In recent months, tens of thousands of immigrants have trekked from Central America and Mexico to the southern U.S. border, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The majority of people making the voyage to the U.S. borders are seeking safety from violence, natural disasters or poverty. Although waves of immigration are not new, stories of smugglers leaving children just over the U.S. border have been making headlines lately.
Camille Mejia, a Riverside resident who came to the U.S. four years ago, originally from Honduras, said most people coming to the U.S. are focused on arriving, not what happens next.
“People are more focused on getting here, or getting their children here, rather than what they will do when they get inside because they are trying to get away from something,” Mejia said. “When I came here, I decided that if I was going to be here in the United States, that I had to do so legally. I did not want there to be any reason they could send me away. My home was not a good place.”
Mejia said that most of the people she has met who are not in the U.S. legally did not know the proper way to apply for citizenship or legal residency.
“It is easy to overstay a visa,” Mejia said. “You do not really have to do anything, you just do not leave. But to go through the process of applying for citizenship, it can be challenging to those who have not always been here, and being here illegally is better for most than being home.”
Mejia said Honduras has seen a lot of homicide and gang violence in recent years, which has led to more families coming to the U.S.
U.S. presidents have made immigration a large part of their political platforms. Former President Donald J. Trump focused on creating a physical border wall between Mexico and the U.S.
President Joseph R. Biden ran his campaign on the promise that he would overturn many of the immigration policies passed under the Trump administration.
Darren Logan, adjunct professor of history and political science, said defending the borders is an important role of the U.S. government.
“Our national and federal government, especially the executive, is charged constitutionally with protecting and defending the nation,” Logan said. “Therefore reasonable, humane, just and enforceable policies and actions must be taken to protect and defend the border and nation. There are laws already in place that should be enforced. The ordered liberty of the United States must be protected, but not at the cost of openly violating the very principles regarding the nature of all men and women in the process.”
Logan added that although the government should rightfully protect U.S. borders, it should be a bipartisan issue rather than one that divides the country.
“The issues should be handled in a bipartisan, non-politicized manner, with an open, honest, fair and vigorous public policy discussion in Washington D.C. and throughout the U.S.,” Logan said. “Moreover, and perhaps of even greater importance, is the fact that most of the migrants, both legal and illegal, are coming to the borders of the U.S. in the hopes of finding something that they simply cannot and likely will not find in their own home nations.”
When it comes to moving forward, Logan said the U.S. should work with foreign governments on ways to improve their own countries.
“The U.S. should aggressively seek to engage with the governments of the nations from which these people are coming, mostly from Central and South America, but also from Africa, the Middle East and Asia,” Logan said. “The United States has for generations held the moral high ground as a free and democratic republic where our constitutionally ordered liberty stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming majority of countries around the world. It would be in the best interests of the United States to engage with these nations in an effort to help them better care for their own citizens.”
The House of Representatives passed two new immigration bills March 18. The first is The American Dream and Promise Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers. The second is The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which gives a pathway to citizenship for undocumented farmworkers and their families. Both bills are now waiting on Senate approval.