The Individuals Behind the Immigration Debate


There is not just one lesson I learnt from my conversations with immigrants in the Career Services of Catholic Charities Atlanta. But probably one of the most significant lesson I took with me is that no two immigrants are the same.

Take, for example, my last two blog posts about two very different immigrants taking an English class at Catholic Charities Atlanta.

They both have the same last name. They are only about 15 years apart from each other.

They both sit next to each other in James McDonough’s English class, scribbling their notes and mumbling their English sentences. They both picked up the same certificate from McDonough at the end of the class. And they are both subject to the same hostility from their community and the same laws from their government. Both of their lives rest upon chance. The chance that their headlight will be broken and a police officer will pull them over. The chance that the police officer will care that no, they don’t have documents.

But all of these observations rest on a surface level perspective.

They are both very different people.

Agustine Lopez loves this country. He plays soccer every Sunday from people all over the world. He has a ton of

friends and he enjoys his job. He makes a reasonable amount of money and finds freedom in the American life.

David Lopez doesn’t play soccer here; not every Sunday nor any other day. He doesn’t have a big group of friends like Agustine. He didn’t even really want to come here in the first place. He doesn’t make a whole lot and doesn’t have a whole lot of people to depend on. And it is clear: he doesn’t enjoy this country to the same extent as Agustine does.

And yet, some how, from some perspectives, they are viewed as one.

That, I think, is a problem in our debating. So often, people discuss immigration by grouping up all immigrants into one clump — one clump that they can stereotype, label and judge. They clump the Agustines and Davids together to speak about immigrants as one collective group.

They imagine this one group as a bunch of Mexican farmers or cleaners or gardeners or fast food workers. They imagine them utilizing government money and reaping the benefits that the taxpayers fund. They take this one image, this one idea, and apply it to each individual immigrant, ignorantly forgetting the fact that these are individual people.

These are individuals, not one group. These immigrants are spread all across America. They are each experiencing completely different worlds. Those worlds are not only dependent on their location but also on their individual mindset, their individual fears and their individual backgrounds. Even one area can produce two very different immigrant lives, like Agustine Lopez and David Lopez.

It is unfair and unnecessary to discuss and debate the politics of immigration without keeping in mind the individuals behind the words and stories.