On October 2, a few dozen Bates students from Professor Longaker’s Social Movements in Latin America class congregated near Commons to stake out a claim for themselves in the nationwide immigration debate. While the rally was ostensibly organized in opposition to President Trump’s family separation policy, tide of protest quickly shifted from the administration’s ham-handed response to the US-Mexico border crisis. Amid a flurry of chants, you could hear “no one is illegal,” “fight ignorance, not immigrants,” and “education not deportation” – as if the issue at hand is less about incarcerated toddlers than the wholehearted acceptance of undocumented immigration at large.
I have no doubt that the protesting students commit to living by Bates’ academic integrity ideals. That is why I implore them and all like-minded members of our community to think about undocumented immigration as a variation of cheating. Yes, you read it right: unauthorized immigration is as much a challenge to our border security… as big a threat to the financial well-being of working class Americans (while most mainstream economists agree that all types of immigration foster economic growth, there is also a widespread consensus that the influx of low-skilled labor hurts similarly positioned native workers. See the Specifics-Factor Model)… as it is an act of cheating.
Early Monday morning. You have spent the entire weekend preparing for that notorious midterm exam. Worn out by a series of all-nighters, you trudge into the lecture hall ready to put all your hard work to good use. Then it comes to your attention that one of your classmates cheated. Theoretically, it makes little sense to be upset. Cheating is not a zero-sum game: your classmate’s behavior did not prevent you from doing well. And yet, most of us recoil at the very idea of academic dishonesty. Why? Because we are taught to understand, correctly, that cheating is fundamentally unfair to those playing by the rules.
If you think your classmate’s behavior is morally unjustifiable, then put yourself in the shoes of someone trying to immigrate to the United States legally. According to the Department of State Visa Bulletin, citizens of several Asian and Latin American countries should plan to wait upwards of two years before scheduling a consular appointment. And if spending two years of your life trying to get a visa already seems like too much, that is only the start.
Merely entering the United States legally does not make you eligible for citizenship. Before even dreaming of the coveted blue passport, one has to obtain a permanent resident permit, commonly known as a Green Card. Depending on whether one is coming to reunite with family or pursue employment, the process of obtaining a Green Card can lag for years. There are quotas. There are legal fees. There are immigration officers willing to deny your application because of an unintentional error. One may be in the country on a valid visa for decades, but before procuring Green Card, there can be no switching jobs before prior authorization, no in-state tuition benefits, and no easy time getting approved for a mortgage or even a credit card.
Many immigrants ultimately fail in their quest for a Green Card. Those who are successful have to wait at least five more years before proceeding with the naturalization application. A minute mistake on the US civics test can prevent you from finally being able to call yourself “American.” The journey from a dream to immigrate to the United States to the day when you take the oath of citizenship can thus stretch for decades; for some, it is the journey that lasts a lifetime.
Undocumented immigration corrupts the spirit of that journey. It is an act of cheating not solely vis-à-vis our nation’s laws, but all those foreign-born Americans who have sacrificed the time, energy, and material and emotional capital to make this country their very own. Chants like “no one is illegal” and “immigrants are welcome here” suggest there ought to be no distinction between those who played by the rules and those who did not. They do not do justice to an elderly mother waiting for hours in the consulate line to reunite with her daughter… to an international Bates student trying to settle down in the United States after graduation… to an immigrant soldier serving our country overseas.
Of course no human being is illegal. Plagiarizing on a test does not make one an “illegal human being,” yet the behavior they are engaging in is every bit as immoral as it is illegal.
Advocating for those whose immigration status is none of their fault – minors currently detained on the US-Mexico border and DACA recipients, individuals brought to the United States as children – is an empathetic, timely undertaking. The same could not be said about unapologetically embracing all types of unauthorized immigration. Just as there is no room for cheating in academia, undocumented immigration should have no place in the United States.