As tension over immigration continues to grow throughout the United States, an understanding of immigration policy has become essential, especially for college students. A look at history can easily show the xenophobic attitude that has always surrounded immigration in the United States, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to Japanese Internment Camps, it becomes clear that policy regarding the issue is almost always controversial.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 under the Reagan administration was a cornerstone of immigration policy aiming to deter illegal immigration in the United States. It is very similar to many of the policies being proposed by the current administration. However, a simple look at statistics easily casts doubt on the success of the act. In 1986, there were approximately five million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S., but today there are over 11.1 million. This is undoubtedly a drastic increase, begging the question, why doesn’t policy solely aimed at removal of undocumented immigrants rather than reform of the immigration policy work?
More recently, under the Obama administration, an increase of pro-immigration legislation was seen through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). These acts were met with a huge amount of backlash, mainly by Republican leaders, and these policies are currently facing the prospect of rescindment by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The most prominent explanation given by people who support these initiatives being revoked is that more immigrants would “take jobs” and in turn “harm the economy.” This belief stems from widespread misconceptions about immigrants in the workforce.
The danger of such rhetoric is that it can incite violence, shown by the fact that since the 2016 presidential election, there’s been a rise in immigrant related hate crimes. People have now started to believe that violence, whether it be physical or emotional, toward specific groups is acceptable. Innocent children and families of both citizens and undocumented immigrants have faced this extended scrutiny, and have begun to fear for their safety because of it. Legal citizens of the country have even been denied re-entry after traveling abroad, which only goes to show just how serious the situation has become. As our government sets out to fund a multi-billion dollar border wall and increases priority on deportation it becomes clear why it is necessary for people to be aware of their rights, and the effects that new legislation and policy can have on them.
As the federal government’s stance on immigration policy strengthens, many cities, school districts, churches and institutions of higher learning have come out as sanctuary sites, where the immigration status of a person will not be given up. Many undocumented students in the United States have struggled throughout high school to gain the same opportunities that easily come to their peers, all the while fearing every day that they may be deported. These students deserve the right to see their work pay off, but the growing hostility toward immigrants in the United States continues to make that reality appear impossible. Students who are equally talented and intelligent should not be denied the chance to attend a university and develop themselves solely due to their immigration status. Especially since many of those students did not have a choice when they immigrated.
Anti-immigration policy and rhetoric disheartens these young adults, and negative portrayals of them cause them to avoid applying to colleges and universities, which only leads to a cycle of poverty that is almost impossible to escape. What many who oppose immigration fail to see is that this virtual denial of education to these students not only harms them, but also the economy of the United States. The country cannot expect to see widespread economic growth or increased wages if over 11 million people, mainly children, are denied their most effective pathway for success.
Immigration is a multifaceted issue that definitely cannot be solved in a day, or even 241 years for that matter. But, by continuing to work toward compromise and compassion, the United States can be well on its way. It has become more important than ever to understand both sides of the immigration argument and how policy continues to change in the U.S.
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