New Mexico's 2018 Teacher of the Year
and a Dreamer
Immigration is a hot topic in our country and we are so divided on how to resolve our immigrant problem I will probably get scorched for taking on this topic.
There are basically two ways of thinking about immigration:
1. undocumented immigrants have poured into this country illegally and are breaking our immigration laws, should be held accountable and sent back to their country of origin.
2. undocumented immigrants deserve a path to US citizenship despite the breakage of those laws and being here illegally.
I can honestly say, I can understand both viewpoints. My grandfather emigrated from Italy to America in the 1920's. He followed all the rules. He entered this country legally. He worked hard, learned English, became a US citizen and made a contribution to this country.
He believed he should assimilate to the American way of life and brought up his family to be Americans not transplanted Italians. All of us have always been proud of my grandfather. Even though Italians faced a lot of discrimination at the time he arrived, he adapted to the American way and earned the respect of his American peers.
My maternal great-grandparents also emigrated from Italy in the 1890's and legally entered the United States at Ellis Island and like my grandfather, assimilated to American life, learned to speak English, became US citizens and worked hard for everything, They also earned the respect of their American peers. The were all were exemplary immigrants in this country, and this country embraced them.
So, I can identify with those who want to stop the flow of illegal immigrants to our country today. Many believe not every immigrant who wants to come to America can or should get into our country. The immigration rules we have in place should be enforced. The US is a country that follows the rule of law and why should immigrant lawbreakers be allowed to enter? I don't know.
What I have come to understand is that the answer is not all black and white. There are many gray areas to our immigration problem.
What I do know is that hopeful immigrants from these parts of the world are fleeing poverty, violence, and oppression in numbers like we have never seen before. Should they not be able to find refuge in the US? Europeans want to resist them too. In fact, immigration has become a world problem not just a US problem.
But, I digress. Back to America.
One thing I have learned is that the immigrants coming from these countries are fleeing because of extreme poverty, violent gangs, and oppressive governments. They run to America to ensure a better life for their children. They want the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted for their children too. Even if it means entering the country illegally and living in the shadows.
One of the gray areas of our Hispanic immigration problem takes root in the 1980's. In that era, the US looked the other way as many Hispanics entered our country illegally. They found jobs as housekeepers, nannies, and landscapers for very little pay. They remained illegal and became a new illegal working underclass. This was advantageous to Americans, mostly whites, who wanted to pay less for their housekeepers, nannies and landscapers. Members of Congress and those in Washington government jobs all took advantage of the cheap labor.
In other words we created our own immigration problem here in America. President Ronald Reagan realized this and that is why he gave amnesty to over one million illegal immigrants at the time.
However, Americans, always looking out for a bargain, kept hiring illegal immigrants, and kept paying them under wages under the table. This encouraged more Hispanics to enter the US illegally for these types of jobs and so today, we have more than 11 million illegal undocumented workers in the United States, mostly Hispanics.
Now, living in New Mexico, I have seen the illegal immigration problem from a different perspective. Most of the immigrants to New Mexico come from Mexico, Central America, and a few from South America or Spain. Many of the New Mexican families who have lived here for 500 years still have family still living in these Hispanic countries.
Most of the immigrants here in New Mexico are making a contribution to our country, work hard, and learn English. And many of them are illegal. Do I come into contact with them? Yes, some are neighbors, some are students, some are Dreamers, and some are working in businesses here in town.
Our 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year, Ivonne Orozco, is a Dreamer. (DACA) She came with her parents to this country from Mexico, worked hard, learned English, became educated and is now contributing to our country. She helps hundreds of students of all nationalities to excel in school.
She wants a pathway to citizenship, despite her illegal status. It is the children of illegal parents that are caught in that gray area. They had no choice about entering this country as children. The Dreamers, especially, have worked hard to get where they are today and yes, they deserve a chance to become full citizens.
There are many Hispanic children, not all that go to college, making contributions to our country. They deserve citizenship as well.
I have worked here with children in the schools and in the Taos Children's Theater program and I can tell you that NOT having these children making their small contributions to our community would be tragic. They are talented and smart kids and just want a chance to make a life here in the US.
Yes, there are some illegal immigrants that don't make a contribution to our country. Yes, they break the law, but here in New Mexico they are so far and few between all who come here. The majority are working and want a better life.
I can't resolve the whole immigration problem here in a short essay, but our country needs to have an open conversation about real immigration reform and come up with realistic solutions. Solutions that are win-win not win-lose. Will that happen with Donald Trump a president who has to win at all costs and has to have a loser to feel good about himself?
What will happen with Congress, so willing remain in gridlock on this issue because Republicans and Democrats can not come together for the common good?
We need to go around Donald Trump to finally resolve our immigration problem. Building a wall and putting the military on the border will only make the problem worse. Who ever really wants to get into this country will. We need to have a humane and realistic pathway for those here working hard in this country.
Suzannah Wolf Walker (c) 2018