The Multiple Faces of Immigration

The topic of immigration in the social policy arena has always been a big debate. It is such a controversial issue that it is almost a “bad word” that comes out of the mouth of those sitting on the legislative floor. However, immigration also seems to be a popular theme in mainstream media nowadays. We see on the news those who want an immigration reform hold signs in front of the groups that want immediate deportation of “illegal aliens”. These images imprison our society between solely two options that have been colored by the sensationalism of biased reporters. Therefore, immigration is seen as a good-and-evil battle, an illegal-legal argument, a homogeneous issue. Perhaps immigration and those who are part of this movement have diverse stories and reasons that triggered the action of moving from their country of origin. Even though we are only exposed to images of poor, dirty, native-looking immigrants crossing the border, immigration has multiple faces.

For millions of years, people have migrated around the world… for freedom, for economic opportunity… for the pursuit of happiness (Calderin-Oliva, 2014). Currently in the United States of America (USA) for example, “one out of every five children under the age of 18 in the United States is the child of an immigrant and about two of five Hispanics are foreign-born” (De Haymes & Kilty, 2007, p. 104). The USA was built by immigrants who in part moved to the western hemisphere for freedom of religion. This opened the door (or coasts and borders) to others who were seeking different types of freedom. Currently, some of the reasons for immigration respond to personal issues, familial problems, and community discord.

It has been said in the past that many young men from Mexico and other countries in Latin America migrated to the USA as a form of right of passage where those considered “men” would move away to work and provide for their families. While poverty and limitation of financial and human resources in some countries are considerable reasons for immigration, money is not the only trigger for it. To consider this last statement individuals need to understand that immigration not only has the face of Latinos that cross the border, but the faces of families that come from all around the world. The immigration issue is not a matter of “poor illegal Mexicans”, it is a matter of universal freedom.

As a social worker I have worked with immigrants from many countries of origin. These individuals narrate to me their stories, and one time after another, they are never the same. However, sometimes these stories are framed by a common theme: violence. For example, there are people that move out of their country of origin due to domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence arrive daily fleeing from their oppressors. On the other hand, some people migrate due to community violence underscored by drugs and gangs. This violence is hurting those who need us the most, the children. The reality is that,

Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up… a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis. (Nazario, S., 2014).

On the other hand, immigrants are also motivated to scape by hostile political situations. These immigrants seek a country where they are not harassed by police officers, by laws, by criminals supported by lawmakers. Violence is the root of many of our social problems and, therefore, for immigration. However, violence perpetuates a repercussion of other social problems that also provoke exile.

Many immigrants come to the USA for better education or access to education. Others come following a better healthcare system or a more accessible healthcare industry. I have heard of people staying in the USA due to better access to HIV/AIDS care, services, and medications, for example. Furthermore, others escape religious oppression (just like our ancestors) and seek a place that fosters freedom of religion. Others migrate to escape the stigma, prejudice, and hatred targeted towards their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though there are many more reasons for immigration, these should not be consider as exclusive since an intersectionality of situations are the norm.

The USA seems to have been developing a hostile sentiment towards immigrants based on the ignorance of the abovementioned factors. This sentiment misrepresents the identity of those who arrive in the USA for diverse reasons and with diverse intentions. Entitlement is not a reason I have yet seen in immigrants in my practice as a social worker. Perhaps when we are able to see the multiple faces of immigration we will able to formulate an informed-based opinion and empathy for those who just want a chance for a better life while helping sustain the country’s economy. Our immigrants made the decision of becoming one at the high cost of leaving their children and families behind and at the mercy of faith, death, and illness. Their many faces reflect blood, sweat, hope, trauma, bravery, love, and willingness.

References and Sources:

De Haymes, M., & Kilty, K. M. (2007). Latino population growth, characteristics, and settlement trends: Implications for social work education in a dynamic political climate. Journal of Social Work Education, 43(1), 101-116.

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