During a random walk along a street of Seattle for about half an hour, you would at the very least meet persons from five different countries. It is this diversity that has made Seattle so unique amongst other cities in the country. It must not be forgotten that it is also the thousands of immigrants who live in the city who have contributed to this diversity. Sadly though, the freedom of such immigrants appears to be at stake with the anti-immigrant slogans repeated in the presently ongoing Presidential Election campaign.
It appears that at this point of time, the awareness regarding the rights of immigrants is important than ever before. Herish Patel, an Indian national studying at the University of Washington said that Indian immigrants are concerned about the recent anti-immigrant ideologies spreading and taking root as a result of the said Election campaign. He added that although none of the people he knew were harassed or inconvenienced due to the anti-immigrant propaganda, it had however caused them worry.
Rights of immigrants
According to Executive Director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), Jorge L. Barón there are a lot of misconceptions regarding the rights of immigrants which subsequently could challenge the freedom of immigrants. He emphasized that in the United States (US) every person is entitled to most of the fundamental rights irrespective of whether they were immigrants or non-immigrants.
“There are people who often think that immigrants do not have rights as they are not citizens. However, the Constitution defines the rights in terms of ‘persons’. There are only a very few places in the Constitution about citizens. Therefore, immigrants are eligible to enjoy the same rights enjoyed by citizens,” he stressed.
He however noted that people often are unaware of the fact that immigrants have rights just as much as citizens and as a result of that enforcing the law was very tough. Baron noted that the NWIRP was working on enhancing public awareness regarding the matter which included educating the public.
The issue of immigration has become a major concern during the Presidential Election campaign particularly due to the harsh comments made by Donald Trump. According to Trump, as a result of the foreign workers, average salaries had gone down thus making it difficult for the poor and also the working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage.
It is further stated that every year, we voluntarily admit another 2 million new immigrants, guest workers, refugees, and dependents, leading to growth of our existing all-time historic record population of 42 million immigrants.
Meanwhile, Quanani, who migrated to the US from Ethiopia is of the view that immigrants face discrimination, particularly those who are not legally documented.
“It is unfair to ask those who are here to go elsewhere. This is their home,” she said.
According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the US immigrant population is approximately 42.4 million which amounted to 13.3 percent, of the total US population of 318.9 million in 2014. In Seattle, it was reported that the foreign-born population numbers approximately 441,000, a figure which had increased at a rapid rate during the last decade. In Seattle, the immigrant community made a significant contribution to the economy. According to the statistics from the Mayor’s office, 38% of the restaurants were owned by immigrants while 53% of the grocery stores and 58% of the dry cleaning shops were owned by immigrants.
It appears that the anti-immigrant slogans of Trump have resulted in violence against immigrants. Recently, Real Change reported of more than a dozen recorded anti-Muslim hate attacks during the past seven months.
Issues faced by immigrants
According to the NWIRP, the immigrants’ lack of awareness about their rights makes them more vulnerable and sometimes immigrants are not paid for their work as employers sometimes obtain the benefit of their unawareness and fear.
Baron added that while there is protection for immigrants provided by the law, it was very much dependent on the law enforcement authorities. He further noted that there are different ways in which the enforcement of immigration laws took place in and between cities.
“If you take a look at the way immigration laws are enforced in the West Coast in the Washington State and the East Coast of the State, it is very different to each other,” he added.
Seattle vs the Federal Government
The Executive Director of the NWIRP further added that even though the City of Seattle and Washington as a State was very supportive of immigrants’ rights, the Federal Government did not adequately support immigrants’ rights.
“At a time when we are having a national dialogue about immigration, the Governor was very outspoken and said that the State is supportive of immigration. Even though the local policies are good, Federal policies are not. Even though those who are at the local level want to change it, it is difficult due to the policies at the Federal level,” he noted.
When asked about the policy measures taken, Quanani noted that the discrimination is at the personal level more than at an institutional level. She too agreed that the awareness of immigrants’ rights in the community was very low. A lot of education regarding immigrants’ rights is needed. She said that therefore, educating people is important and the Government needs to support such efforts.
Commenting further on the forthcoming Election and immigrants’ issues, the Executive Director of the NWIRP said that “This Election will be a big turning point for the country. Frankly it is scary. The choices are so historic. During the past few Elections, the immigration policy debate was driven towards a different direction, but the rhetoric was not as intense as this time around. It is important for people in the community to reflect on what kind of country we are going to have and we want to have.”
This story was produced by a student in the “Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI)” program, a collaboration between The Seattle Globalist and FIUTS, supported by the U.S. Department of State. The program brings 20 undergraduates from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Nepal to Seattle. Participants study journalism and new media, and participate in volunteer and service activities, leadership workshops, and cultural excursions. The story is an example of student work and has not yet been through the Seattle Globalist’s standard editing and fact-checking process.