Empathy, love are needed in immigration issue

What’s needed in the immigration debate is a loving and honest dialogue between Americans and immigrants, both legal and illegal.

On March 1, millions of Americans and immigrants throughout the country rallied to protest the extreme immigration law, SB1070, that recently passed in Arizona.

According to the law, if a public official in the state of Arizona has reasonable suspicion to think that someone is an illegal immigrant, he has the right to ask that person to prove their legal status in the country. If the person is unable to prove their legal status in that very moment, they will be immediately arrested, put in jail and, quite possibly, deported.

Furthermore, if an American citizen is stopped by a police officer while driving and someone in their car looks like an immigrant and is unable to prove their citizenship, then not only will the suspected immigrant be arrested, but the American will be arrested too, and the car will be impounded.

The law has caused an uproar on both sides of this polarizing debate. Americans against immigration have been inspired by the new law to become more gung-ho than ever to deport all illegal aliens, while many minority populations feel discriminated against as federal criminals, merely for looking like they might be illegal. Hence the slogan, “I only look illegal.”

The fear of many legal immigrants is that they will be arbitrarily profiled as illegal immigrants because of their appearance or accent. Thus, they will be arrested and deported even though they are legally living in the country and going through the process of naturalization.

A great misunderstanding within the immigration debate is realizing what it actually means to be “illegal.” My parents immigrated legally to the United States to serve as missionaries in America and it took 27 years for my father to officially become an American citizen. My mother is still not a citizen. For about four of those years, my parents were illegal immigrants.

Why were they illegal? Their visas expired, they had to wait for a church to sponsor them to enter the process of naturalization and they couldn’t always afford a lawyer.

However, if an average American had known my parents in those few years that they were “illegal,” they would have immediately judged them as criminals and demanded that they be deported.

What needs to take place in this immigration dilemma is a loving and honest dialogue between Americans and immigrants, both legal and illegal. We need to acknowledge that immigrants are real people with families and dreams. We need to humbly listen to their stories of suffering and hardship and we need to remember that all of our ancestors who came to this country, unless you are Native American, were once legal or illegal immigrants.

In the midst of all of this political uproar we must stop and ask: Where’s the love?

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