D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Lent 2017: Myths

To be honest, I feel overwhelmed at the task of learning about and sharing information on undocumented neighbors in the US. There is so much to learn. It is all very complicated. There are very large and very pervasive lies that are spread in order to increase fear and discrimination. It is clear that there is no one article I can point you to to convince you of anything; instead I just think about how there are millions and millions of stories, and each is so very different and unique.

So perhaps we should start with some myths about immigration. I think probably the most common response to undocumented immigrants is: why didn't they just do it the legal way? But to be perfectly honest, at this point I feel like if someone is asking that question, then they probably do not want to know the real answer. Because the truth is, there are very few paths to citizenship for people from Mexico and other countries, and there are not even nearly enough temporary visas. Why is this? I don't have all the answers, but from all of my reading it seems clear that our economy is one that thrives on the shadows created by an immigration system that is inherently broken, unjust, and only enforced sporadically.

It is unjust in that it only creates a few legal pathways for visas (and fewer still for citizenship) and yet depends on the labor of so many migrant workers. By only enforcing the laws (deporting people) sporadically, it makes examples of a few in order to keep everyone else without proper documentation living and working in fear. This means employers can threaten deportation while paying people poverty wages in horrific conditions, essentially meaning that many of our warehouses, factories, restaurants, and fields are filled with workers submitting to multiple human rights violations in order to make our economy run. My life, my food, my neighborhood, is built on suffering. And yet here we are, enjoying the fruits of underpaid labor, all the while vilifying the people who are working the hardest. 

Of course, another myth centers around crime. Why would we let all these violent people into our country? This is the message we have gotten from our President, and countless others. To be sure, there are violent offenders and people involved in criminal behavior who are unauthorized immigrants. But the percentage (3%) is lower than that of the average US citizen (6%). So it's not really about crime. It's about demonizing an entire group of people in order to gain political power, which is sadly one of the oldest plays in the book. Are we paying attention?

There are other myths, and perhaps we will get to them on another day. But the bigger myth I want to talk about is the one that continually gets shattered in front of my eyes: it is the myth that America is a land of opportunity for immigrants, a place where life, liberty, and the pursuit of a small scrap of happiness is available for anyone. The more you dig deep, however, the more you realize that this does not happen for most. America works out pretty well if you are white and if you have money and are from a Christian background (it also helps if you are male). Beyond that, things start to get very messy, 

Here's the truth: we have closed our doors to the vast majority of people seeking a way out of poverty, war, and famine. We capitalize on fear and monetize it. The people who cook our food sometimes don't have enough to eat themselves, and we don't know this because we live and operate in completely separate worlds. America is not a great nation, and it never ever was. It has always been a mess, full of promise and ideals and yet also built on the backs of dehumanization and exploitation the likes of which history has never seen. 

This is the myth that is the hardest for me to deal with. This is the myth I will have to spend the rest of my life coming to terms with. This myth is slowly being revealed in front of all the world for the lie that it always has been. Is this a silver lining? That seems too bright of a phrase for it. All I can do is pray along with the author of Isaiah 58:

"And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in."

I pray that one day, our foundations might be full of justice, instead of inequality. That we might honor those who work and live and raise families in our country, instead of oppressing and exploiting them, all the while claiming that God is on our side. 

 

 

 

 

Resources/Notes:

 

Here's one woman's personal story of being an undocumented immigrant. 

Here's a website which talks about the complexities regarding the elusive (and fictional) "line" that people can get in in order to become a legal immigrant. 

Here's a NYTimes article that lays out the complexities pretty well (including crime statistics, and a breakdown of countries where undocumented immigrants are from). 

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