Time Person of the Year 2012: Why it Should Go to Undocumented Immigrants

ByErin Carrington Smith

Undocumented immigrants are perhaps the most mistreated group of people in the United States, yet no matter how many pages get added to the Immigration and Nationality Act to keep them out or deny them legal status, no matter how many children end up in social services because their parents were deported (7,500 and counting under President Obama alone), no matter how much less money they are paid under the table for jobs Americans turn their noses up to, and no matter how many guns and drones we put at our borders and entry points to hunt down and deny entry to their friends and relatives, they still want to become Americans.

Think about that for a moment.  

President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the surrounding press given to undocumented immigrants is being touted by Time magazine as a reason for this group to be named Person of the Year. However, the write-up fails to mention the vast limitations of this new policy. Far from being an opportunity for “an invisible population ... to stake its claim to the American Dream,” the order simply creates the ability for certain immigrants (about 15% of all illegal immigrants in the U.S.) to pay $465 to defer their potential deportation for two years at a time. This process in no way alters their existing immigration status and it does not provide a pathway to citizenship. So, they effectively remain invisible.

Time’s entry also takes a crack at the “many” by whom undocumented immigrants are “simply labeled ‘illegal’.” This dishonest statement blurs the fact that the “many” includes the U.S. government. “Illegal alien” is not some derogatory slur concocted by the anti-immigration movement. It is the technical legal term given to the 11 million people present in the U.S. who fall outside the purview of our immigration regulations. It should be noted that these folks are not considered too illegal to be issued Individual Tax Identification Numbers so they can pay Uncle Sam to not recognize them. Talk about taxation without representation.

Naming undocumented immigrants Time’s person of the year would present an opportunity to have an actual discussion about the shortcomings of American immigration policies.

Why, for example, do those people seeking to legally immigrate to the United States from high volume places like Mexico face 10 to 20 year wait times while others from “underrepresented” countries can jump the line by winning the Diversity Visa lottery

Why do we so complicate the process of obtaining a work visa — whether through quotas or bureaucratic inter-agency regulations — that many seasonal workers are forced to enter illegally to get work, and highly skilled workers are forced to take their knowledge and vast human capital elsewhere?

Why do we maintain our family-based immigration quota system when it is quite obviously a root cause of our out of control illegal immigration numbers?  

Americans will download Game of Thrones illegally rather than wait a few months for it to come out on DVD, yet we expect someone to wait 20 years to join his family in the U.S. legally? 

It’s time to have an honest discussion about illegal immigration in this country, and find a real solution to a problem that plagues millions of people who want nothing more than to make the best possible life for themselves and their families. A group of people who for decades have been used or ignored for political gain, but who stay here and fight to be recognized as equal citizens and to be given the opportunities they know our country has to offer. 

Undocumented Immigrants should be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, but not because of the half-baked attempts of politicians to win them (or, more accurately, their legally recognized friends and family) over as a voting block. They should receive this honor because in spite of that they still want to live here, work here, raise their children here, and call themselves Americans.