The immigration system in the United States is broken. We have a crisis at the border with increased drugs, illegal crossings, and weapons trafficking. We hear stories about crime that occurs when illegal immigrants cross our border. We hear about how fentanyl has penetrated beyond border towns into the Northern regions of the U.S. and is now the leading cause of death among adults ages 18-40 with over 64,000 deaths in 12 months reported by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

These issues are important and need to be addressed. However, there is a difference between enforcing the laws that govern criminal and illegal actions and being anti-immigration. It’s important that our policies regarding increased border security and immigration reform demonstrate the compassion many Americans hold for those who legally immigrate to America in pursuit of a better life. 

I came to America with mixed emotions. On one hand, American culture was demonized by the Soviet regime. In school, the “lessons” perpetuated anti-American propaganda. For example, one of my math problems in kindergarten was: if you have 5 loaves of bread and 2 greedy Americans take one loaf each, how many are you left with? Yet at home, my mother spoke fondly of the freedoms and opportunities America would offer us. She did not want me to grow up in an oppressive regime where my place in society was determined at birth. Freedom and choice made up the promise of America.

When we arrived in America in the early 1990s, we did not speak English, lived in low-income housing, survived on food stamps, and didn’t have a simple way to orientate ourselves with American culture. We relied on limited information from libraries, primarily in English, and some generosity from neighbors. My mother would take off work from a job where she was barely making minimum wage to stand in line all day at the DMV, only to be turned away because we did not have the proper paperwork from another agency, which would require another day off work. This was not a luxury we could afford. The result of navigating this inefficient bureaucracy meant less income for food and rent that week. Even as a young girl watching this unfold, I knew that something was amiss. Why make the process to obtain the basic information needed to assimilate so difficult for those wanting to become a legal part of this great country?

Things that seem intuitive for Americans can be major obstacles for immigrants as they struggle to integrate into American daily life. The promise of America means many want to come here. People will sacrifice everything and leave their lives behind to experience America. It’s a country unlike any other in the world.

If you have the drive and desire, you can succeed here. If you put in the hard work and pay back this country, you can create your own prosperity. This is the reason immigrants are among the most grateful and appreciative of America and its endless opportunities. So why do we make it so hard for these people to join our society when they respect the foundation on which America was founded? Our policies should encourage more people to apply for citizenship, fill employment voids, add to the tapestry of our culture, and fuel and grow our economy. 

Policies should address national and border security by using state-of-the-art technology, providing the necessary resources to enforce the laws on the books, empowering states to secure their own boundaries, and ensuring the most vulnerable populations are not exploited. Separately, we must lean into pro-legal immigration policies that address our economic needs while providing clear pathways for citizenship.

Immigrants who come to America tend to be religious, pro-family, business owners/entrepreneurs, and wary of an overreaching government. Most are likely to embrace modern conservative ideals over ones that are authoritarian, so the focus needs to be on how to properly assimilate them into our society instead of how to keep people out. 

Securing the border does not mean opposing immigration. Being pro-immigrant and pro-legal immigration is not something to run and hide from, but rather something we must, and should, embrace.