Struggles of the Undocumented and Minority
People are driven to migrate to different countries because of the hope that the new country will allow them more opportunity and a better life for themselves and their children. Often times their countries of origin are impoverished, underdeveloped, embroiled in conflict, or crime-ridden, and continuing to live there could even mean death. About 1 million people immigrate to the United States each year (Jacobson). When they finally enter the new nation, oftentimes life is not easy as they are faced with a deluge of disadvantages. The language barrier represents one of these disadvantages, what with only 44% of U.S. immigrants possessing a high English-speaking ability in 2012 (Census Bureau). They face other difficulties that revolve around their migratory status as it has the ability to restrict mobility. Cultural identity and differences can also prevent difficulties as they have to choose whether to maintain their distinct cultural traits or assimilate.
In 2015 there were 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States (Krogstad, Passel, and Cohn). They flock to the U.S. because of the allure of a better life filled with more opportunities, happiness, and freedom that cannot be found elsewhere. Their hope is what drives them to make the dangerous journey across the desert, rivers whilst avoiding law enforcement officials. For most that actually make it, and secure themselves, they find that their vision of life in the U.S. is not congruent with reality.
Entering the United States as an undocumented immigrant poses steep disadvantages that severely hamper social and economic mobility. In order to legally work in the United States, a person must have a valid form of identification, which usually is the Social Security Number (Legal Match). Employers require this number for identification and tax purposes as hiring undocumented immigrants results in penalties (Legal Match). Consequently, the undocumented typically only find unskilled low-quality jobs. In addition, most renters perform background and credit checks on their housing applications to ensure their identity (Home Guides). Even though the SSN is not necessary for this, many renters still require it when considering an applicant (Home Guides). Without an SSN, they are subject to rejection from landlords (Stewart). The U.S. is quickly moving toward a cashless society, as more retailers move toward solely credit/debit, and most business and daily transactions are done online. Today, a credit account and history are imperative to the financial well-being of a person, as, without one, their buying power is limited. Hotels, for example, require credit cards to obtain a room, as they can charge a patron if the patron causes damage or steals (Mancini) Credit is needed for home, car, and large purchases if the person is not wealthy (Goldstein). In order to obtain a credit account, an SSN is required on the application. The SSN is an important piece of identification and represents a major disadvantage to the opportunity and well-being of the people without it. The lack of an SSN prevents them from higher skilled labor, adequate housing, and fiscal freedom and opportunity.
Undocumented people have to live in constant fear, as any potential run-in with authorities can result in their deportation. Under the Secure Communities Act enacted in 2008, local law enforcement sends fingerprints to the FBI, which they are checked against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) databases (Human Rights Watch). ICE then identifies someone as deportable and asks the police to detain that person, which is the beginning of the deportation proceedings (Human Rights Watch). An immigrant in Nashville named Miguel is an example of this process, as he called the police on a family member ended up in deportation proceedings soon after (Human Rights Watch). Consequently, the undocumented people are afraid to call the police and often do not due to the high chance that they will be deported. A study conducted in 2008 compared how African-Americans and Latinos responded to crime (Braunschweiger). The study found that only 4% of Blacks knew of a crime that had not been reported, while 42% of Latinos answered the same (Braunschweiger). In addition, 27% of the blacks said they would not call the police to report a crime, and 54% of Latinos responded the same (Braunschweiger). This creates a massive issue as it allows criminals to commit crimes without being punished for them, contributing to high crime rates in these communities. Because of the close cooperation between local authorities and ICE, Latinos are left vulnerable to crime as they fear those that are there to protect them.
For many years, the fear of deportation held many families from attempting to enroll their children. The 1985 Supreme Court case Plyler vs Doe ensured that every child, regardless of citizenship, had the right to an education (Emma). Today, there are 5 million children in the education system with at least one undocumented parent. While children can go to school, they are still plagued with the persistent fear of the deportation of themselves or their parents. This constant fear serves as a distraction and often results in their decreased performance in school. About 70% of schools in a survey of 730 U.S., reported academic decline and an increase in absenteeism in response to the recent immigration crackdown (Jones). Another study found that the deportation scares take a mental and physical toll on children and contributes to them finishing fewer years in school (Anderson).
When an undocumented person gets arrested the ICE deportation officer determine whether to place the person in removal proceedings and how to charge that person (Galvan). The deportation officer will serve them a notice to appear for a trial with an immigration judge (Galvan). In regular courts, everyone regardless of their citizenship has the right to counsel as mandated by the sixth amendment (Cornell Law School). This right does not extend to the immigration courts though, and many defendants are forced to represent themselves as they do not have the money or the connections to obtain representation (Lee). Between 2007 and 2012, only 37% of all immigrants were able to secure legal representation (Lee). This is significant because those with legal representation were more likely to be released from detention, and avoid deportation, while only 2% of those without lawyers were able to avoid deportation (Lee).
In addition, there is no age restriction on who can represent themselves in the immigration courts, resulting of thousands of juveniles as young as a few months old being called upon to defend themselves against deportation (Werlin and Macleod-Ball). An example is a 3-year-old named Arturo, who arrived because his family members feared for his life in El Salvador, who will have to enter deportation proceedings on his own (Werlin and Macleod-Ball). During this stage of life, children are just learning how to cooperate with others, speak simple sentences, and build things with blocks (Markon). Despite this, a prominent immigration judge named Jack Weil has said, “[He has] taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. They get it,” ( (Markon). Between July 2014 until the end of the year, 42% of unaccompanied children in deportation proceedings had no attorney (Markon).
The word “assimilation” is a loaded term and carries a negative correlation in most social contexts (Basu) and conjures thoughts about the death of cultures around the world. In reality, assimilation itself is not necessarily a bad thing and in normal cases is a natural process that occurs over time (Shah). The process of assimilation can be broken down into three stages which include, acculturation, suppression of the parent culture, and the acquisition of the new ways (Shah). When it occurs naturally, assimilation can be beneficial, with the potential to increase tolerance between the different groups of people and increase empathy between the groups through commonality. Rapid and forced assimilation, on the other hand, results in consequences for the individual and the society as a whole. A well-documented example of forced assimilation lies with the Christianized Native Americans during the colonial period in America. Many Native Americans were forced to learn about and become loyal to the Puritan God, adopt the clothes, mannerisms, and practices of the English while rejecting their culture (Lepore). Unfortunately for these Christianized native Americans, this process did not result in their complete inclusion into English society and freedom from bias and discrimination as they still were not trusted and were thought of as inferior (Lepore). They were not a part of the Anglo-world or the Native American world as they no longer resembled those of their tribe (Lepore). This made them feel as if they stuck between two different worlds and belonged to neither. In more recent times, intergenerational Asian-Americans also experience this sentiment as they are stuck between the ways of their parents and the ways of their peers (Berteaux).
Any person who migrates to another country faces the dilemma of whether to assimilate to the dominant culture of their new country or maintain their own cultural distinctiveness. In many cases, the immigrants are forced to choose assimilation because it acts a defense mechanism against discrimination. At least 41% of immigrants have admitted that they have experienced discrimination, and 58% of Hispanics specifically deem race relation in the U.S. as generally (Krogstad and López). Discrimination can have long-lasting psychological effects on a person, and research has found that discrimination leads to increased stress, depression and anxiety (Wilson) The most common solution to the problem of discrimination for those with a different cultural identity is to assimilate the dominant culture, so as to minimize differences. A study by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of the Hispanics felt that emphasis on similarity rather than distinction is the true solution to race relations and discrimination in the U.S.
The promise of prosperity, happiness, and opportunity drive people to enter the nations like the United States (Arizaga). For some, the decision between migrating or staying is akin to life or death. As a result, many are desperate to enter the new nations at any cost. Many of the immigrants find that the image of life in the new country does not match its true reality. The banking systems and legislation limit any chance at upward mobility for these people and relegates them to a lifetime of poverty. The legislation also reduces their quality of life as they live in constant fear and paranoia that any run-in with authorities or any slip up can result in their deportation, resulting in a mountain of stress and the mistrust of the emergency services that are there to protect them. Regardless of immigration status, minority groups face a disadvantage from their cultural identity. In nations like the U.S., citizens experience intense discrimination on the basis of their skin color or their culture. To alleviate this issue, many resort to rapid assimilation to reduce their differences with the dominant groups of people.
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