The Land of the Free, Except for Immigrants

Twin girls in diapers, Chelia and Saira Meza, and their mother, Maria, desperately run from tear gas thrown at them from the United States side of the border. Kim Kyung Hoon, reporter for the international news agency Reuters, took this picture at the border wall in Tijuana separating Mexico and the U.S. It highlights just one of the many difficulties migrants have faced during their journey to the border.

Chelia and Saira Meza are just two the of the 2,300 children and 7,000 immigrants who make up the caravan arriving at the border in November. How can we deny so many desperate people a chance at a life without fear? I would never have thought that the U.S. would be a contributor to the violence that many of these migrants have faced – violence that has prompted them to seek refuge in a country that is supposed to have open arms. The Statue of Liberty proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

When I first saw the striking photo, I immediately thought of a recent statement President Donald Trump made in a press conference: “Anybody throwing stones, rocks – like they did to Mexico and the Mexican military, Mexican police…we will consider [the stone as] a firearm.” This statement came in response to the migrants who had been throwing rocks at the San Ysidro border crossing in early November, protesting the long wait times for asylum, as well as their current, substandard living conditions in Mexico. 

While I do not condone violence in any way, I firmly disagree with Trump when he equates rifles with rocks, especially when military personnel can easily overpower any efforts from the migrants to fight back. After intense criticism, he clarified his statements, saying that he never specifically said military personnel should shoot, but the insinuation was enough for me to understand the message that he was propagating. Yet fire cannot be fought with fire, just as violence cannot be fought with violence.

Over 7,000 immigrants on this treacherous journey have risked dehydration and hunger, especially since many traveled without being able to afford meals for their families. They came from Central American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, fleeing gang violence and economic instability in hopes of better lives for themselves and their children. The Meza family, for one, are fleeing violence in Honduras, a country with a murder rate 800% higher than the U.S. For many of the migrants, their only way to live to see another day is to join this caravan. 

Maria Meza has said that she was not trying to illegally cross the border but was attempting to get to the border so that she could use her opportunity to apply for asylum legally, something that all refugees are entitled to do under protections established by the United Nations. By refusing to even hear her appeal, we are denying her basic human rights and those of thousands of other immigrants.  

 The U.S. should not be contributing to their fear, but helping alleviate the worries they face. The U.S. should provide clothes, food, and shelter for migrants and commit to fixing our faulty, overwhelmed immigration system. Since 2017, the Immigration Court backlog has increased by 49%, with more than 700,000 cases “pending.” Many of these cases have been “pending” for over five years. The focus has to be on helping immigrants achieve a permanent status in this country that allows them to live out of harm’s way and putting money into things like the wall or increased border patrol officers will not help them find a home in this country. Our nation has to prioritize a systematic and organized process for asylum-seekers to seek a status of residency in this country as quickly as possible. 

This country is built by immigrants and will continue to benefit from the people we admit and allow to expand our economy and society. The U.S. has ample resources to assist people, and we cannot go back on the values on which this country was built. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Turning our backs on the foundational values of this country is fundamentally un-American. These immigrants have just as much a right to live as we do, and the current administration has the power to influence the outcome of this situation and keep America great, as it has always been.