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Are we true Americans?

| Friday, September 21, 2018

This morning, I traveled an hour to 101 West Congress Parkway in Chicago. After entering the security line at 8:00 a.m. and getting haggled for my water bottle, I waited in another line. After proving my purpose for being there, I was escorted upstairs. I waited more. Then, I was ushered into a large room. I waited more.

Then, around noon, I got to witness 99 men and women become U.S. citizens. For the slight inconvenience of my morning, I received a wonderful reward: the ability to witness 99 people succeed in a system pitted against them and receive the option to reach their fullest potential in the United States.

My complaining is entirely privileged. These men and women endured similar situations and frustrating gridlock on their journey to citizenship. To get to this point these 99 men and women lost valuable amounts time, money and sleep.

However, this is not the primary problem. It makes sense that our immigration system has rigorous standards and vetting processes. The problem comes when you consider the hundreds of other applications that were denied or have been sitting in boxes for years. The problem comes when you consider the hundreds of children still wondering where there parents are. The problem comes when you think of the Yemeni people who we wanted to join our American dream, but received a rejection letter a day after their acceptance simply because of where they were born. The problem comes when you think of Morristown, Tennessee, a once thriving town now depleted of workers for the local meatpacking plant.

How is this system fair, or, at the very least, sustainable?

We argue that we need immigrants to come in “the right way”, but there hardly seems to be a right way anymore. Every day thousands of people try to gain legal permanent residence through a family member already in the United States, or an employer vouching for them. After getting all proper forms and documentation in, prospective residents often have to wait 12-15 months for an interview. After their interview, it can be another 12-15 months before they receive approval. Even then, it’s five years before they can even apply to become a citizen.

For people who are threatened by violence in their home country or who are struggling to feed their family that can be too long a wait and too confusing a process.

Facts aside, it is hard to ignore the hypocrisy of the value debate when it comes to immigration.

In America, we pride ourselves on treating everyone as if they are innocent until proven guilty. While it is up for debate if we truly utilize this principle in practice, every migrant trying to travel to, become a permanent resident of, or become a citizen of the United States is guilty until proven innocent.

The 99 men and women endured extensive background checks, interviews, character witnesses, paperwork, long waits, denials and application fees to receive the privileges and responsibilities that many of us were born into. We did nothing to deserve the right of being innocent until proven guilty except for the fact that we were born on American soil.

Our most recent immigration discussion has been framed around who is deserving enough to be an American. This elite measurement is in direct contradiction to our values and the idea that the “American dream” is accessible for everyone.

A merit-based system does have its benefits but it ignores the most important qualification to becoming an American citizen: dedication to the American dream and a determination to play a part in our society. Examining education, income and hard skills ignores the benefit and diversity that many prospective citizens could bring to our communities across America.

Simply put, the system doesn’t make sense and if we don’t try to change it in a major way we will only continue to see the problems mentioned earlier. A suffering American economy, dangerous situations for migrant children and their families and a racially charged set of qualifications for citizenship.

We must do more on campus to advocate for a better, more efficient and well-rounded immigration system. Advocating for our DACA recipients on campus is a wonderful start, but the conversation cannot end there. This looks like a debate that’s not going to end anytime soon, and we must take part.

So, I ask you, who are the true Americans? Someone like me, who never considered the true value of their American passport until this morning? Or someone who has waited years and spent countless hours trying to prove they were good enough to partake in something the rest of us take for granted every day?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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