Immigration has surfaced as a controversial topic since a bill was passed in Arizona last April that toughened the identification and prosecution of illegal immigrants. As Americans, many don’t even think twice about how valuable their citizenship is. For many undocumented immigrants, residing in America – the Land of Opportunity – is worth risking personal safety for.
Two weekends ago, California Lutheran University’s Community Service Center organized an Urban Exchange trip to San Diego where students learned about immigration. The group met with Enrique Morones, a well-known advocate of humane immigration and border activism.
He founded the nonprofit Border Angels in 1986 to provide food and water to illegal immigrants who camped out in the San Diego canyons. The organization now works to prevent unnecessary deaths of immigrants crossing the Mexico – San Diego border, mostly due to extreme desert weather conditions and racial-discrimination crimes.
Morones, a prominent activist who has conversed with Obama and been on “The O’Reilly Factor,” helped to bust some myths about immigrants, among which is the belief that the majority of them are illegal.
2007 statistics from the Census Bureau estimated immigrants in the US at nearly 38 million, or one eighth of the population. About one third of them are illegal aliens. Of this 12 million, nearly half had entered the country legally and continued to stay after their visas expired.
According to Morones, most immigrants from Mexico border are motivated by economic reasons. They are hard working individuals who come to look for jobs, not to commit crimes or become a burden on the social security system. The movie “Spanglish,” starring Adam Sandler and Paz Vega, is a great example for this claim. It tells a story of how Mexican immigrant Flor Moreno and her daughter positively impact the life of a middle class American family.
One thing Morones kept stressing is the fact that “there is no line” for Mexicans who are willing to go through a process of immigrating to the US legally. Indeed, there are only several ways people can obtain legal permanent residency in the US through the form of a green card.
They can have immediate family who are US citizens, including parents, spouses and unmarried children. They can have exceptional talents or be employed as skilled professionals, seek refugee/asylee status on the basis of escaping political or religious persecution or enter the green card lottery, which gives priority to people from countries with the fewest immigrants to the US (US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, uscis.gov).
Obtaining a green card through marriage is a big element of the 2009 romantic comedy “The Proposal.” Sandra Bullock’s character, originally from Canada, finds out that her work visa is expiring. She forces her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her in order to avoid deportation, for which both of them have to prove to an immigration officer that the marriage is legitimate.
Many celebrities and entertainers who gained residency in the US are foreign born, e.g. Rihanna (Barbados) and Adriana Lima (Brazil). Others have made notable contributions and gone through the process of naturalization, which grants them full privileges and duties of a US citizen. Notable naturalized celebrities include Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austria), Diane Von Furstenberg (Belgium), Salma Hayek (Mexico), Pamela Anderson (Canada) and Anthony Hopkins (Wales).
Certainly poor immigrants from Mexico cannot claim exceptional talent/skills or be eligible for the green card lottery. Many times they have family in the US who are also undocumented, giving them no viable option other than crossing the border illegally.
Immigration poses as a complex and challenging to issue to a nation that was made up of immigrated populations. It is compelling that US citizens educate themselves about the issue and take a stand.