Image via Huffington Post.
- Sign this urgent petition demanding key public servants include a Pathway to Citizenship for All 12 million, the first opportunity of its kind after almost 40 years.
- Support Cosecha, a national movement demanding permanent protections for all undocumented people.
For generations, members of my family crossed the border for work. My grandfather was a “guest worker” under a program that brought workers to build railroads and pick crops during WWII (UCLA). Aunts, uncles, cousins, and my grandma left Mexico one by one. Some of my cousins were incarcerated and my aunts deported. My grandma, a domestic worker in Mexico, here picked up cans with my cousins. My parents and my little sister eventually came. And I am here too.
The American right demonizes “illegal aliens” from “sh*thole countries” (New Yorker). Some people respond with the false notion that America is a “nation of immigrants” (NCPH) or broadly proclaim that “migration is beautiful,” a phrase adorning t-shirts and wall art (Etsy). People hate us or romanticize us. Both extremes are obstacles to our collective liberation and understanding of who we are.
There are around 12 million undocumented immigrants (Brookings), more people than the population of Greece. As essential workers, we die at higher rates from COVID-19 (The Globe Post). Each year we pay more than $120 billion in taxes. Our work contributes $17 billion for Social Security and $4 billion for Medicare each year, though we are ineligible for both programs (Center for American Progress). We have no access to disability or unemployment payments (NELP), food stamps (USDA), driver licenses (NCSL), or stimulus checks (Huffington Post). See our previous piece on those excluded from stimulus payments.
We face hate crimes and discrimination (Huffington Post), are exploited by employers who abuse us, deny us breaks, pay less than minimum wage, or withhold pay altogether (KQED). Though we face the constant threat of deportation or incarceration (Guardian), 5 to 10 people die every week trying to cross the border (Dallas News). Why is it that migrants keep coming to the U.S. despite these conditions? Though Trump’s remarks were repugnant, we only choose all of this because of conditions in our home countries, conditions often created by American governmental and corporate decisions (NYSYLC).
Central American migrants are “fleeing a hell the US helped create” by supporting right-wing death squads (Guardian), forced to make a dangerous journey where they find extortion, amputation, or death (NowThis). Vietnamese immigration started after American involvement in the Vietnam War (UMW). Mexican immigration increased after the North American Free Trade Agreement allowed American corporations to flood the market with their products, destroying the food system (NYT) and livelihoods of many working-class Mexican people (UMich). Indigenous communities in Mexico are at risk of displacement by “mega-projects” for mass tourism which “are de facto elements of a ‘migrant barrier’ which respond to the geopolitical interests of the United States” (Toward Freedom).
Wealthy countries which draw migrants contain 14% of the world population but 73% of world income. The nations of the “Global South” from which migrants originate have 86% of the world’s population and the majority of the world’s resources but just 25% of its income (Walled World). The same policies which made nations like the U.S. “rich” made the countries of the Global South so poor that their citizens left to survive (YouTube). We are not illegal, we were illegalized.
As Angie Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Colombia, writes, “There is nothing beautiful about the poverty that was created in my country while the U.S. prospers” (NYSYLC). So how can we achieve justice for those forced to leave their homes and families behind?
Discourse around immigration often starts and stops with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This program has been transformative for the young “Dreamers” who can access it, allowing them to work “legally” and temporarily protecting them from deportation (NBC News). Although DACA narratives “occupy outsize attention in our politics” (NPR), DACA protects just 6% of immigrants, leaving 94% of us criminalized (Cambridge). The framing of some immigrants as “good” and others as “bad” hurts the movement (Washington Post).
Fortunately, there are groups across the country rejecting this false distinction. Cosecha is a national immigrant-led organization fighting for “papers, not crumbs.” They reject politics that divide immigrants into “good” people to be offered limited protections and “bad” ones to be criminalized and deported, instead of organizing to win “permanent protection, dignity, and respect” (Cosecha). Decolonial Action Lab is an undocumented essential worker collective and one of the main founders of “Papeles para Todos,” Papers for All, a group also demanding full citizenship for all undocumented people (DAL). Anything less than a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented people would be a political and historical failure.