I believe one of the reasons that the anti-immigrant feeling is so strong these days is that many who oppose reform probably have never been around those ‘menaces’ long enough. Sure, you might see a Latino or Asian individual at work at your local market or restaurant, but how many actually have had the opportunity to make their acquaintance? Many would say no, which make the victims of xenophobia pretty much a faceless crowd.
Having worked as an ESL teacher and been a resident of a mixed immigrant community on Staten Island (and the fact that I perform at a Brazilian service in Manhattan), I have encountered many individuals who either entered the country illegally or simply overstayed their tourist visas once they arrived here.
Contrary to the public perception, most of these people are hardworking individuals who are trying their best to make a better life for themselves and their families. Many have family members who are legally here, but who for a reason or another have become ineligible to apply for their brothers, sisters or children to reunite with them (our immigration laws have become extremely harsh since 1996, and as a consequence it can take years for a loved one to be able to come into the US). Though some speak only their native languages, the majority I have met have enrolled in ESL classes and have learned at least survival English skills – they are not as insular as they might seem.
Many of these people have been here for years and have planted roots in this country. There is nothing left for them in their native lands, and after so much time it wouldn’t make any sense to return. And though I do not condone their decision to break the law, I must say that I understand and sympathize with them – and that is why I have become a staunch defender of immigration reform.
Unfortunately, we cannot create a visual campaign that shows the face of these individuals on in the media, as they would be fully exposed. But if anti-immigrant activists saw their faces, I am sure their opinions would change.