Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
These are the last lines of Emma Lazarus’ famous poem “The New Colossus,” which sits inscribed on the plaque mounted to the base of the Statue of Liberty.
They represent the promise of America, they are a written expression of hope for the downtrodden and sick of foreign nations.
Should their governments oppress them, should violence and instability threaten them, or should they simply desire a better life, America is the place for them.
Here they can build a better life, grab a hold of the limitless opportunities of America and fulfill their own American dream.
Everyone knows that America is a nation built by immigrants, so it should be easy to come here through the proper channels and establish themselves.
But that’s not the case.
According to the United States Bureau of Consular Affairs, there are three primary ways of immigrating to the U.S.
These ways include immigrating through family already in the U.S., immigrating in on a work visa and humanitarian protection (i.e. refugees).
Immigrating through family is self-explanatory, in order to come here through this method the immigrant must have a family member with established citizenry or green card status.
Immigrating in on a work visa is much harder, with the requirements for this being either having the capital to begin a small business (roughly $150,000), or having some form of higher education and being specifically scouted by a business or organization.
And then there’s the refugee visa, which only applies to those who are escaping violent and desperate situations in their home country, which does not include poverty and financial instability.
Suffice to say, it’s quite difficult to immigrate to the United States legally.
That’s why, as of November 2016, the Pew Research Center estimates that there are roughly 11.1 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Before continuing, it must be stated that while this may seem like a large number, the PRC finds that it makes up only 3.5 percent of the total U.S. population.
Of this number, roughly 52 percent of immigrants are of Mexican origin, with a majority of the other half coming from Central America and Asia.
The study also found that about 66 percent of these undocumented immigrants have lived here for over two decades.
Oftentimes these immigrants live their lives under the constant fear of being caught by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and being sent back to their home countries.
According to Nolo.com, the process is as follows: the immigrant is arrested, be it for a crime or during a raid, the person is held for up to 48 hours and should ICE determine the need for removal, they are put through the removal process and then deported.
Additionally, a 2009 PRC study found that the median income of undocumented immigrants was $36,000, as opposed to the median for documented households of $50,000.
So why would they want to stay here?
Because $36,000 a year is a lot better than $13,000 a year.
This figure, from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Better Life Index, is the median income for households in Mexico, where over half of undocumented immigrants come from.
The average standard of living for U.S. citizens, including those below the poverty line, is much higher than that of most countries around the world.
Another reason many are here is for their children.
According to a separate 2016 study from the PRC, roughly 4 million undocumented immigrants have minor children in the K-12 school system.
This translates to 7.3 percent of children in the U.S. having either one or both of their parents being undocumented immigrants.
This is the truth of undocumented immigration in the United States. It isn’t “bad hombres” coming in and stealing jobs from hard-working Americans.
It isn’t thieves and rapists coming to steal livelihoods and hurt people.
It’s the poor and desperate trying to make better lives for themselves and their children.
It’s a mother working multiple menial jobs to try to get her kids through school, it’s a father breaking his back in a poor manual labor position to feed his family.
They aren’t monsters, they aren’t evil, they’re people who came here to America in response to the promise etched onto the Statue of Liberty.
It’s what my ancestors did, it’s what your ancestors did, so who are we to fault them for it?
Q Russell is sophomore journalism major from Charlotte, North Carolina