[1]When Rob Huber hears what his grandmother went through, he can’t help but think, “that could’ve been me.” Huber was practically raised by his grandmother, a Japanese immigrant who had dropped out of a prestigious Japanese university, immigrated to the United States with her husband (who eventually left her) and tried to make a living by assimilating to American culture. With his grandmother moving into his family’s house when he was in grade school, Huber described the menial tasks his grandmother had to perform to support her family of four children.
Because his grandmother’s story and the issue of immigration has hit so close to home lately, the international relations and Asian studies senior has become extremely interested in immigration rights and migration issues. He said he sees his grandmother’s plight as similar to what many Latinos must face today once they enter the country.
While Huber, who plans to pursue a career in immigration law, is not the only one taking interest in the issue of immigration, it has become a rather hot topic most recently because of pending legislation in the Senate that would have serious effects on American immigration policy. Looking at both national and local levels, it becomes easy to see that the issue should concern more than just the people trying to cross U.S. borders. [deflast]
The Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act is a bipartisan bill, introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), that if passed after Congress reconvenes from its Easter break, would allow many of 11 million existing illegal immigrants to eventually pursue legal citizenship, provide guest-worker visas, ensure increased employer accountability and enhance border patrol.
Although immigration does not solely affect one demographic, pending legislation would undoubtedly resonate most with the Chicano/Latino community. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, figures illustrate the profound impact of the bill on the Latino community with 57 percent of the more than 10.3 million estimated illegal immigrants coming from Mexico and 24 percent from elsewhere in Latin America.
Psychology senior Raquel Moreno, who is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, said she thinks the bill focuses on the negative aspects of immigration without looking at the positives. Moreno explained that because of the corruption in the Mexican government and lack of opportunities in the country, people come over here to look for a better life, doing jobs that most Americans would not do. If immigrants were not willing to do the work that offers them a way to make a reasonable living, Moreno said, there would be negative economic impacts. “The economy would collapse,” Moreno said, adding that without immigrants working low-wage jobs Americans take for granted, their daily lifestyles would be severely affected.
Moreno, who has participated in rallies and marches dealing with the issue will join the May 1 rally/march from Foster Park to the Capitol steps that will symbolize, “A Day Without Immigrants” where participants will wear all white to show solidarity and not participate in the daily tasks that allow Americans to take immigrants’ economic contributions for granted. \”A Day Without Immigrants\” is a national campaign, and its effects will present themselves later, when the country can reflect on how much the presence of immigrants was missed.
[rallypic]Similar protests and rallies throughout the country have been held to support immigrant rights and to rally around better treatment toward our country’s immigrants. Critics do not feel that immigrants, specifically illegal immigrants, necessitate any \’favorable\’ treatment.
Huber believes this is because immigrants present an affront to the American identity to those who want to keep them out, which parallels the racist exclusionary acts of years past. “If you can’t relate what is happening now to then (Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment), which is almost identical,” Huber said, “you have to wonder, is there any learning from the historical past?”
However, that is precisely the concern for some adamant anti-immigration groups, who often incorporate the acts of 9/11 and security concerns into the rhetoric for strict border control and enforcement of illegal immigration. Connie Hair, spokeswoman for California-based border patrol group Minutemen denounces the idea of granting those who enter the country illegally a path to citizenship. “We do not support amnesty,” Hair said. “We support securing our borders. Our stance is to secure the borders. Now. Immediately.” Hair cites the lack of enforcement of our borders as a source of vulnerability for terrorists to enter the country.
For those who are actively involved in the border patrol for the Minutemen, such as Clark (who wished to not disclose his last name), a 73-yr. old volunteer from a suburb of Phoenix, the threat of terrorism is of primary concern for the country’s safety. “We don’t know who’s coming out and for what reasons,” he said. “We have people coming from El Salvador, coming from the MS-13 -they’re some of the most evil people out there. When I was out at the border, I found a Quran. I don’t think many Mexicans read the Quran.” Clark is referring to Mara Salvatrucha, a Salvadoran street gang that is known to be very dangerous and on the streets of American cities like Los Angeles.
But not all arguments for or against immigrants entering the country are so extreme. In fact, immigration reform seems to be one of the issues that transcends party lines. Immigration attorneys Daniel C. Learned and Catherine L. Ruster, said the entire spectrum agrees that the system is broken. Both Learned and Ruster have practiced other types of law in the past (trial law and corporate law, respectively) and agree that reform is needed for such a complex issue. Learned said he was always interested in international affairs, and Ruster, an immigrant herself who came from the UK when she was 8, said she became interested in the niche practice, and for both their work has been rewarding, although not without challenges.
While Ruster explained the lack of intuition and difficulty in learning all the nuances of immigration law, Learned joked that while “many think it is a quick and easy way to riches, I can testify that it’s neither.” But the payoff for their hard work does not go unnoticed. “Immigration clients are always the most appreciative,” Ruster said. “It is important for people to stay here. It’s more important than just their work. It’s their whole life.”
Learned agreed and added that the benefits of immigration to the United States and to their practice is that it “enables us to attract the best and brightest,” he said. “The opportunities are wide open. It’s true that the American dream is alive and well.” Ruster and Learned explained that the bill currently before Senate offers an important shift from the illegality of immigration to the legality of the issue.[2]
International relations senior Melanie Glover believes this is one of the positive effects of the pending immigration reform. Glover has worked with immigration lawyers, immigrant families, illegal immigrants in the workplace and NGOs in Spain that deal with refugee and immigration issues, has volunteered with and mentored a Grand Rapids Somali-Bantu family for the past two years, and she said she supports some type of system that would allow immigrants to come here legally and be afforded more rights. Glover said there are certain aspects of the current system she finds to be problematic. “What I don’t like about the illegal aspect is that its dangerous,” she said. “[Immigrants] are treated poorly at work and don’t have rights, and they don’t have social services or social benefits.”
Besides the inherent racism Glover said she feels is responsible for much of the anti-immigration sentiment, she also believes the common misperception that immigrants are here to take United States citizens’ jobs is to blame. However, most informed individuals are aware that the argument lacks substance. “They are doing the jobs that Americans would not even think of doing,” Glover said.
[quote]Jeff Wiggins, a member of MSU’s Young Americans for Freedom and future chairman of College Republicans, dispels the notion that all right-wingers or conservatives are against immigration. “People think we’re against immigration, which is not true.,” he said. “We are for immigration. We need immigration. We just need it legally.” Wiggins said he agrees that something does need to be done to fix the current policies on immigration. “Reform is needed,” he said. “[There are] too many loopholes, too much turning of heads.” In regards to the proposed bill that would allow those who came here illegally to eventually obtain citizenship, Wiggins said, “It’s discrediting the system. It’s almost encouraging people to break the law.”
Susan Wysocki, spokesperson of the national non-profit organization FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which was founded by MSU alumnus John Tanton, agrees that this bill would send the wrong message. “It’s rewarding people that are breaking a law with citizenship,” she said. “It’s insulting people who are trying to do it legally. No matter how you sugar-coat it, it’s still amnesty.”
The pending legislation has spurred a nation-wide debate on an issue that is sure to affect the country for years to come, with an estimated 4,000 immigrants entering the United States every day. While it may be remarkable that both sides of the political spectrum can agree that our current system of immigration policy is badly broken and needs to be fixed, the great debate will undoubtedly continue.
Meanwhile, like the legislation, the human side of this issue – the fates of millions of working illegal immigrants and their families – are also in limbo.

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