Ortiz: America should celebrate, elevate and encourage immigrants

Sterling Ortiz, Columnist

As a social policy major in the School of Education and Social Policy, improving laws and the American government is always on my mind. While sometimes I speak and write about policy with no vested interest, such as my writings on German politics, today I talk about immigration policy from a personal lens.

Luckily, my father was Puerto Rican, which afforded him a certain privilege in the U.S. mainland. I believe he had attained American citizenship through the Jones-Shafroth Act, which grants American citizenship to all Puerto Ricans born on or after April 11, 1899. From the moment I was born, the U.S. blessed me with citizenship because of my birthright, which is a feature that blesses any person born in United States territory.

My mother wasn’t as fortunate. She worked toward becoming a citizen for 12 years. She overstayed her visa and, I believe by the letter of the law, was an undocumented immigrant. My mother got a green card through marriage with my father. Despite raising me and being a model person, she had to wait more than a decade to become a citizen. This meaningless wait cost my mother deserved rights, including the right to vote for political office.

Despite these hardships, I know that other immigrants’ experiences are far scarier. For example, more than 386,000 asylum seekers are looking to escape a dangerous country and start a new life in the U.S., and the country tangles them in red tape for years. Every day, delay for them risks death. Even after arriving in the U. S., some immigrants fear the Department of Homeland Security and deportation.

One of the scariest moments of the Trump presidency was when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Polish-born Dr. Lukasz Niec in 2018 for misdemeanor convictions in the early 1990s and threatened him with deportation. Thankfully, Niec remained in the U.S. after beating the allegations, but the fact that the country threatened to deport a Pole shook me. Because if the U.S. can deport a Pole, then it can undoubtedly deport a Magyar.

Because of this history, I advocate for an entire ideological shift in the U.S.’ immigration policy. To say in flowery prose, America should once again become a nation that seeks to celebrate and elevate recent immigrants while encouraging foreign citizens to move to the U.S. I believe this shift is necessary to achieve a robust, multiracial democracy. The founding fathers did not fully intend either part of a multiracial democracy, but leaders inside and outside government developed this ideal in the 1960s.

In policy terms, I believe the current immigration laws have not worked for Americans in the present and future. The U.S. enacts immigration policy by denying as many potential Americans as possible and acts in bad faith. To remedy this injustice, I propose that the U.S. eliminate all visa categories and distribute green cards to anyone residing in the country for longer than a month. The government should also grant full citizenship to anyone living in America for longer than six months and has residency documentation. Finally, refugee minimums should replace refugee quotas, and deportation should be a last resort if employed at all. The DHS should be dismantled and converted into a department aiming to assist immigrants into American life and deliver green cards and citizenship expediently.

To me, these ideas are common sense and fit with American traditions. Americans owe our independence from the United Kingdom to immigrants such as the Marquis de Lafayette and Casimir Pulaski. In the modern age, former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden are descendants of European immigrants who arrived when the U.S. actively supported European immigration. Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, immigrated from the Kingdom of Bavaria to New York City in 1885 in search of well-paying work. Biden’s great-great-grandfather, Patrick Blewitt, immigrated from County Mayo in Ireland to Scranton, Penn. in 1850 for similar reasons.

All the examples I listed above are of European immigrants. My self-described golden age of open American immigration in the 1800s was only available for Europeans. When Asians wanted to immigrate, the U.S. started shuttering its borders. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 stated Chinese workers were not allowed the same provisions Europeans enjoyed. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 allowed full and easy citizenship only to Northern and Western Europeans and Latin Americans.

I believe these laws were wrong at the time, wrong today and are incompatible with American values. If a person wants to immigrate to the U.S., they should be able to, no matter who they are or where they come from. This spirit helped the country become independent, enabled the country to become a superpower and, most importantly, is the morally correct action.

Sterling Ortiz is a SESP fourth-year. You can contact him at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.