On Opposite Sides of the Immigration Debate

by Latoya Peterson

My friend Hae and I have been good friends for about four years. As an aesthete, Hae’s life tends to revolve around art and pop culture, both here and in Asia.* She is not a politically motivated person, so until we were sitting in traffic one day, I had no idea where her political beliefs fell.

The car in front of us had a bumper sticker that annoyed me, something that managed to convey support of erecting a border fence and insult Latinos in two short lines.

I sucked my teeth. When Hae asked why, I pointed out the sticker, and expressed how pissed I was at the sentiment. After all, in my opinion, the border fence is just an expensive (and ultimately ineffective) expression of ignorance. A porous border is not just a matter of physical obstacles. And tossing up a band-aid solution instead of identifying the other issues at play with immigration just seems like a waste of time. Not to mention the thinly veiled racism that often swirls around concerns about “illegals” invading the country.

“So, what, you support people coming over here illegally?” Hae asked me incredulously. She then launched into a mini-tirade about the overall unfairness of a system that would allow people to cross the border and in essence “skip the line” to immigrate to America. Since I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen Hae worked up about something, I was a bit taken aback by her strong feelings on the matter.

However, after further examination, I realized where we had experienced a bit of political disconnect.

We can chalk that up to different life experiences.

When I asked people on this blog how they came to their political beliefs, it was because I was interested in the thought process behind the decisions we make. Why do we think the way we do? How did we come to our conclusions?

With Hae and I, the answer was obvious. We had radically different life decisions that shaped where we fall in terms of the illegal immigration debate.

With me, when I think about immigration, I think about people like Ana, a woman I worked for when I was younger. Fleeing the civil war in El Salvador back in the 80s, Ana had left behind her country, her family, and her education to come to America. After arriving here with limited knowledge of English and no support group, she found herself also having to flee an abusive husband. When I met her, she was a working mother trying to find a path towards permanent citizenship. I am unsure of what her legal status was at that time. Ana took a lot of pride in the opportunities offered in America. She was self-sufficient, working under the table as a nanny for a rich white couple who threw a lot of dinner parties. (I, in turn, watched her children while she was watching their child.) She worked hard at mastering English and hoped to eventually go back to school and buy a home. She was always thankful to be here. When I think of immigration stories, I think of Ana.

For Hae, the debate around illegal immigration takes on a different tone. Having lived in America since she was six, Hae began the citizenship process about two years ago. [She became a citizen in August.] She remembers how long her family had to struggle and wait to be approved to come here, and how little they had when they began their lives here. She thinks of her friends, who are here on student or work visas and worry about deportation. She thinks of people she has known who have been deported. She also thinks of family abroad, who try to find every legal way possible to come over here, fighting through bureaucracy, red tape, and strict immigration controls and caps, still hoping to find themselves here one day. Her tone is filled with anger for those who would circumvent those policies. When Hae thinks about immigration, she thinks about her friends and family.

I share this because I want people to realize there really isn’t a strictly right or wrong answer in these debates. While there are definitely racist sentiments at work, not everyone who opposes illegal immigration does so out of xenophobia or out of fears of scarcity. So, while we tend to post pieces that tend to be more sympathetic toward arguments in favor of amnesty or a path to citizenship, it is important to remember that ultimately we are all invested in a working system.

We just may disagree about the best methods to achieve that end.

*I say Asia as Hae follows pop culture scenes in South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and occassionally Taiwan.