Small Worlds just the beginning of the immigration story

By Julia Smith

Leif Johnson entitles his opinion piece about issues relating to the U.S. Mexico border “Small Worlds.” Although he mentions that he could have met Jorge Gonzales in Minnesota, the fact of the matter is that he met him in Mexico, where we expect to be faced with the problems of immigration. Many of us, as Macalester students, volunteer and work with immigrants; we work weekly to help immigrants adjust to the realities of living in Minnesota, through teaching English classes or providing services in the native tongue. We may even talk about how unjust the U.S. immigration policy is when we’re in our academic bubble and have the tools to effectively analyze the situation. However, very few of us are confronted, on a daily basis with what the reality of being an undocumented immigrant is, and what it means.Until about two months ago I was oblivious to how immigration policies work in this country. I had been lulled into a sense of security that raids didn’t happen and that one had to mess up to get caught. I was also convinced that having a Macalester education and being white would mean that I could help those that I loved be safe from deportation. On December 21, 2009, while traveling home from Christmas on a train with my boyfriend, I was shocked into reality when I was awoken by flashlights in my face and shouting men asking if I was a U.S. citizen and to show my documentation. As a white, female, U.S. citizen I had never experienced a situation in which I was confronted by anyone in uniform, and I had never felt the terror of knowing that in that moment my boyfriend’s chances for a better life were over. He was picked up by the shouting men, the ICE officials, and taken to a detention center and then a jail. He currently awaits deportation in jail.

However, this story isn’t about me and my relationship with immigration policies. It is about the fact that this served as a wakeup call to me that things aren’t getting any better. When Pablo returns to Mexico he won’t have any opportunities available to him in the deplorable economy that exists there. If he tries to come back to the US and is caught he faces 2 to 3 years in a Federal Maximum Security Prison just for wanting to help his family pay their medical bills and to have a job that pays more than $5 a day.

In the aftermath of this incident I have spoken to many people involved in changing US immigration policy. I have heard from many that it was expected that the immigration raids would stop with President Obama, that there would be a policy change. However, at this point, we have seen no change in the way that the United States responds to immigration. As Leif says, the failure of U.S. border policy destroys many more lives than just Pablo’s on a daily basis. I write this article to reinforce Leif’s points, that although we talk about the immigration policy quite frequently, we need to make it part of our daily lives. The U.S. policy towards undocumented immigrants is the greatest human rights violation occurring in our country today, and as students at Macalester, with such intellectual capacities, we need to move beyond thinking about solutions relating to borders. We need to conceptualize why we have placed these divisions between people and how they only work to destroy the lives of those who need it so badly. We need to move to action to change the policies in our country regarding undocumented immigrants.

Julia Smith can be reached at [email protected]