Such is the plight of many undocumented workers in the United States. High poverty levels in Mexico and Latin America, combined with the lure of better-paying, more prolific jobs in the United States bring thousands of undocumented workers across the border each month. An estimated 11.5 million of these undocumented workers live and work in America.
Threatened with deportation, they work in factories, on farms and on orchards for obscenely low wages. They are often employed by corrupt employers who abuse them in the absence of any government regulation. Furthermore, they live and work in constant fear of raiding police demanding documents proving legal status. Their travel capabilities are limited by checkpoints on freeways where people of Hispanic descent are required to show their green cards.
At a March 7 immigration reform panel in the Black and Gold Ballroom, immigration lawyer Loan Huynh boldly stated: "We all agree that the immigration system in this country is broken." Opinions differ on how the system should be fixed.
One of the most militant bills under consideration is the criminalization of illegal immigrants. This bill would enable law enforcement officials to arrest and to imprison people who lack proper U.S. documentation. Other proposals include building a physical barrier along the Mexico-U.S. border and requiring police to ask for documentation from witnesses when investigating crimes.
Pundits claim that migrants crowd public school systems and usurp welfare benefits. However, these claims are countered by the influence migrant labor has on the economy.
Deporting millions of hard-working laborers would have a huge impact on the economy. California's agriculture is largely supported through migrant labor. Miles south of Northfield is a migrant camp near Owatonna, where immigrants live and work in the industries and agriculture of southern Minnesota.
People have come here and formed communities, working hard for low wages. They live the American dream. It seems almost cliché to say that we are a country of immigrants, but it stands as a fact. Our country depends on immigration for economic and social growth.
However, can we accept the labor these people offer? These workers help the economy because they are willing to work in terrible conditions for very low pay, allowing high dividends for business owners. While these conditions are better than those in their native countries, they are appalling standards for the United States. If economic gain through worker exploitation is our reason for naturalizing migrants, then we are a culture of backward-thinking opportunists.
Increased law enforcement would help problems related to immigration, not in halting immigration, but in regulating the businesses and factories which employ undocumented workers.
Immigrants should not be criminalized; they are the basis of the American dream. Legal migrants or not, they have claimed a spot in American society.
Immigration is the past, present and future of our country. It is an insult to human dignity to continue our current immigration system. The system benefits no involved parties - employers who look to it for workers, citizens who expect it to prevent illegal border crossings, and foreigners who want fair employment in the United States.
Change is necessary, and America must recognize both the value immigrants have in this country and their contributions to society. Their sacrifices for the economy have secured them the right to be naturalized citizens.
Staff Writer Tim Rehborg is a sophomore from Owatonna, Minn. He majors in English and in dance.