Migration is Human

Mina Himlie, online publishing coordinator

“Why did you come to the United States?” That’s a question that almost always comes up when one is talking to an immigrant. It’s the central question that Valeria Luiselli ponders in her book “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions.” It’s a question that might sometimes be asked out of curiosity, but often seems used to imply a different, more judgemental one: “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

Anti-immigrant rhetoric says that immigrants, particularly from Mexico or other Latin American countries, come here to steal jobs and that they bring crime and drugs. But I’ve had the opportunity to listen to many people share their stories related to immigration, and they have only proven how untrue those stereotypes are. 

People don’t move to an entirely new country where they don’t know the language and will face intense discrimination for fun. They don’t do it because they wake up one day and think, “Wow. I think today’s a good day to steal an American job while dealing marijuana.” No, that’s ridiculous. They do it out of necessity. One person who shared his story with me crossed the border to work without documents five times in order to build a beautiful home and a better life for his wife and children.

Despite the pure intentions of the vast majority of immigrants, all immigrants are treated with derision and suspicion by immigration authorities as well as some of the public. Immigrants are not inherently criminals regardless of if they have documents or not, but far-right politicians don’t care about that. They view reform to treat undocument immigrants humanely as being soft on crime.

That’s the problem. Immigration is only viewed through political and economic lenses in the U.S. even though humans have been migrating since the dawn of time. “We have to stop seeing migration as a political and economic issue,” said Ana Laura López, the founder and coordinator of Colectivo Deportados Unidos en la Lucha, a collective that assists migrants after they have been deported to Mexico, “Migration is human.”

Migration is human. Immigrants are human. And yet the system treats them all inhumanely. It separates parents from children and children from siblings and throws them into a court system that they don’t understand and that fully grown adults fluent in English can’t always navigate.

The court system became even more problematic in 2014 through the implementation of the priority juvenile docket. Luiselli explains that the docket vastly speeds up the court process for children, but that’s not a good thing in this situation. It requires children to find a lawyer – in a country where they don’t speak the language – within 21 days or be deported. And if they do find a lawyer, the lawyer has less than 21 days to build a case. “The priority juvenile docket, in sum,” she wrote, “was the government’s coldest, cruelest possible answer to the arrival of refugee children.” All it does is deport more children at higher rates. It doesn’t prioritize them at all.

It’s easy to make or support cruel immigration policies like this one when you only see immigrants as numbers to be pushed through the system. The system dehumanizes them and encourages you to do the same, but that’s why we need to humanize them again. That’s why we need to care.