We need to change the way we think about immigration in the U.S.


By Ollie Gratzinger | Opinions Editor

At the end of March, photos taken under a bridge in El Paso took the internet by storm.

Hundreds of migrant families were packed into a parking lot, surrounded with razor-wire. The ground was covered in trash. Children, with their cheeks pressed up against the fence, looked out tiredly at Washington Post journalists Nick Miroff and Bob Moore. According to the reporters, immigrants are being held there because the Border Patrol station is full and the overflow was directed into its lot, tucked under the Paso Del Norte Bridge. Over the weekend, they were relocated into shelters as the “holding pen” closed, hours before U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) was set to visit the city.

Even though the makeshift shelter is no more, it highlights a disturbing lack of regard we have for the basic rights of immigrants.

The last year has seen a staunch rise in treacherous conditions for migrants. There was a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala, Jakelin Caal Maquin, who died of sepsis in U.S. custody. There was the family separation crisis at the border, where thousands of children were taken from their parents, many of whom remain separated to this day. There was the vilification of the migrant caravan. And now, there are human beings sleeping in a cage under a bridge. It sounds like sensationalism, but is it, if it’s true? I don’t think so.

We need to stop thinking of immigration as a partisan issue and start looking at it as a human rights concern. The immigrants who slept under that bridge are innocent — a look at the photographs reveals mothers with children and entire families enduring chilly nights sleeping on the ground. Cruelty here shouldn’t be debatable. It shouldn’t be considered partisan to think it’s inhumane to house these people outside in the elements with barely a government-issued tent to keep them warm and dry. It shouldn’t be considered a political stance to reject their right to pursue a better life. Politics aside, these are people being subjected to deplorable conditions in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. That shouldn’t sit well with you.

A common argument is that if immigrants would like to be treated like human beings, they ought to come here legally. But that’s a process that requires money, know-how and time that a lot of these folks coming to the U.S. just don’t have.

The current application fee for citizenship is $640, plus an additional $85 fee for a biometrics appointment, where the U.S. government gathers things like fingerprints and photographs. That’s $725, non-refundable, and the government can still reject an application for citizenship after the fee is paid.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a green card can cost anywhere between $750 and $1,225, depending on age and other factors. A Petition for Alien Relatives, which a U.S. resident will need in order to help relatives come into the country, costs $535. Plus, immigration lawyers could cost thousands.

The U.S. is not an easy country to enter legally. If we want to curb illegal immigration, it seems like the first step would be to make legal entry less complex.

A lot of the immigrants seeking entry into the U.S. have remarkably few resources, let alone thousands of dollars. They’re fleeing things like poverty, domestic abuse, gang violence or persecution. For example, LGBTQ+ folks traveled with the migrant caravan in large numbers from countries that deny them civil rights at best and sentence them to prison or death at worst. And, a report by NBC News alleges that these people faced harassment and abuse inside a New Mexico immigration facility, often at the hands of guards. Many report that they were threatened with solitary confinement after complaining about conditions.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: America was built by immigrants. Almost everyone who lives here now is only an American because somewhere in their family, someone wasn’t, and they decided that they’d like to be. Native Americans weren’t even allowed to be citizens until 1924, and they were here first! The first immigrants — colonizers and imperialists, more aptly — stole the land from them, and then went on to decide it was their prerogative to regulate who could live on it and who couldn’t. But that’s a separate issue.

The issue, here, is that the U.S. government treats immigrants — both legal and otherwise — like criminals, like they’re somehow less human that U.S. citizens. Public opinion purports that folks are coming in to steal their jobs and bring drugs into our neighborhoods, when in reality, the vast majority are coming in search of a brighter future, just like most of our ancestors did.

Whether it’s keeping immigrants in a cage under a bridge or sticking innocent people in solitary confinement for complaining about abuse, the U.S. government is committing human rights violations, and people aren’t angry about it because they’ve been taught that immigrants only deserve to be treated humanely if they look, act and enter the country a certain way. This can never become acceptable.