Letters to the Editor: The impact of America’s broken immigration system

Nov 2, 2020


Courtesy / Sarah Anderson

What follows are four letters from four anonymous students at GVSU, who have all been directly impacted by America’s immigration system. Thank you to the people at the Office of Multicultural Affairs, without whom this would not have been possible.

From your Laker peer

Dear GV friends, classmates, faculty, and staff,

As a current Allendale resident and a proud Laker, I am sure we have many things in common. Enjoying the beautiful colors on the leaves throughout campus as we transition through the fall season, being a part of the crowd in a game, cheering on our Laker athletes; but there is one thing that sets me apart from you, and that is my family.

In early 1992, my mom and dad selflessly made the decision to leave their hometown, and travel over 2,000 miles away to a new country to start a new life and begin what some call “the American dream.” This meant leaving all of their family and friends behind and starting a new life, in a place that not only was a different culture but also spoke a foreign language. My parents like many others came from, very poor families. You see, what we take for granted– like running water, natural gas, and transportation– my parents didn’t have access to. The small town they come from didn’t have running water, natural gas was a luxury, and had only two busses that ran into the nearest city but even then, those buses were not reliable. This town, along with many others didn’t have any sources of income. The only thing people live off is the land they are able to harvest off of, besides that it’s nearly impossible to make money.

Leaving their home and comfort zone didn’t come easy, but my parents knew the future wasn’t looking bright if they stayed. So they packed up their belongings into two backpacks and my older sister who at the time was only 11 months old and headed over to what would later become their future home. Fast forward 28 years later, my parents who are now grandparents and have raised 3 proud Michiganian children are still in the same situation from 1992– that is living undocumented.

As a child, I quickly learned that as much as I was privileged, at the same time I wasn’t. My parents did as best they could to try and give my siblings and me the most normal childhood possible, but that quickly deteriorated. As a child in grade school, I developed anxiety and depression. While many times kids my age were thinking about recess and toys, I was constantly worried about coming home and my parents not being there or them being detained by Immigration while at work.

When I turned 13, I turned into what my family jokingly calls “the youngest Uber around.” You see, my parents don’t have access to driver licenses because of their undocumented status. At the very young age of 13, my dad showed me how to drive; This turned into me being the primary driver for everything. This ranged from doctor appointments to grocery shopping, and even sometimes dropping off my parents at work if their ride canceled on them.

With all of this, I had to quickly grow up and become very mature in a small amount of time and at a young age. Looking back now I realize that having all these responsibilities helped shape me into who I am today, but I also feel like a part of me was never able to really be expressed. Most times when my friends were out at a football game on Friday nights, catching a movie on the weekend, or just hanging out most times I couldn’t because I had to be at home waiting for my parents to get out of work or with them somewhere since they couldn’t drive.

During this most recent presidential administration, my family’s fears have skyrocketed. Not knowing if this will be the last holiday season together as a family is something that keeps me up at night and worries me more than anything. As a daughter of undocumented immigrants, I have lived and seen a lot more than many of my peers. I am here today to not only share this small part of my story but to urge every single one of you reading this letter that if you have the ability and privilege to vote, please do.

Your vote is more than just a ballot with filled-in bubbles; It’s your voice choosing the future leader of this country. When voting you are not only performing your civic duty but also speaking up for those who can’t. So this November 3rd, vote for equality, vote for human rights, and most importantly vote for our undocumented friends and families whose futures lie in the hands of the voters.


Your Laker Peer.

From a citizen of the United States

Dear GV Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I have the privilege of being born a citizen of the United States of America, like many of you most likely are. I have access to financial aid, I have the privilege of going to school, and am able to look for good, well-paying jobs. I am able to apply for a driver’s license and I qualify for medical insurance; I can go about my day and not have to worry about having to drop everything I have worked so hard to create. My mother does not have that same privilege.

My mother immigrated here when she was only 21. She came only to visit her sister, but she became pregnant with me and decided to stay for my future. I owe everything to her, and I would not be here in college if it wasn’t for her blood, sweat, and tears. My mother is just as hard-working as any other citizen of the United States. My mother worked day and night when I was born to support me; In the mornings she worked as a housekeeper with my aunt and at night she worked in a cereal factory. She almost never got to see me because she was always working and having to hear that from her broke my heart. Even now, my mom works endlessly to make ends meet, and to be able to have money for me should I ever need it.

I have the privilege and honor to be able to tell my mom she no longer needs to work so hard for me. She no longer has to worry about my well-being, but she has to worry about my siblings and how they will go to college. Being the eldest of my siblings, I am expected to one day have to financially support them on their way to college. My mom can’t do it on her own anymore, and I owe it to her to help them. Despite doing this of my own will, it is still a daunting task, and I can only imagine how my mom must be feeling, how she felt when she worked endlessly for my future. It seems that she has a never-ending cycle of work and sleep. My mom has told me that she only suffers this way for me and my siblings and that seeing me work hard for my dream has made her prouder than she ever expected to be. I am living the American Dream for her, and she couldn’t be prouder of me.

My mother is just like any hard-working mother. She would do anything for me, just like your own mother would. Her status as an immigrant does not change who she is as a person. It doesn’t change the fact that she worked hard to where she is. It doesn’t change that she worked hard to provide her children the best. Her status only put up barriers that made it hard to work at a good job. It only stopped her from buying her own car and her own home without the help of my stepdad. She has nothing to call her own because she isn’t recognized as a citizen of the United States, despite embracing the very meaning of being an American. She has worked hard her entire life, and we live in constant fear that that will all be for nothing. I live in constant fear of having my mother taken from me simply for not being a citizen. I wake up every morning hoping I don’t have to call her from a different phone number. I can’t have my mom leave yet. My mom wants to go back to her country, but not until she sees some last milestones of mine. I want her to see me graduate college, I want her to see me buy my own car, I want her to see me accepted into a graduate program and rent my own apartment. I want her to witness all of that before she leaves. But she needs to leave of her own will; she deserves at least that much.

I ask the GV community to take this experience of mine and use it to expand your knowledge. The world is so much bigger than any of us truly realize, and so many aspects of it live here in the US. The US contains so many cultures from around the world, and we only need to expand our horizons a little to find them. But there is so much happening right next to you that you never realize. Many students of color live in fear every day for reasons that you may never understand. We have a duty to fight for the rights of every citizen and non-citizen in the US. We have a duty to shatter the systemic racism that poisons our communities every single day. We have a duty to fight for what is right.

I implore you to fight for us, for you and your family. This generation has a voice stronger than anyone before us. We have the power to change the US for the better. The election is mere days away; don’t throw away your constitutional right to vote. Many do not have that right, and we owe it to them to use our voices for them. Your vote is important, it is heard, it is powerful. Vote on November 3rd.

From the DACAmented citizen

Dear GV friends, colleagues, and students,

As a longtime Michigander, I enjoy the freedoms of being a part of a rustic community that values culture, family, and outdoor adventure. Similar to you, I have the privilege of attending Grand Valley State University and the opportunity to obtain a world-class education. As fellow Michiganders, we can similarly identify by our Michigander mannerism and phrases, love for hot summer days in Lake Michigan, and admiration for the Lakers. In many ways, I am like you— a midwesterner, an American. In all ways but in one, a piece of paper.

In 2001, at the age of three, my family and I came to the United States due to the economic devastation brought by the NAFTA trade deal. With only two suitcases, one hundred dollars, and close family and friends left behind, my family risked everything, including their lives, in hopes of achieving the American Dream. Although my parents tried their best to shield my siblings and me from the hostile environment against immigrants, my childhood was drastically impacted by the anxiety and depression caused by being undocumented.

In 2012, hope for a brighter future was given to nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants like myself, who celebrated the landmark decision enacted by President Obama. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) granted Dreamers that were brought to this country as children, the opportunity to work, obtain a driver’s license, and further their education and pursue the American dream in the country we all call home. This decision allowed many of us to come out of the shadow and live our lives, undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.

However, in recent times, that once-vibrant hope has evaporated into fear. Participants once shielded under Obama’s program are now used as political scapegoats. In the summer of 2020, the Supreme court blocked the current administration’s attempt to end DACA, however, a month after the ruling, Homeland Security announced new DACA renewal limits and has continued to reject new applications. The fear-driven immigration policies that the administration has adopted continue to impact our immigrant community in Michigan and across the country through massive raids and deportations; pushing a lot of families, like my own, back into the dark shadows.

Although DACA has never been the perfect solution, it gave us the opportunity to pursue the once unattainable. With DACA we can pursue higher education, become homeowners, obtain a secure job, and open bank accounts.  We are a living example of what an oppressed and discriminated population can accomplish when given the opportunity to contribute to society.

To my Laker Community, I ask that my lived experiences as a DACA recipient can expand your knowledge to demand justice for not only the undocumented or formerly undocumented individuals on campus and across America, but to also commit to fighting for justice for ALL minoritized communities, including Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Together, more than ever, we must unite to fight against the systematic racism shattering American values and beliefs and advance towards a more compassionate society.

Today, I implore you to get involved and be the voice for the voiceless. With the upcoming election cycle just days away, it’s more important than ever to speak out and take action against injustice, because injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. In the fight against systemic racism and inequality, YOUR vote offers the opportunity to elect leaders that lead with compassion and empathy. Your vote has an impact to ignite change and hope! Vote for Equality. Vote for Unity. Vote for Human Rights. Vote on November 3rd,

Yours Truly,

The DACAmented Citizen

From a sincere friend of America

Beloved Grand Valley Community,

In 2004, my family moved to the United States. We have lived a quiet life, never traveling far from the city. Over the years, I learned that I would have a different path in life than most because of my situation. Grand Valley’s generosity and commitment to an equitable and inclusive learning environment have allowed me to pursue higher education.

In the summer of 2012, the Obama administration signed an executive order now known as the  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). It granted over three-quarters of a million young undocumented immigrants a means to obtain legal work authorization in the United States. This Program opened a world full of opportunities; the ability to drive, work and live without the fear of deportation. It was a sense of relief to know my future could lead to a better place. In recent times, however, the program’s flaws were made clear. The legal battle over the Program’s legality continues to this day. Our future is uncertain, but there is still time for a change.

To those who have decided not to vote in the 2020 election, I urge you to reconsider. Whether you are for or against this issue, I believe it is a civic duty to promote a healthy standard for our Great Republic. Get involved, collaborate, and challenge yourself. Hold your elected officials accountable. Represent the voices of the disenfranchised and work with others to build a fair and just society.

Best Regards,

A sincere friend of America