How young people can change immigration

Image: Mark Ralson (AFP/Getty Images)

Voting, community awareness, and a vison for the future

Coming off what seems like the most cataclysmic four years our country has endured on the immigration front, I often ask myself: any hope? Can we successfully change the path this country is hurtling toward? Can we eradicate the bigotry, the hate, and the uncooperative? Sometimes I think there is very little hope, but I always remember my constant theme: maintain hope.

I recently came upon a sensational blog by Sadie Hernandez, a young activist, who provides five ways young people can protect immigrants. Her five ways, outlined, are 1. Sign up for Grab the Mic, 2. Do your research, 3. Realize your privilege, 4. Put yourself on the line, 5. Register to VOTE. Hernandez writes in the opening of her blog:

“Immigration has always been part of my life. As a Mexican-American born and raised on the South Texas US-Mexican border, my entire community has been a culturally rich area with people of all citizenship statuses. Growing up along the border, citizenship was a topic of discussion, but was more casual than the recent fearful impression surrounding it today. Communities are about people, not the hierarchy of citizenship statuses imposed by wealthy racists in power. Immigrants are people, and the increased dehumanization has done nothing but prompt fear and terror into the lives of a marvelous, welcoming, and hardworking community.”

I think this is a tremendous concept, one of which can ring true with the majority of people in this Nation. But to better understand, we have to look at it this way: much of immigration now is categorized into two categories: 1. What some of the older generations perceive it to be, and 2. Media propaganda. To Hernandez’s point, communities are about people, and truly at its core, communities are not valued by the “wealthy racists in power” (of course, we must distinguish that not all wealthy people are racist), but rather the bond between its residents and the support of its leadership. Case in point, we saw very clearly how disastrous the leadership (or lack thereof) presented its vision of immigration. Immigrants were regarded as “rapists” “drug dealers,” and “invaders.” National leadership failed miserably, cultivating propaganda to the Nation that these people were “worthless” and that we should root them out. It doesn’t take long to look at Stephen Miller’s universal agenda the last four years and understand exactly what this administration’s goal was.

Regardless, to the point of the community: we can’t overlook it. Our entire daily lives are defined by our communities. We wake up each morning, work in these communities (for those employed), and most importantly, interact with people in the community whether it’s going to the grocery store or the football game. The word community is defined as, “a unified body of individuals.” You choose to live in the community, who to associate yourself with, and how to successfully function within this community.

Now, you might ask, what does this have to do with young people? Why would they be any different than anybody else within the community? Look at Hernandez’s first sentence: “Immigration has always been part of my life. As a Mexican-American born and raised on the South Texas US-Mexican border, my entire community has been a culturally rich area with people of all citizenship statuses.” She is entrenched in the community she grew up, and she has the boldness to acknowledge its importance and its influence on these immigrant populations. We need the majority of people to feel the same way, even if their upbringing was not the same. We have to get the point of understanding that just because we did not grow up in a minority background, nevertheless, we need to rationalize that it’s just different and incomparable. Culture is not antagonistic; it’s what makes the the United States extraordinary. We must recognize that all communities are not going to be the same. I do feel we have gotten to the point where it’s tangible to declare: I am from this community in rural Alabama, so I will only operate this way, versus the person in Los Angeles who may operate an entirely different way.

I believe the prevalence of young people saw right through the Trump administration’s policies on immigration. When Trump enacted the muslim ban in January 2017, young people (I don’t have the exact percentages) showed up in droves to protest, and this went on for the rest of Trump’s term. I can also say, growing up in my community down in Southern Arizona, my peers did not see racial demographics. I grew up playing baseball with both Hispanic teammates and White teammates. We never thought anything of it. It has taken me almost the last four years to summarize why this is the case: rhetoric. I grew up with the Clinton, Bush, and Obama presidencies. Two Democrats and a Republican. But here is the thing: it wasn’t about that. Bush never used the incendiary rhetoric we have seen with Trump and current Republicans to exemplify hatred of a group of people. That’s because real leaders don’t do this.

I personally feel young people want to be activists, but they don’t just want to do the work. They are in principle, “activists,” but as soon as life, (albeit how complicated it may become), gets in the way, they tend to regress. I sometimes compare it with this analogy: when the weekend comes, you play, but as soon as Sunday night approaches, you are back to weekday mode. Hernandez makes another critical point:

“Once you’ve brushed up on the immigration situation at hand, you should realize your place in the movement. As citizens, your privilege includes being able to speak to law enforcement with less fear, having the right to vote, easier travel, and a long list of small everyday things we take for granted. First and foremost, as allies we must respect the lived experiences and opinions of immigrants. Immigrants are leading this movement, and it’s up to people with citizenship privilege to navigate this movement respectfully.”

So many young people I’ve come into contact with have to no idea what it’s like to live in fear because they have never had to think about it. Hernandez’s point made me think about how many times I have been a little nervous even having a police officer riding behind me. Can you imagine how an immigrant might feel? Now some the pundits might argue: “they should, after all, they are illegal.” Here’s what I ask myself sometimes: how many people even understand the immigration process before even saying that? My guess is that it’s a very low percentage. Some might even argue with Hernandez’s last sentence: “…navigate this movement respectfully.” I have found that older people, (these being people I have only had conversations with), say things like, “this is my Country, they aren’t citizens, they don’t pay taxes,” and, “we pay for them and their kids!” I don’t hear this from younger people. Compassion stands out more with these folks. They think about the conditions these immigrants are fleeing in their home countries. They think about the jobs they are forced to take, and the pay inequality that comes with that. They don’t merely blame immigrants for the broken and corrupt system that currently exists and the corruption going on in so many countries. We can’t control the government, we can only try to influence it, as a unit.

With younger people, the motto seems to be in line with this conventional foundation: I will accept that the system is broken, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll let the government fix it. It’s not my fault. I’m not advocating that younger people can just fix everything, but I am championing that young people can put other things aside and care more about things changing. Why is it the leader of the House is 80 years old and the newly elected President is 78? Doesn’t that alarm young people? I know it makes me feel insecure about the future of my generation.

“Immigration reform has been a decades long battle fueled by political apathy and anti-immigrant extremists. This needs to end, and it can with our generation. We just need to exercise our power, and one of the privileges of citizenship is the right to vote. So if you’re eligible, do it!”

When we vote, we change policy, we change perception, and we change lives. In 2016, complacency led to calamity, and lives were ruined. Over 600 children were separated from their parents, and millions of people over the four years were apprehended at the border and swiftly transferred to Mexico. Furthermore, when we vote for candidates and policy that represents our values, we better our communities and those who are affected by those policies.

A final integral point: how many young people know who their local representatives are? During each election cycle, I have to constantly look up the candidates and make sure I understand their platform and background. If you vote blindly, do you know what the candidates represent? Immigrants constantly live in fear in their own communities, so if you vote to elect people who have no desire to help create a process for improving the lives of these people, then what exactly are you doing? Being involved locally is the key to ensuring your community holds its values; and, when your community holds its values, those who live in the community (whether they are illegal or legal), allow your community thrive.

Works Cited:

Hernandez, Sadie. “5 Ways Young People Can Protect Immigrants Right Now.” DoSomething Editors. March 29, 2018. https://blog.dosomething.org/5-ways-young-people-can-protect-immigrants-right-now-4291deed15eb. Accessed February 10, 2021.

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