How Do You Define American?

Although undocumented Americans are typically depicted as adults, many come as children through no choice of their own.

This raises a question: are high school graduates who were brought into this country at a young age less American than high school graduates born here? The legal answer is “yes,” which makes it difficult for these graduates to find well-paying jobs—even though they receive the same education as documented citizens.

In an attempt to discuss this complex issue, the Department of Multicultural Affairs and the Filipino Peace Club at Raritan Valley Community College screened “Documented: A film by an Undocumented American” on Jan. 29.

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The discussion of "Undocumented" on Jan. 29.

The film was written, directed and produced by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented American Jose Antonio Vargas, who came to the United States from the Philippines as a child. "Documented” recounts Vargas’s journey to America and his work as an immigration reform activist. Vargas is also the founder of “Define American,” an organization whose mission statement is “using the power of story to transcend politics and shift the conversation around citizenship.”

Following the film, students engaged in a discussion of how one defines “American.” One student referred to the United States as a “melting pot” where everyone has the ability to pursue happiness. But for children who find their way here illegally—such as Vargas—that pursuit is filled with obstacles.

After talking with a friend who came to the United States at 20 years old in 2003, he described America with the popular title, “the land of opportunity.” He said that “America seeks you more than you seek it.”

What makes our nation so appealing is that people are respected equally and the majority are striving to better their standard of living. Hard work will pay off and talent is appreciated, which is not the case in many other countries.

But 12 years after his arrival, he still fears deportation daily.

He claims the whole process to be “frustrating” and “malfunctioning.” With his tremendous people skills and the ability to speak over five languages, he would have enlisted in the Air Force and worked as an interpreter if he was able to.

As a person living here for over a decade, paying taxes, married to an American citizen with two children and working as a waiter for over 50 hours a week, is he less “American” than a person born here? While some may think so, it is hard to see what more one could ask for from an American.

It is only recently that legislation has pushed to fix the broken immigration system. In 2012 the Obama administration announced it would stop deporting certain undocumented Americans—commonly known as DREAMers—through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.

DACA allows young students to qualify for temporary legal status and possible work authorization if the student is no older than 30, was younger than 16 when brought to the United States and has lived here for at least five years. Those who qualify must have no felony or misdemeanor convictions.

It is estimated that up to 1.4 million children and young adults could benefit from the policy change according to the Pew Hispanic Center—about 12% of the 11.7 million undocumented population currently in the United States according to the Pew Research Center.

The action gives hope to millions of families, but important obstacles remain. The order only halts deportations for two years and does not rule out deportation once that window closes. Those who qualify will need to reapply once the two years end.

In addition to DACA, in November of 2014 Obama announced the “Immigration Accountability Executive Action,” which will deport undocumented Americans who threaten national security and public safety. Those suspected of violent criminal activity, gang involvement or terrorism will be at the top of the deportation list.

Pending registration and passing criminal and national security background checks, the action also allows undocumented Americans who have lived in the United States for over five years, are parents of U.S. citizens or are Lawful Permanent Residents to stay in the United States. Those who qualify will have to reapply every three years. This action will streamline illegal immigration in hopes of boosting the economy.

The harsh reality, however, is that Americans are protective of their own. They do not wish to see opportunities taken away from their children and given to those not born within the proper borders. But does that make those people less deserving?

Many undertake jobs that no one else would want. Rarely do you hear of anyone wishing to be a hotel maid of an underpaid cook. We unknowing rely on those people while focusing on endeavors of grandeur.

Considering that being an American citizen is a privilege, not a right, I can see why some are against immigration. However, the issue of immigration will not get solved using current regulations. We still rely on archaic processes, forcing those who wish for better lives to keep wishing. If a concrete process is not implemented, this country will lose important talent.

Steven Rudden
Staff Writer / The Record

Steven Rudden is a staff writer for The Record and the SGA Representative for the Rotaract Club at Raritan Valley Community College. He majors in Communication Studies at RVCC. He hopes to work at an international news organization that will give him the chance to travel.