Last year, around 409,849 illegal immigrants were removed from the United States. That’s a small number compared to the average 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in America today. Out of these millions of immigrants, about 59% are from Mexico. The people who come to this country often leave their homes because of severe poverty, gang violence, or because they have a simple, idealistic hope of being able to improve themselves and their families. Being accepted legally into this country is a long and tedious process that often leads to disappointment for immigrants with no family or jobs waiting for them in the U.S.
But when making the decision to come into this country illegally, risks and vulnerability are an enormous part of one’s life. Many people use illegal immigrants for cheap manual labor and often abuse the power they are given over these underground workers. The abuse that is sustained can be anything from emotional, mental, physical, and sexual and are almost always met by silence. An inability to seek justice, have a voice, or return to their homes due to their illegal position is terrifying. The same country that damns their stereotypic “laziness,” works them to the bone, treating them as lesser humans. Regardless of any legality behind this issue, one must address the abuse people face everyday because of the moralities this country has.
The treatment of illegal immigrants seems justified when the general view relates them to criminals or scum. In 2009, an opinion writer for The Chronicle at Duke University published an article revealing a common thought that many Americans have today, “They, the immigrants, are committing injustices against us by coming here and breaking our rules.” It begs the question; does our sympathy expire where the legal system draws the line? Immigration laws were first meant to protect us, but are now used to hunt people of noticeable ethnicity, disregarding the very laws and rights that were enacted to defend us, not just as citizens, but also as individuals. But this exploitation goes much deeper than the legal system and its officers. In 2010 Boston Magazine published an article where we learn about the sexual abuse that many women experience as a result of being illegal in the U.S. Luisa Gonzaga, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, had lived in Boston since 2003. Her uncle gave her work in a warehouse where he would make inappropriate advances and often corner her or grab at her. She could not return to Central America or get help and eventually he forcibly had sex with her. “There are myriad reasons for a victim’s reluctance to come forward. In cases of sexual abuse among immigrants, the perpetrator is often someone from the same ethnic group…” it’s difficult to imagine anyone utilizing their position of trust to cause harm. Yet new immigrants, no matter what the relation, are seen as something to take advantage of and play with, without any retaliation or consequence.
But why do so many immigrants come to the United States in the first place? Perhaps simply for its geographic convenience or for being known as the place where dreams are made, jobs are plenty, and beliefs or views aren’t persecuted. Though these traits are alluring, it isn’t the fundamental reason most immigrants are here illegally. I’ve lived between two cities my whole life, El Paso, Texas and its border town Juarez, Chihuahua. I witnessed the drug war between Sinaloa Cartel, run by “El Chapo Guzman”, and the Juarez Cartel completely destroy and debilitate one of my homes. In 2010, the BBC released a report counting the death toll of that year to be 3,000 drug related deaths for Cuidad Juarez alone. People were susceptible to gunfire by being at the wrong place at the wrong time or having a car, watch, or wallet. In the midst of this war, I saw the fear that reigned over my city and family. It began with the death of my godfather, he was shot in his club late one night in 2008. Then my grandmother and great aunt were ripped from their car and held at gunpoint until they gave up the vehicle and their purses, leaving them stranded on the street. It progressed to the near abduction of my younger cousin, followed by El Paso high school students being gunned down at parties across the border. There were also numerable threats and extortion attempts on various businesses, including the one my grandfather built from the ground up. When a city is paralyzed with fear, the smaller gangs and criminals look to make fast cash with ransom, hits, and blackmail, making innocent people pay for their greed. When your neighbors and family members are dying around you, waiting for a green card may not be an option.
Few of us in America think about the daily difficulties faced by a person who is desperate to survive; our life is more comfortable and it often does not extend past our own wants and needs. With immigrants, we see a different face that speaks a different language, and we’ve been told those who speak and look this way cheat the system, take our jobs, commit crimes, and kill the economy. As of late, we have seen that immigration actually creates a net boost, and by granting undocumented immigrants citizenship, we can help the economy greatly and create jobs. We have also noticed that rapid immigration growth, legal or not, does not increase violence or crime in any specific area, and the illegal immigrants living in the U.S. today don’t escape most of the taxes imposed. So what’s left to see here? The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas once said, “The relation with the Other, or Conversation, is a non-allergic relation, an ethical relation…” That means in our relationship with the undocumented Other, it is a conversation, and it must be ethical. The immigrant workers who clean our houses, trim our hedges, or do the harsh manual labor that we won’t do must be treated decently, morally, and justly, whether they came here illegally or not.