This election season, there’s no televised presidential debate – Democratic or Republican – that doesn’t eventually address immigration reform. At its best, the debate informs us about the lives and families torn apart by deportation. We see immigrants’ humanity and dignity honored when leaders take into account the true gravity of these policies and the untold damage inflicted
on hard working, taxpaying immigrant families. But when the debate is at its worst, candidates spew anti immigrant vitriol.
We are seeing a direct correlation between anti immigrant rhetoric and the rise in the harassment of and violence against immigrants. Last summer, two brothers beat a homeless Latino man, claiming they were inspired after hearing one candidate’s comments on immigration.
Last month a Muslim student in Wichita was allegedly beaten while his assailant chanted a candidate’s name. Hate crimes like these strike fear and despair in the hearts of immigrants.
This hatred is being used to build support for anti immigrant policies that would reek havoc on our entire nation, not just new immigrants. The most damaging proposals include deporting nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants from our nation, building a wall along the entire U.S./Mexico border and singling out Muslim neighborhoods for invasive video camera surveillance.
Singling out Muslim neighborhoods for invasive video surveillance sends the fearful and false message that American Muslims are less deserving of the rights and dignities enjoyed by other Americans. Our nation was founded, in part, on the principle of freedom of religion and here we have a radical proposal to profile and harass religious communities across the country. The proposal is eerily reminiscent of the Japanese internment camps, which remain a stain on our nation’s history today.
Some are proposing to round up and deport the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. This proposal hearkens back to “Operation Wetback” in the 1950s when the U.S. raided and deported over 1,000,000 undocumented immigrants, most often to cities in central and southern Mexico where these workers had no family or friends. Mass deportation would involve armed law enforcement officials raiding homes and, in many cases, destroying families by ripping U.S. citizen children from their undocumented parents’ arms. Logistically, this plan is nearly impossible to enforce. More importantly, the proposal would cruelly deny these children their parents or the benefits of their citizenship.
One of the most outrageous proposals calls for building a wall along the entire U.S./Mexico border and having Mexico pay for it. Their promise is that a wall would stop the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. But that ignores the fact that nearly half of undocumented immigrants arrive in our nation with proper documentation and simply overstay their visas.
Of course, none of the rhetoric acknowledges the many positive contributions that immigrants make to our nation. In 2012, undocumented immigrants paid over $11 billion in state and local taxes. Granting them permanent legal status would increase that amount by $2.2 billion and raise their tax rate from 8 to 8.7 percent, aligning them with tax rates paid by similarly situated documented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $7 billion into a social security system from which they will never benefit. Immigrants own 18 percent of our nation’s small businesses and, despite being only 13 percent of the population, comprise 16 percent of the labor force. In short, many candidates are ignoring that we are a nation of immigrants and that we rely on immigrants to make our country work.
As this election continues and the rhetoric reaches a fever pitch, we must call on our candidates to propose effective and compassionate immigration reform. We must demand that they speak and act responsibly. We need real answers and plausible solutions to the very complex problems, not scads of unrealistic proposals that further muddy the debate and accomplish nothing.
Most importantly, we need to remember who we are and what we stand for. We are a nation built on the promise of opportunity and rights for all. We have a long tradition of relying on immigrants coming to the U.S. to raise their families while helping us build a stronger country.
Historically, walls, such as those in Berlin and China, have symbolized divisiveness and repression. The proposed wall along our southern border would only serve to deepen an ugly chasm, dividing neighbors who work and live together in the U.S. Some believe in building walls, but Border Angels believes in building doors.
We cannot let irrational fear and hate mongering rule our immigration policy. We must honor our best traditions and be guided by the values liberty, justice and human rights. Our nation is strongest when we work together with thoughtful minds and kind hearts to find solutions that will unite the United States.
Enrique Morones is the founder and Director of Border Angels in San Diego, CA
This op ed originally appeared in “The Hill“