Immigration, particularly illegal immigration, is a hot-button topic that splits the nation in half. The United States was founded by immigrants and built by immigrants, from pilgrims traveling from Europe in the 1600s to Chinese immigrants building railroads in the 19th century to Latin immigrants coming from the South today. Whatever your political preference or opinion on the topic may be, the human beings often get overlooked when discussing immigration.
The U.S. has been a land of immigrants since its inception, and first president George Washington related the importance of welcoming immigrants of all walks of life: “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respected Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges,” Washington said in a letter he wrote to Joshua Holmes.
Like 98.7% of the nation, I am not of pure Native American descent and have immigrant ancestry. What makes my situation different than 73% of U.S. citizens, who have U.S. born parents only, is my parents immigrated to this country.
My father, Bernardino Salcedo, came to the U.S. legally from a small town called Mascota in Jalisco, Mexico, when he was 9 years old. My mother, Irma Salcedo, came illegally from Suchitepéquez, Guatemala, in her 20s. Both have worked and grown accustomed to the U.S. lifestyle over the years.
Just like people take pride in reading and hearing stories of their ancestors coming from Europe to the U.S. in the 18th and 19th century, I feel pride and joy hearing the stories of my parents, aunts and uncles getting to the U.S. and becoming accustomed to life here.
The stories my family retell of adjusting to life in the U.S. range from friendly experiences to dealing with blatant racism. My father often recalls the experience of when he wanted to order an ice cream sandwich during his first week in the U.S. but couldn’t because of the language barrier. Then a new friend reached out to my dad to order the treat for him. The simple gesture, which happened 50 years ago, has stuck with my dad ever since.
While there have been positive experiences, my father also tells stories of being called a “beaner” in middle school by his white classmates. Unfortunately for immigrants in contemporary society, there appears to be more instances of conflict than of compassion.
It is common to see a viral video of people harassing others based on their race with phrases like “Go back to your country” being yelled at immigrants. The harassment led to an escalation of hate crimes as more than half of these crimes are motivated by race and ethnicity.
While those events represent a fraction of sentiments of the U.S. population, it is alarming to see people openly harassing someone over their race and immigration status.
Politics are to blame for this anti-immigrant sentiment that has been rampant over the past few years, particularly with former President Donald Trump’s infamous quote about immigrants. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” Trump said in his 2015 presidential announcement speech.
The problem with Trump’s quote and others like it is that gathering data about undocumented immigrants is difficult and some of the claims are wrong. This type of rhetoric essentially put a target on the back of immigrants for the crime problems in the U.S. in the eyes of some.
Trump isn’t the only one at fault for the dehumanization of immigrants as politicians of both political parties don’t focus on the human aspect of immigration, but the political aspect of it. A prime example is the immigrants placed in cages near the border, which has spanned over Democratic and Republican administrations.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America displayed the crime rate by documented status in Texas, which checks documented status of all arrestees, and found that undocumented immigrants commit less crime based on percentage. Even with claims about immigrants being unsubstantial, people still perceived immigrants as the brunt of the country’s problems.
The anti-immigrant rhetoric reached a boiling point on Aug. 3, 2019, when Patrick Crusius murdered 23 people, targeting Hispanics. Crusius posted a manifesto online before carrying out the killing spree, including a section on why immigration negatively impacted the U.S.
Politicians of both parties need to step up and start showing that immigrants, undocumented or not, are people who deserve to be treated respectfully. Instead of seeing immigrants as a part of political agenda, we should put ourselves in their shoes to see the hardships they face and try to help them as much as we can.
It could be as simple as helping someone order an ice cream sandwich, a moment that can stick with them for the rest of their lives.
— Jeff Salcedo