By Contributor Marsela Doko
As a resident of a sanctuary city, I see firsthand the fear that the Trump administration imparts on immigrant communities and communities of color. The looming presence of ICE agents around these neighborhoods is starting to create anxiety even in those who aren’t directly affected. In October 2020, Trump will strengthen the effect of the Real ID Act legislation, originally created during George W. Bush’s presidency. During this last decade, its main priority was that all Americans have some form of federal identification, usually a driver’s license. Under the Trump presidency, however, its main goal is to let everyone know who is in America legally or illegally, which would deeply impact many. The Real ID Policy will put even more undocumented immigrants at risk, including those who are living in sanctuary cities.
With the Real ID Policy coming into effect, undocumented immigrants will be limited in multiple ways. They will be unable to fly, even domestically, which they could do in the past. They will be unable to enter some buildings, especially government buildings. This is bound to create chaos and problems since many undocumented immigrants have children who are American citizens. It is important to remember that fact because this isn’t just about policy. The requirement to present a “Real ID” creates a sense of distrust between the government and the people. This policy is about deciding who we want to be as a country and what we want to be known for. If we continue to elect government officials who think that this discriminatory treatment is okay, then we as a country will continue to betray the values we were founded on, the creation of a sanctuary where all of us could be ourselves and not worry about corruption or persecution. By limiting the places undocumented immigrants can go and the activities they do, the government projects a clear message of alienation, both to the immigrants and to the rest of the world. We are telling them that if they see a crime, they should be wary of reporting it if they don’t have a Real ID and aren’t an American citizen. Furthermore, we are showing that we value the country on their birth certificate more than who they are as a person.
This isn’t the first time such a discriminatory policy has been implemented. After 9/11, immigrants of many ethnicities, whatever their status, were seen differently as a result of the terrorist attacks. This is also happening in Britain as a result of Brexit. Many immigrants have written about feeling uncomfortable as a result of the anti-immigrant sentiment pushed by pro-Brexit advocates. As a result of the Trump presidency, the same nativist sentiment has permeated American political culture and empowered those who already held xenophobic beliefs. This policy would codify the othering of immigrants, further embedding this anti-immigrant sentiment into our laws.
America’s founding principles show that this country is about loyalty and family, and by introducing the Real ID policy, we are violating our guiding principles as a nation. This policy would be creating a bigger divide within families by separating them further as a result of their citizenship. Undocumented immigrants can’t vote, but they can help report crimes, run businesses, and go to school. They contribute to our economy because if they own a house they still must pay property tax, along with sales tax on everything they buy. If they get paid by check, which many do, taxes are taken out of it. Furthermore, if you look at low paying jobs, especially those paying minimum wage, the majority of those workers are immigrants. If we are being honest with ourselves, few American citizens grow up wishing they were working at McDonald’s or as janitors—jobs many immigrants serve in. Studies have shown this trend of immigrants helping improve our country’s economy as well. Furthermore, with our low unemployment rate, immigration may be needed to fill certain key jobs. According to the graph below provided by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can see that between the years of 2010 and 2018, as the unemployment level was decreasing, the number of job openings was increasing, thus proving that at one point America may have too many job openings and not enough Americans to fill them.
Conservatives promote that immigrants are constantly taking away our jobs when this proves that the opposite is true. Furthermore, there are many ways that foreigners contribute to our economy through our current immigration system that many fail to acknowledge. Through business visas, some immigrants who are wealthy can make a business/investment (usually between $800,000 and $1,000,000) into America’s societies. This is another way that they are contributing to our economy. Through the Real Id Policy, we would be limiting the number of ways that immigrants can contribute to our society starting with the undocumented population.
Some may argue that while they sympathize with (legal) immigrants, they are against undocumented immigrants, who the Real ID Policy would be targeting. However, I think it’s important to recognize that most undocumented immigrants didn’t want to be undocumented. Most of them applied for citizenship the legal ways, but as the result of the long process and unfairness in the system, they were denied. Throughout history, it has been proven time and time again that America would much rather allow those in who are in good socioeconomic standing or those who already have family in the US than those who are in dire need for help, such as refugees. Furthermore, there are many who need legal help to leave their country, but can’t because of the specificity of the term “refugees.” A refugee has been defined as “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.” Some people who need to leave in situations of gangs or corruption (political repression) aren’t able to even apply for refugee status or can’t afford to apply for citizenship, because by then it may be too late. Even if it isn’t, under the Trump presidency, the prices to file for asylum gone up and it’s even harder to qualify. Under past administrations, women could also file for asylum if they were involved in heavily abusive relationships, something that as a result of the Trump administration no longer exists. This is when many start to feel trapped and they decide to risk everything, leaving behind family members, neighbors, houses and even their valuables in hopes of a better life. These are the people who the Real ID Policy would put at risk. It would communicate to undocumented immigrants who have endured a difficult journey that everything that happened to them is their fault and that they deserve to be exposed. This policy would make it easier for them to be found out as non-citizens and deported.
Undocumented immigrants should have the right to make their voices heard in the public sphere, and most importantly, have the right to the same safety, dignity, and protection the government should afford all residents. Regardless of status, people are people; the Real ID policy refuses to recognize that, and by doing so, represents dehumanization at the hands of the government.