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Undocumented Immigrants - Includes Even A Pulitzer Prize Winner

Illegal immigration has long been a problem, particularly in the United States. Illegal immigrants, who are also called undocumented immigrants, take risk whenever they decide to live and work in a country without undergoing the right process. What pushes them to do so?

Katya Ryder
Mar 13, 202316 Shares960 Views
Individuals who enter or remain in a country without proper legal authorization are classified as undocumented immigrants.
This issue has been a topic of intense debate and controversy, with various perspectives and opinions from politicians, policymakers, and the general public.
Who are these undocumented immigrants and how and why did they end up being as such?

The law that broke US immigration

Undocumented Immigrant Meaning

Undocumented immigrants are foreign-born individuals who do not have legal permission to reside and work in a particular country.
They are also sometimes referred to as:
  • illegal immigrants
  • unauthorized immigrants
It is important to note that the term “undocumented” is preferred by many advocates and activists. Why is it so?
The term “undocumented immigrants” emphasizes the fact that these individuals lack proper documentation rather than implying that they are inherently illegal.
They may have entered the country without:
  • proper documentation from the government
  • valid visas or other official documents allowing them to live and work in the country
  • going through the proper immigration channels
As such, they are considered to be in violation of immigration laws.
Moreover, in many cases, they may have entered the country legally on a temporary visa but overstayed their authorized period of stay. Furthermore, some may also have entered the country illegally by crossing the border without permission.
A barbed wire with the U.S. flag blurred in the background
A barbed wire with the U.S. flag blurred in the background

Undocumented Immigrant Workers

Estimating the number of undocumented illegal immigrants in the United States can be challenging due to the nature of their status.
It’s worth noting that the actual number of undocumented immigrant workers in the U.S. is likely to be higher than any official estimate due to the difficulties in accurately tracking this population.
Additionally, there are many undocumented immigrants who are not included in any official count, such as those who are in the country temporarily or who are not actively seeking employment.
Still, as of 2020, based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, their number ranged from 11.3 million to 12.2 million.
One commonly cited estimate is from the Pew Research Center, which estimated that there were approximately 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. as of 2017.
This estimate is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, as well as other sources, and is considered to be one of the most reliable estimates available.
A tall sign post about smuggling and illegal immigration at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, USA
A tall sign post about smuggling and illegal immigration at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, USA
There can be many reasons why people become undocumented immigrants, including the following:
1. Lack of legal options.
Some people may not have access to legal avenues for entering a country, such as through family sponsorship or employment visas.
2. Economic reasons.
Many people become illegal immigrants because they are seeking better economic opportunities in another country.
This may be due to:
  • poverty
  • unemployment
  • lack of opportunities in their home country
3. Persecution or conflict.
Some individuals may flee their home country due to persecution or conflict, and may not have the necessary documentation to enter a new country legally.
4. Family reunification.
In some cases, individuals may enter a country illegally in order to reunite with family members who are already living there.
5. Smuggling.
Some individuals may be smuggled into a country by criminal organizations, who profit from the illegal transport of people.
As mentioned earlier, the term “illegal immigrant” can be controversial, as it can be seen as dehumanizing or stigmatizing.
Many people prefer to use terms like “undocumented immigrants” or “unauthorized immigrants” instead.

Jose Antonio Vargas – Defining American

Jose Antonio Vargas - Undocumented Immigrant

Jose Antonio Vargas is a journalist, filmmaker, and immigration rights activist who was born in the Philippines in 1981.
He is best known for his work on immigration and his personal story of living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant.
In 2008, Vargas won a Pulitzer Prize as part of the Washington Post team that covered the Virginia Tech shooting.
In 2011, Vargas publicly revealed his undocumented status in an essay for the New York Times Magazine, and he has since become a prominent advocate for immigration reform.
On what is it like being an undocumented immigrant, the Los Angeles Times quotedthe parts below:
It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. ... It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful.- Jose Antonio Vargas
He founded the nonprofit media and culture organization Define American, which seeks to change the conversation around immigration and promote understanding and empathy for immigrants.
Vargas has also directed and produced several documentaries, including Documented (2013)and White People (2015), which both explore issues of identity and belonging in America.
He has been recognized with numerous awards for his work, including the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA and the Hillman Prize for Journalism.

Undocumented Immigrant-Friendly States

The U.S. immigration policy and enforcement vary by state, and some states are more friendly or less strict towards illegal immigrants than others.
However, it’s essential to note that immigration policy is a complex and often contentious issue, and the policies and attitudes towards illegal immigration can vary significantly within a state.
Here are some states that are generally considered more friendly or less strict towards undocumented immigrants:

Friendly States

They include:
a. California
In 2017, California became a sanctuary state, which means local law enforcement authorities are prohibited from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
b. Illinois
In 2017, Illinois passed the “Trust Act,” which limits the ability of state and local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities
c. New York
In 2019, New York passed the “Green Light Law,” which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Faceless person in a crowd holding a sign that says ‘Immigrants Make America Great’
Faceless person in a crowd holding a sign that says ‘Immigrants Make America Great’

Less Strict States

Here are three of them:
a. Alabama
Alabama has passed some of the toughest immigration laws in the country. There’s even a law that requires public schools to check the immigration status of students.
b. Arizona
Arizona is known for its tough immigration laws, including the controversial SB1070, which requires local law enforcement to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if they suspect the person is in the country illegally.
c. Texas
Texas has implemented a number of laws targeting illegal immigration.
It includes the “Show Me Your Papers” law, which allows police officers to ask for proof of legal status during routine traffic stops.

People Ask

It is recommended to consult with an immigration lawyer or reputable immigration organization for guidance and assistance.
Below are just some of the general steps to take:
  • Determine eligibility.
  • Choose an immigration category.
  • Obtain necessary documentation.
  • Complete application forms.
  • Attend interviews.
  • Wait for a decision.

How Long Does Immigration Processing Take?

According to U.S.-based Boundless Immigration, an American citizenship application usually takes months. The average “wait time” alone for the application processing takes 14.5 months.

Can You Leave The U.S. If You Are Undocumented?

It is possible to leave the U.S. even if you are undocumented.
However, leaving the U.S. can be risky for undocumented immigrants and may have severe consequences, such as being unable to re-enter the country legally or facing legal penalties upon return.

Final Thoughts

While some argue that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to national security and take away job opportunities from citizens, others contend that they contribute positively to society and deserve basic human rights.
The complexities surrounding this issue, including economic, social, and ethical considerations, make it a critical and highly debated topic in today’s world.
In this context, it is important to explore the realities of undocumented immigrants, their challenges and opportunities, and potential policy solutions to address their situation.
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