Police found the body of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts on Aug. 21, 2018. She had been missing since July 18 and was last seen in Brooklyn, Iowa. The man who led officials to the body is 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera, a Mexican immigrant who illegally entered the country and is now being held on a first-degree murder charge.
Since Rivera’s arrest, illegal immigration is once again a debated topic, even though Tibbetts’ family openly asked for her case not to become about immigration. Trump’s “border wall” is being heavily requested by those who believe in him. The demand for action on immigration has resurfaced.
America has always adopted those seeking opportunity and freedom. It’s the home of the ultimate symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty, which, as poet Emma Lazarus states in “The New Colossus,” is the “Mother of Exiles,” who “from her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.” America is the nation where anyone can triumph. It is home to the American Dream, a philosophy which preaches that those with effort and who work hard can succeed.
But why, after hundreds of years, is America harsher than ever with illegal immigration, specifically with Latinos? To understand that, one must look into America’s past treatment of immigrants.
Immigration has essentially occurred in three waves:
- In the 1840s and 1850s
- From the late 1890s to World War I
- And from 1965 to present day
During the first two waves, the majority of immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, in New York, and Angel Island, in San Francisco. Once off their boat, immigrants would go through a process in which they would be approved into the mainland or sent back home. In his book “American Immigration: A Very Short Introduction,” author David A. Gerber highlights that “approximately 99 percent of the European immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came through the process successfully, while the other 1 percent was turned away on a variety of political, social and physical criteria. In contrast, one-quarter of the Chinese were excluded.”
Though European immigrants generally received poor treatment, were prejudiced against and lived in extremely poor conditions, the majority were approved within the same day and did not suffer the consequences of being a non-white in an overtly racist society; the same cannot be said about those who arrived on western America.
A majority of immigrants arriving on the west coast did not receive the same treatment as those at Ellis Island. Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Indian immigrants were the most common at Angel Island. Ellis Island accepted the majority of immigrants, only one to three percent of rejection, while Angel Island rejected 18 percent of their immigrants. This does not count the Chinese laborers which were prohibited from entering the country due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Many immigrants who arrived at Angel Island were also imprisoned instead of deported. The majority had to endure interrogations to verify a family tie in America. Interrogations could last months, and conditions inside the prison were extremely poor, with sanitation and safety issues.
Since most non-white immigrants arrived through Angel Island, their integration in American society was lower compared to the European immigrants of Ellis Island, leading to the creation of stereotypes and propagation of racism towards Asian and Latino immigrants, which, unfortunately, are still around in modern day society (note the repercussion of Rivera’s case).
Criminals like Rivera are a microscopic minority among immigrants. The majority come to America looking for an opportunity, a chance to succeed in the American Dream. They are simply following the steps millions have taken in the past. With smaller population integration in society, stereotypes related to criminality and violence propagate convincing Americans that Latinos raise the crime rate in the United States. This lack of familiarity and propagation of stereotypes creates borders between cultures, leading to a growth in ineffective ideas such as Trump’s “wall.” This is a never ending cycle.
As a legal immigrant, I cannot deny that illegal immigration is an uneasy topic for me. I understand one’s reasoning while illegally entering a country. I am aware of how desirable it is to move to the United States. Though I do not find illegal immigration correct, I still find America’s treatment of these immigrants unjustified. American society has depended on immigrant labor since its early days; it is a country built by immigrants. Removing them would be unfair to families, some of which even have American born children, and it can certainly be dangerous to an economy that depends on them. Removal would also decrease the familiarity Americans have with immigrants, leading back to the never ending cycle.
It is difficult to find a solution to this situation. The American government could attempt to grant these millions of immigrants a proper status in the country, but it seems like their focus is on separating families and propagating prejudice.
Just like during the days of Angel and Ellis Island, immigration continues to be a racial problem. Immigrants of Caucasian characteristics are easily welcomed into this nation, while African, Latino, Middle-Eastern and Asian immigrants continue to be blocked from entering America. Let us not forget the government’s recent attempts to enact a travel ban focused on countries of Muslim majority; a ban so backwards that it resembles the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
For centuries America has tried to strip people out of their own culture. It was done to Native Americans, it was (and still is) done to African Americans and it is likely to continue with Latinos and Middle-Eastern people. Instead of embracing other races’ cultures, America tries to “whiten” its entire population, making it seem wrong to be different. There’s an absurd lack of respect and understanding for other cultures. I’ve heard myself that the way my culture makes its food is “wrong.” Racism is a constant problem in America and is explicit when it comes to how the United States deals with racism.
America has not learned yet how to properly deal with immigration. It is clear that immigrants still suffer from America’s historic poor treatment, causing a lack of familiarity between Americans and other cultures, then leading to an increase of racism in an already racist country.
It is difficult to live a good life in America. Us immigrants have to work twice as hard as natives. We need to learn another language and adapt to a new culture in order to survive. We have people trying to take our culture away from us. We hear racial slurs coming from the mouths of those who were supposed to treat us equally. We are unwanted and deemed incapable by millions, but through our unique determination and effort, we manage to prove them wrong.
Though it might be easy to victimize ourselves, we must keep our heads above the ground and maintain our focus on succeeding against all odds. We need to remember who actually made America great, the immigrants who built it.