Opinion | Susan Knopf: Border justice

Last week I traveled to El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, with the National Council of Jewish Women Colorado Section. It’s the oldest Colorado women’s philanthropy, founded in 1893.

For the record, you don’t have to be a woman, or Jewish, to belong to the National Council of Jewish Women. You just have to believe in human rights and the dignity of others. We went to the border to find out how can we help protect women and children.

First, you need to understand the issues and the process. We visited a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, watched a federal asylum hearing, spoke to Border Patrol representatives, and visited two church-supported shelters — one in Juarez and one in El Paso. Several leaders came to educate us at Abara — our hosts and the ones who arranged this profoundly interesting trip.

Abara works to create narrative, systemic and personal change through their border encounter trips. What stops us from making needed changes is our fear and emotional narratives that amplify fear, rather than facts.

Last week’s column highlighted a typical erroneous narrative that works against immigration reform. Many people believe immigrants are criminals, part of the drug trade, carry disease and come here to be a financial burden. The World Economic Forum says immigrants are 80% more likely to become entrepreneurs who hire workers and build the economy.

Unfortunately, we have militant elements on the far right who are still protesting waves of immigrants who have been here a hundred years. Remember Charlottesville, Virginia?, Virginia? “Jews will not replace us.” According to the FBI, Jews are victims of more than 60% of religiously motivated hate crime.

When we hear people passionately try to arouse fear about immigration, keep in mind where they are coming from. Look for factual information. Why wouldn’t we want to expand our economy?

Why wouldn’t we make our system, our ports of entry, centers of efficiency and commerce? Think of an amusement park or airport. These are places where thousands of people are processed daily. We can do this.

At the border, people are fingerprint checked. Immigrants could send those in advance, like my son did to get his visas to teach in Korea and England. Every person could be assigned a personal tax identification number upon entry. Doing these things would stop the inhumane trafficking and smuggling of people.

Last week, this column introduced you to a 21-year-old Summit County woman who made the perilous journey with her young child twice in a single year. I also spoke to a Summit County man, Jose, who escaped political persecution in Nicaragua, and made a nearly identical journey for about $24,000. Just like the woman, part was paid up front, part was a loan. Jose says his loan is now paid off.

Some people are trafficked and can never pay off their loans, doing work that pays just a dollar per day. Why are we allowing criminals to siphon off money that could be added to our economy?

When you realize legal immigration waiting time in our broken system is 15-25 years, you can understand why someone would take their chances with criminals to get here and give up any hope of legal migration. What migrants care about is survival.

Global climate change is causing floods and destroying crop yields. Transnational criminal organizations are destroying life in villages and countries throughout the Americas. We are the market for their human smuggling and drugs. We are the country providing the guns fueling the chaos and violence. Why shouldn’t we be the country that accepts immigrants when they try to escape the dystopia we created?

Our country is accepting a smaller percentage of refugees than other countries. According to Pew Research, about 14% of the people living in the U.S. are foreign born, compared to Canada where 22% of their residents are foreign born. Australian residents are 28% foreign born. The United Nations World Migration Report states Europe accepts a greater number of migrants than North America.

Canada has announced it will attract 1.45 million more immigrants by 2025 to address its labor shortage. The agriculture industry, the tourism industry and many others are clamoring for more immigrants to fill jobs American citizens don’t want. The lack of workers is slowing commerce.

We must find the will to overcome fear, and prejudice against others, and take in those who will build our economy and make their homes here, just as our forebears did in the 1900s, the 1800s, the 1700s and the 1600s. Today’s immigrants are taking the same risks, and they want the same opportunities.

They are like us. They want to be a part of our country.

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