America was once considered the land of opportunity where anything was possible and millions of immigrants braved harsh conditions to travel to the “promised land” to make their fortune and forge a new life for themselves and their families. Indeed, America’s “melting pot” of nationalities and ethnicities has helped define the character and values of what was once the greatest country on Earth, but for the last two-and-a-half years, immigrants have become a pariah and source of fear-mongering for conservatives and hate-filled white people. Republicans have become predictable for their incitement of racial hatred every election cycle and the 2010 midterm elections were the latest incarnation of immigrant bashing and opposition to reform to address the millions of undocumented immigrants living in this country.
To address the undocumented immigrants who work, attend schools, serve in combat, raise families, and contribute tax dollars to the system, the Dream Act was proposed to give a clear path to citizenship for mostly Mexican immigrants wishing to become legal residents and eventually American citizens. Republicans and various conservative groups have vehemently opposed the Dream Act and recently blocked its passage in the Senate, but last week President Obama quietly issued an executive order that begins to relax the deportation laws and effectively establishes some aspects of the Dream Act as precursors to the law’s passage. The move by Obama is a start in addressing the immigration problem in this country by approaching the issue from a position of compassion instead of outright hatred and contempt.
In an order titled, “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Consistent with the Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities of the Agency for the Apprehension, Detention, and Removal of Aliens,” the president instructed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to exercise prosecutorial discretion when deciding to deport certain undocumented immigrants. The memorandum’s purpose is to give guidance to immigration officials to “ensure that the agency’s immigration enforcement resources are focused on the agency’s enforcement priorities. The memorandum also serves to make clear which agency employees may exercise prosecutorial discretion and what factors should be considered.” Already, before the memorandum is widely publicized by the mainstream media, conservatives assailed the president’s decision as enacting the Dream Act by executive fiat to garner votes in spite of Congress’s failure to pass the legislation. Apparently, critics of the president’s decision are not aware of the Dream Act and are completely devoid of any measure of compassion for immigrants.
The executive order does not grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants or give amnesty to those already living and working in America. What it does do is give agents in the field and ICE officials leeway in deciding the fate of immigrants based on factors that any respectable American recognizes as humane. However, with states passing inhumane laws like Arizona’s SB 1070, the racial profiling law aimed at Latinos in Arizona, a measure of humanity is welcomed and characterizes the compassion Americans should have for foreigners desirous to contribute to and become a part of the American experience. For the past two years, there has been institutionalized hate and vitriol from conservatives willing to blame Latinos for myriad problems the country is facing even though the Obama Administration has deported more Mexican immigrants and spent more time and money shoring up border patrol efforts to control the southern border with Mexico than anything the Bush Administration did.
Despite enhanced electronic surveillance measures, more border patrol agents, and twice the number of deportations of Mexican immigrants, conservatives still portray the president as soft on immigration. The conservatives in Congress though, have consistently avoided any serious attempts at immigration reform to give a clear path to citizenship to immigrants already living in the country.
When Obama and Democrats sought legislation to punish employers for hiring undocumented workers, Republicans balked because corporations benefit from workers who are too frightened to complain of harsh working conditions and slave-labor wages. The agriculture industry would come to a screeching halt without migrant labor provided by undocumented workers, and in Georgia where they just passed anti-immigrant legislation, farmers are expressing concern that Mexican workers fled the state to avoid arrest and deportation leaving crops rotting in the fields. The backbreaking work for minimum wages is not appealing to American workers who would not subject themselves to the harsh conditions undocumented workers endure, so the argument that immigrants are stealing Americans’ jobs is fallacious.
Americans who express hatred for undocumented workers fail to realize that if employers didn’t hire undocumented immigrants, there would be little reason for them to come to America to work. It is easier to blame the ills of society on voiceless people than face the simple fact that immigrants are human beings who yearn to provide for their families and make a better life in a country that at one time offered limitless opportunity for all people to improve their lot in life. Between poor job prospects to an adversarial public blaming immigrants for everything from stealing Americans’ jobs to beheading good white Americans in the desert of Arizona, there is little reason for Mexican immigrants to come to America. However, the immigrants who already live and work here need some path to citizenship that the Dream Act offered.
President Obama has not offered a path to citizenship, but he has provided guidance for ICE officials to show compassion for immigrants who would qualify for the Dream Act’s provisions if it were the law. Immigrants who attend school for three years, fight in our wars, and contribute by paying taxes to the government without receiving benefits should be shown compassion and it is about time someone stepped up and treated these people with the dignity and respect they deserve. The fear-mongering, hate-filled conservatives and racists who treat undocumented immigrants like worthless animals do not represent America and should be deported to Afghanistan to experience the hate they show Mexican immigrants. However, someone with compassion would save them from being sent to a barren wasteland and his name is Barack Obama. All Americans should embrace a leader who shows compassion to the least among us whether they are poor Mexican immigrants or vile, hate filled Republicans.