During Monday’s debate on S.744, which is the Senate bill on immigration reform, I heard arguments that made me cringe. At the debate, a senator tried to invalidate paths to citizenship by claiming that though “we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws.” While that is true, some of our laws used to claim that slaves were less than people and that the Chinese should be excluded from the nation. The idea behind our legislative system is that laws would not be permanent, and that they should be subject to refinement or removal if they no longer serve the needs of our people.
Undocumented immigrants in our nation do the work that no one else wants to do, just so they could also commit their children to the institutions that create documented Americans. Their story is one of sacrifice and contribution, even when the law says otherwise. Everything they had given to America, from their sweat to their young, designates them as Americans. As such, they belong in that category of “our people” that the law needs to serve. When the law tries to criminalize an undocumented immigrant’s body and being, the subject that needs to be removed is the law, rather than the immigrant.
When that same senator mentioned we need to “fix our broken immigration system,” I wholeheartedly agree. However, our definitions of “fixing” are different. While he believes the system needs to reify laws born through the privilege of documentation, I believe a responsible system would be inclusive of everyone who sought our nation for the refuge it promised to be. So yes, we are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. However, the only way that wouldn’t contradict itself is if our laws protected our immigrants.