FAU Speaks Out! Essay Contest Winner

by Shannon O'Brien

Judging from what one hears on the news, it appears many citizens have banded together to stand against illegal immigration and illegal immigrants.  However, it is important to remember the two are very different. Illegal immigration is policy. It is something to be “fixed,” something that laws dictate and people take stands for or against.  Illegal immigrants are people.  Often, they are law-abiding people trying to support families, trying to save money, doing their best in a country that provides them more opportunity for financial stability and success than the countries they came from.  To take that opportunity, they risk their lives to get into the United States, and then stay in the shadows after they arrive.  Yet their presence is ubiquitous.  Their presence is manifested in the completion of jobs and tasks we take for granted. One can see it in finished landscaping, freshly mown golf courses, or the construction of a new building.

What makes immigration reform a pressing issue, in my opinion, is the growing nativist attitude in this country. Hate groups, such as the Nationalist Socialist Movement and White Revolution, are taking advantage of the public’s increasing dissatisfaction with illegal immigration policy, and using it to expound their racist views against illegal immigrants.  Members of a vigilante group called the Minuteman Project take great pains to promote their anti-illegal immigrant beliefs.  One can hear similar sentiments espoused on CNN by the journalist Lou Dobbs. While I understand Dobbs is trying to effect change on immigration policy, I believe the rhetoric he uses and his support for various organizations encourages and sanctions nativist and racist attitudes toward illegal immigrants, rather than focusing the public on reforming policy. This may not be his intention, but the inflammatory rhetoric lends itself to absorption by groups that would prefer to blame the people rather than the policies.

I support immigration reform. I agree with those who argue that the working class should not be undercut by businesses that choose to hire “cheap labor.” I agree with those that say if the country has immigration laws, the laws should be enforced. However, millions of illegal immigrants are currently working and living in this country, and the environment they are in is becoming volatile. Americans should not resort to nativism and racism in response to those who enter this country illegally, searching for work. They are people and they are doing what the can to improve their lives. They come because the work is here and businesses have been willing to hire them; illegal immigrants have worked very hard in and for the United States. If the citizens want to create an environment that does not encourage illegal immigrants to seek work in this country, then they need to focus their energies on the government’s policies.

Illegal immigration policy is not something that will be perfected overnight, but I believe in order to make progress on the immigration issue, one must address the country’s labor practices. There needs to be a priority put on the working class. Businesses should not have the option to undermine the working class by offering cheaper wages to illegal immigrants to do jobs citizens would do if they were offered a living wage; it hurts the American worker, and it encourages more illegal immigrants to risk their lives to come to this country.

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