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The American Dream: a simple idea that promises success to all who reside and work hard in the land of the free and home of the brave. We as Americans pride ourselves on the notion of living in a country built by immigrants who came here looking for social, political, and religious liberty. However, while immigrants may have built the nation centuries ago, the United States has a history of opposition towards newcomers. Today, the tension has only increased and immigrants are not exactly welcomed into the country with open arms. As illustrated by the upcoming elections, the United States is divided over many issues; one of the most hotly debated is immigration. Fear surrounding immigration has brought ideas of building walls and all immigrants being criminals into the political atmosphere.

During my senior year at Sarah Lawrence College, I interviewed members of the cleaning staff on campus for an independent study project. Rosalina, a mother of two who fled the dangerous conditions in El Salvador, crossed the border into the United States to escape extreme poverty and provide her children with a better life. As a child, Rosalina lived in one room with her parents, siblings, and niece. The house was made from sheets of grass. After the sixth grade, she dropped out of school because her family could not afford to keep her in class — Rosalina then worked full-time babysitting and cleaning houses to help her family make ends meet. By the time Rosalina started her own family, war was spreading throughout the country, the political instability pushing her to make the decision to flee. One night, with a group of forty others, Rosalina set out to cross the border. Since then, through hard work, Rosalina has been able to put her daughter through college and give her the life she never had.

When Rosalina escaped her home of El Salvador she was fleeing an atmosphere that was rigged against her. With little to no jobs available, those that did exist payed a few dollars for a full day of labor. However, because the country adopted the American dollar, prices reflect those in the US, and workers cannot afford to live. A single bottle of shampoo costs more than a day’s work. On top of unfair social conditions, the country has been swept by never-ending political unrest. This situation is no different to that of many other immigrants. If the United States paints itself as a country for the free, why does it exclude those who want to be free?

The hatred towards immigrants in the United States stems from long rooted ignorance. I remember going grocery shopping with my mom and being asked where we were originally from, because of my mom’s slight accent. When she said Peru, the cashier looked confused. “I thought everyone from there is dark-skinned,” he responded. Here lies the problem: many Americans do not try, nor wish to try, to understand cultures other than their own. I attended a prestigious prep school in Miami, Florida where multiculturalism was all around me. At least half of my classmates were foreign, most only spoke English within the classroom setting (sometimes only to the professors), and generally spoke their native tongue in the halls. We embraced their differences and were curious to learn. I cannot imagine being in an environment where someone would be told to not speak their native language — but those environments do exist today.

In January 2016, the Daily Beast published an article about a Turkish immigrant looking to achieve a P.H.D in the United States. In the article, the woman depicts a day when she and a friend went thrift shopping and were told to speak English, because “you are in the U.S”. But That story is just one of the many examples of how foreign communities are not welcomed in the United States, which is an issue. Studies show that immigrant communities actually bring many positive qualities to urban cities in the United States. Last February, the Economist stated that “when immigrants arrive, crime goes down, schools improve and shops open up.” Cities like Baltimore and Detroit welcome immigrants by providing micro loans that do not require papers and eliminating routine checks of immigration status. These practices allow immigrant communities to grow and establish themselves within the cities, which is their reason for arrival. Immigrants come to find new life, but many immigration policies are implemented to make that extremely difficult.

One of the major problems is the inability to get a driver’s license. Living in the United States is difficult without a driver’s license. First of all, driving is a crucial method of transportation in most areas in America, and even without licenses some immigrants still drive and if they are pulled over there is a high chance of deportation. Most importantly, a driver’s license is a vital form of identification in the United States, and not only is it hard for immigrants to attain a license, but any form of identification in general. Social Security numbers, American passports, state ID are all needed to create bank accounts and apply for jobs. This issue places immigrants in an even greater disadvantage when trying to establish communities. Furthermore, certain states want to make it impossible for immigrants to settle. In an effort to fight against DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans — an executive policy that would defer the deportation of parents of american citizens), the state of Texas claimed that it would be too expensive for them to provide driver’s licenses to DAPA recipients. This came after the state of Texas declared its intention to sue the Obama administration, claiming it does not have the right to grant deferred action to an entire class of people at one time. Public opinion within the United States has been showing a growing concern over immigration. While some views are wrong and unenlightened, others have questioned whether the number of immigrants flooding the nation might come at a detrimental cost. Since the 1990’s the number of immigrants has increased to one million a year. Citizens fear that there are not enough jobs, pollution will increase, and cities will lose their essence. Some believe that there will be less opportunities as the growing number of population results in more competition for the same spaces and resources.

I believe there are many advantages to a high influx of immigrants. Immigrants keep the price of labor low, and in turn this maintains low market prices from which American consumers gain. Americans also benefit because immigrants strengthen the workforce by accepting the jobs that others avoid. Immigration reform would increase productivity within the workforce, therefore increasing the nation’s gross domestic product. The arrival of immigrants would also create jobs. Immigrants look for cheap housing and are more open to investing in low income areas like Detroit. This helps cities rebuild and attract more business as many immigrants want to start small businesses. I think one of the most fascinating reasons for immigration reform is that immigrants bring in culture and help the United States become a globalized power.

Immigration lies in the hands of Washington. Political officials, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President are all in control. While I am lucky to have an American father and dual citizenship, many of my international friends from Sarah Lawrence desperately strive to find ways to stay in the country post college as many visas expire the exact same day as graduation.

I have friends who are undocumented and face many constant obstacles in their lives. Each day is a fight to prove their worth in the country. While many live in fear that they have no control over their life in the United States, others live with hope that they can work to influence the branches of government to realize that they are the same. Immigrants, just like Americans, want the same things, they have the same dreams, they just seek the opportunity that they would not otherwise have in their native country. Many undocumented immigrants are children who were born abroad but have lived their entire lives in the United States. They identify as American. Others want to be American in the sense that they believe in the same ideals America stands for. I think America, its citizens and government, should stop viewing immigration as a detriment to population control and hindrance to stability. It is time to be honest and think about whether we truly are a country for those looking to be free or simply for those who are privileged enough to be free.