families. As time has gone on, border control has become ever more strict. Knowing that a return to their home countries is not only unlikely but dangerous, the spouses and children of these workers have been forced to follow suit.
When comparing immigration from the early 1900s and today, the percentage of immigrants to the United States remains the same. Numerically, we have more immigrants in the U.S. today, but we also have many more natural born citizens living in the U.S. Thus, the percentage remains roughly the same. So why all the fuss now? Failing educational systems, increased unemployment rates, widespread poverty, and pressures for healthcare reform become much easier to point the finger of blame on a segment than the whole. What if the aforementioned issues were a result of a weak nation or a failing government instead of a group of people looking for a better life?
The immigration system: why is it broken?
The ability for an immigrant to become a citizen is not for the faint of heart. There are three options, that would allow an immigrant to apply for national status:
Blood: If you are related by blood to a legal citizen, you may quality for citizenship. While this seems rather simple, the process is anything but. The “blood” status allows for a parent, sibling or child (over the age of 21) to begin the citizenship process on your behalf.
Sweat: Work visas for industries like laboratories, agriculture and oil. While this seems like a win-win – come to America for work to “earn” your citizenship – the process is incredibly taxing. Even with a work visa, immigrants are required to wait a period of 5 years before being eligible for most benefits. Even then, work visas must be renewed. Since many immigrant workers are on contract or considered “day laborers,” guaranteed work is few and far between.
Tears: Refugees. Not much needs to be said about this category. In today’s age and time, refugee status is untraditional and infrequent at best.
On any given year, we deport roughly 450,000 individuals. That equates to 1,100 people every day. This has nothing to do with natural origin, race or language. It has everything to do with people from around the world wishing to find their fit in the beautiful melting pot that is our country.
Surprising? It is and it should be.