Year in Review: Unraveling the Myth of the Perfect Immigrant
This piece is part of our 2021 Year in Review, a reflection on the issues and causes that mattered most this year – and the tangible ways you can support before year-end.
For some, crossing borders is only ever an asset. A semester abroad makes them worldly and sophisticated; an overseas service trip makes them humanitarian and hireable. This was not the case for Haitians attacked by mounted Border Patrol agents or children from Central American locked in cages. Those two groups faded from front-page news, but both are still there, a tool of convenience for liberals and an object of hate for the Right.
As we transition into a season of holidays concerning migration, displacement, and shelter, there is no better time than now to recenter immigration justice. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple after the end of the occupation by the Seleucid Empire. Christmas honors a peasant family forced to travel to their birthplace by imperial edict. Kwanzaa celebrates the African heritage of the descendants of those kidnapped from the continent. Regardless of faith or background, we should all demand a world where everyone belongs.
• As a community: Support Cosecha to demand citizenship for all undocumented immigrants.
One insidious narrative defends the presence of immigrants solely for the value and services they offer to citizens. It says we ought to support migrants because they grow “our” food and clean “our” bathrooms and generously work the worst jobs in their pursuit of the American Dream. In this telling, the dignity of migrants is conditional on their utility to citizens, whose worth is assumed. But conditional dignity is no kind of dignity at all, and immigrants do not come to the U.S. because they yearn to serve. Our first published article by an undocumented writer shows how undocumented immigration is incentivized by U.S. policies that impoverish, destabilize, and rob the nations from which immigrants arrive.
For about a week in September, America was shocked by violent videos of Haitian immigrants attacked for trying to cross the Rio Grande. The White House called the footage “horrific.” Biden called it “outrageous.” And then: nothing. The outrage faded, but the suffering remained. This month, the Biden administration announced it was reinstating Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, itself a continuation of an Obama-era practice. Border politics are a partisan talking point, but border brutality is a bipartisan reality.
The limits of “reasonable” political discourse around immigration in the United States are clearly defined. Despite the violence inherent in border enforcement, demanding their abolition is a position far too radical for polite company. And on the other side, even the most militant nativist is quick to clarify that they aren’t against immigration but just want it to be orderly and law-abiding. It’s believed that the truly deserving who wish entry to the United States merely have to apply for asylum before being charitably admitted. What’s less publicized is that applicants face an average of two and a half years of incarceration before their cases are heard. Even then, asylum is not guaranteed. More than half of asylum-seekers’ claims are denied.