Every time I hear someone call a person “illegal,” a chill goes down my spine.
No one is illegal. A human cannot be illegal.
Calling someone illegal is like treating the individual as a product, comparable to a banned substance and dehumanizing the person.
Since when did human beings become commodities that had the potential to be banned?
Even though I find the concept of labeling people illegal baffling at its core, many Californians are beginning to direct their anger at so-called illegal immigrants as the source of the state’s misfortune as universities, schools, hospitals and other institutions face severe budget cuts by Sacramento.
Those individuals might have an example to follow with a new piece of legislation approved by Arizona’s legislature, which calls for much stricter measures in trying to deport all illegal immigrants. The bill was written by the Republican State Sen. Russell Pearce and includes measures that would allow law enforcement officials to stop any presumed immigrant in the state and demand their respective federal and state forms of identification on the spot, even if the individual is a legal immigrant.
If the person turns out to be illegal, he would be transferred to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deported. And if a legal immigrant is caught without appropriate forms, he could face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. Even more shocking is that citizens could be held just for not having proper identification papers on them during the time of questioning.
The bill stipulates that if a police station is enforcing the new rules “to less than the full extent permitted,” it could face thousands of dollars in fines. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the bill is that police officers can stop any individual for “reasonable suspicion” based on any two of the following: race, nationality and color. Supporters of the bill allege the legislation will pick out illegal immigrants and have them deported, which will free up government funds to benefit legal citizens.
However, many lawmakers and activists have criticized the bill, calling it reminiscent of apartheid-era South Africa and simply deplorable. State Rep. Raul Grijalva said the bill targets and discriminates against a specific demographic of the population. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who is also the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Immigration Reform, made a personal remark in an interview with CNN regarding the effect of the bill on average Hispanic-Americans: “I’m Puerto Rican. I was born in Chicago, and my family has been U.S. citizens for generations. But look at my face, listen to my voice. I’d probably get picked up in Arizona and questioned. Is that what we want in America?”
The immigration debate soon made its way closer to home when Roger Mahony, the cardinal of Los Angeles, compared the law to “German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques” on his website.
However, in the same city Mahony made that statement, supporters of tougher laws on illegal immigration pointed to crumbling schools and universities that have been greatly affected by the state’s budget cuts. In 2009, state officials estimated that illegal immigrants accounted for “$4 billion and $6 billion in costs, primarily for prisons and jails, schools and emergency rooms,” according to the Los Angeles Times. This fact infuriates some individuals who feel every dollar should only be spent on legal citizens.
After hearing the monetary-based argument of individuals against using government money for illegal immigrants, I am often stunned at how money seems to drive people’s decisions and not the need to help fellow human beings.
We have to understand the plight of illegal immigrants entering our state. Most leave their families in their hometown — a decision painful enough — to risk their lives and travel across the border to provide money to their families. After paying people most of their savings to sneak them across the border, many immigrants risk sheer humiliation, injury or death if caught and deported.
Those who make it here are given little if no respect in society and are forced to work for wages well below minimum wage — wages that are mostly sent to their families in their home countries that are counting on the money for food and other basic necessities.
After understanding the dismal situations most illegal immigrants face in coming to the United States, is it right to call them “criminals” and “illegals?” Are they really doing the wrong thing in trying to provide basic necessities for their families and provide better lives for their children?
Every human in California deserves at least the most basic of services such as emergency medical care and public education.
We are not wasting money by helping fellow human beings — we are doing the right thing. I am not advocating an open border situation in which everyone can easily and openly enter this state and nation — rather, amnesty should be granted to the present illegal immigrants and we should leave the border and immigration laws the way they are. If anything, the government needs to provide a fast-track for most illegal immigrants to achieve citizenship.
We need to look at the issue of illegal immigration not with a financial viewpoint but through the viewpoint of helping fellow humans.
Let’s hope everyone realizes that people aren’t costs — they’re people.
Angad Singh is a sophomore majoring in communication and international relations.