Most Americans don’t think twice about their citizenship. But for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, citizenship means an end to the fear of deportation, an end to the fear of broken families, and an end to poverty (“Profile”). Many undocumented immigrants would love to become citizens, but strict U.S. immigration policy ensures that citizenship remains out of reach for even the most hardworking, law-abiding immigrants. By easing U.S. immigration policy and making it easier for law-abiding, hardworking undocumented immigrants to become citizens, we can ease the fear of deportation, stop the separation of families, and reduce poverty among undocumented immigrants.
The first step for an undocumented immigrant to become a U.S. citizen is to apply for a green card, which gives an immigrant the opportunity to stay and work in the United States. To become a U.S. citizen, an immigrant must be a green card holder for a minimum of 5 years (“Path to U.S. Citizenship”). The U.S. severely restricts the amount of green cards given out, and an immigrant must fit into one of three categories: an immigrant must have an immediate family member who’s a U.S. citizen, he/she must have an employment situation that requires work in the U.S., or he/she must be fleeing immediate persecution in his/her homeland (“Green Card”). However, certain restrictions make these categories very hard for immigrants to fit into. For example, although green cards are given to the parents, spouses, and children of U.S. citizens, green cards are not given to parents with children under 21 years old (“Green Card”). This creates a problem for families in which the parents are undocumented immigrants, but the children are citizens because they were born in the United States. Under current U.S. policy, the parents cannot get green cards if their U.S.-citizen children are under 21 years of age. If the parents cannot get green cards, they remain undocumented and susceptible to deportation.
Another example of green card difficulty is the definition of “fleeing persecution” or “refugee” in the third category. In order to be considered for refugee status, an immigrant must be able to prove that he/she was in imminent danger in his/her home country. But even if immigrants are fleeing the violence and drug wars of Central and South America, it can be difficult to prove they were in imminent danger. Furthermore, the U.S. does not accept “economic refugees,” which are people who face severe economic hardships or extreme poverty in their home country. If an immigrant illegally comes to the U.S. because they were in extreme poverty in their home country, he/she will be denied a green card (“Green Card”).
From the United States’ perspective, immigration laws are intended to control the influx of foreign immigrants, as well as to promote homeland security and public safety. Immigration laws are necessary because if the U.S. didn’t have immigration laws, anyone could come to the U.S., even those that wish to do us harm. Current green card requirements are intended to only allow immigrants who want to connect with immediate family members, immigrants who have been hired to work in the U.S., and immigrants who are fleeing persecution and are in vital need of a safe country to reside in. People who fit into these categories are likely to be harmless to national security and beneficial to the economy, so the U.S. allows them in. That being said, these immigration goals could still be achieved with an easing of the laws, making it easier to hold a green card and become a U.S. citizen.
One such proposal is the Child Citizen Protection Act, which would allow judges greater discretion in deporting the parents of U.S. citizen children. According to Families for Freedom, an immigrant advocacy group, more than 100,000 undocumented parents are deported each year, even if judges think the parents should stay in order to raise their children. Under current law, judges have to follow strict guidelines that often require them to deport undocumented parents. The Child Citizen Protection Act would allow judges to keep thousands of families together, resulting in the greater well being of the U.S.- citizen children (“Families for Freedom”).
Another proposal is changing the green card system to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a green card while they’re living in the United States. According to 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton’s website, laws called the three- and ten-year bans require that immigrants must apply for green cards from their country of origin. For undocumented immigrants, this would mean traveling back to their home country (oftentimes leaving behind family or jobs) just for the chance of getting a green card. No undocumented immigrant is willing to give up a job or his/her family to move back to his or her home country just for the small possibility of getting a green card. Hillary Clinton proposes ending this law in order to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for green cards while living in the United States. (Clinton).
Making it easier for undocumented immigrants to become green card holders and U.S. citizens not only benefits immigrants, it also benefits the economy. According to a study by economist Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes of San Diego State University, authorizing undocumented immigrants can significantly reduce their poverty rates. Amuedo-Dorantes and her team of economists examined the data from a previous U.S. law that temporarily authorized undocumented immigrants, and researchers found a 38% drop in poverty among those immigrants. If temporary authorization leads to a 38% decrease in poverty, the benefits of permanent authorization will most likely lead to a similar or even more dramatic drop in poverty among undocumented immigrants (Amuedo-Dorantes, Antman).
Despite the benefits of authorizing undocumented immigrants—or at the very least, making it easier for immigrants to get green cards and U.S. citizenship—there are many critics who oppose a path to citizenship. One of the most prominent opponents of a path to citizenship is 2016 Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has become the standard-bearer for Republican immigration policy. Besides building a wall on our Southern border, Mr. Trump’s policy for undocumented immigration (as stated on his official campaign website) is to work with local, state, and federal authorities to deport all undocumented immigrants from the U.S. on day one of his presidency (Trump). Supporters of this policy cite the thousands of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants each year, such as drug trafficking. They argue that deporting undocumented immigrants (or as they call them, “illegal aliens”) will reduce crime and protect homeland security. They also cite the fact that undocumented immigrants have committed a crime by crossing the U.S. border illegally; thus, they must face the penalty, which is deportation (Meyer).
While it is true that any immigrant who enters the U.S. illegally has committed a crime, deporting all of them is a terrible mistake. For one, deporting all undocumented immigrants results in the splitting of families. When undocumented parents are deported but their U.S.-citizen children get to stay, who will take care of the children? Furthermore, while it is true that undocumented immigrants commit thousands of crimes each year, research shows that immigrants commit proportionally less crimes than the broader U.S. population (Riley). In other words, the average U.S. citizen is more likely to commit a crime than the average immigrant (Smith). Deporting all undocumented immigrants is a simple solution, but it ignores many of the adverse effects that would occur if all were deported.
The debate over undocumented immigrants is not without consequence: 11 million lives hang in the balance. Under current U.S. immigration laws, obtaining a green card and becoming a U.S. citizen are incredibly difficult tasks. Fortunately, there are steps we as a nation can take in order to make the system better while also maintaining homeland security. One solution is the Child Citizen Protection Act, which allows judges more discretion in deporting the undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children. Another solution is to end the three- and ten-year bars, which currently force undocumented immigrants to leave the country before applying for a green card. Critics claim that undocumented immigrants are criminals and must be deported; however, research proves that the average immigrant is less likely to commit a crime than the average American citizen. Furthermore, authorizing undocumented immigrants is shown to reduce their rate of poverty by 38% (Amuedo-Dorantes, Antman). By taking small steps to authorize undocumented immigrants, the U.S. can maintain security while simultaneously relieving the fear of deportation, the fear of separated families, and the fear of remaining in poverty. After all, this issue isn’t going away. 11 million lives hang in the balance.
Amuedo-Dorantes, Catalina, and Francisca Antman. “Can Authorization Reduce Poverty Among Undocumented Immigrants? Evidence From The Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program.” Economics Letters, vol. 147, 2016, pp. 1-4. Business Source Complete. Web. 27 Oct. 2016
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