EDITORIAL: Immigration Reform

In this month’s feature, Elissa Asch introduces readers to Mesgna Neghasi, who fled his home country of Eritrea in the hope of finding a better life in the U.S. Human stories are too often overlooked as merely statistics and move to the forefront of the immigration conversation, in Neghasi’s story serves as a human manifestation of the wealth of statistics that are used to refer to foreign immigrants in modern America.

    America is supposed to be the “melting pot” of the world. Or at the very least, we are supposed to be diverse. People from all over come here to build new lives for themselves, and the means by which they create new beginnings is immigration. So why is the concept of “foreigners” becoming such an unwelcome concept? Why are people who come to this nation from overseas or across borders treated any differently than the rest of us? If you really look back at our history, weren’t most of our ancestors, at some point, foreigners?

Modern media tends to portray immigration as a problem. Referring to immigrants solely as statistics that are the cause of contentious issues such as unemployment paints the immigrants of this country as the essence of corruption, violence, and danger. No one wants to be seen as embodiments of these aspects of humanity. However, what politicians and other leaders who promote negative stereotype don’t seem to understand is that labels with these dark connotations simply adds to the amount of anger and resentment that leads to increased racism. Labels are something that clearly set people apart, creating a divide between us and communities that are perceived as “different.” These labels, including those such as “immigrant” or “refugee” are not necessarily derived from bad intentions. Still, the constant use of the words in degrading context such as bigoted jokes or scapegoating can act as fuel for racism and ignorance.

    No matter what label you put on individuals who arrive in America from abroad, everyone comes to this country for a reason. Whether they are fleeing disease, political unrest, economic distress, or a lack of social freedom, those who immigrate to the U.S. come looking for something better. Each and every one of them is a human being, a person who has a desire to survive and make a life. There are more than 40 million immigrants residing in the U.S. as of 2012, so it is impossible to go out and tell everyone’s story, to publicly acknowledge every person coming into this country, and to understand everyone’s journey. It is not impossible, however, to get to know a single person who has immigrated here. It is likely that you have, at some point in your life, come into contact with a person who has immigrated here. Start by reading Mesgna’s story and when the opportunity arises, take time to learn someone’s else as well. Whether you are on either side of the immigration debate, for or against, getting to know someone who has gone through the incredible process of becoming part of our country can contribute to the growth of your political beliefs and enrich your own life.