This past year has been a hard one for many Americans. The pandemic has hit our families, our pocketbooks, our kids’ education, and connections with friends and community. Amidst this pain and trauma, I’ve been blessed to be able to use my training as a mental health therapist to help people cope with the pain of what they’ve lost.
Many more would benefit from this sort of help, but with a shortage of providers, it can be hard to access. What’s worse, there are many people here in America who could contribute to mental health, physical health care, education, and the economy — if only elected officials in Washington would permit them.
I’m speaking of Dreamers, like myself — young people brought to the United States as children, and knowing no other country as home. While many have temporary relief from deportation through executive action, they have no route to obtaining legal status, and no way to have certainty to plan their futures.
Despite strong public support for Dreamers, Congress and the president have frittered away years arguing over how to address their status. And our country has lost the benefit of having these talented and hard-working young people fully contributing to their communities.
According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly eight in 10 Americans say immigration is good for our country. Two-thirds of respondents in another poll said that immigrants living in the shadows without documentation should have the opportunity to earn citizenship rather than be deported. That number climbs to nearly 70 percent for the Dreamers. Americans also broadly agree on the need to enforce current immigration laws, while they support the need for enhanced border security and measures to prevent people from overstaying legal visas. These facts provide lawmakers a unique opportunity to work together on the common ground that unites us.
For the next six months, the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University will play host to the Common Ground: Immigration Pop-Up Exhibit. The exhibit - sponsored by the organization Stand Together - features a series of unique, stand-alone doors. When users open the doors, they’re taken on a video journey that highlights how our country benefits — by focusing on our nation’s shared values rather than narrow divisions. Each door deals with one part of our nation’s immigrant heritage, showing the essential contributions made by so many to the greatest nation the world has ever known. This installation launched alongside President Bush’s book and exhibit Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants.
One of the stories that viewers will see is my own — how my family brought me to America when I was just three years old, in search of a better life; how I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with an understanding of the importance of hard work; and how I now try to build connections that empower people to improve their own lives and futures. I know that my family’s story is unique, just as every American Dream is unique. At the same time, Common Ground is filled with tales of people who came here and made America better — and still are today. Despite broad areas of agreement, immigration laws haven’t been updated in decades and as a result, the system is holding back our communities, economy, and nation as a whole. The last time Congress approved a broad reform of our nation’s visa system was more than 30 years ago.
In that time, whole industries and economic sectors have risen and fallen, and for decades elected officials have failed to work together to modernize our immigration system. The incentives that attract and motivate people to depart from their homelands and seek opportunity and a better life in America have changed. Yet our laws are stuck in the past, not adapting to our 21st century economy and way of life.
Despite the charged and polarizing rhetoric in today's political environment, when Americans stand together on common ground, we can work to solve the biggest problems in our nation. That’s certainly true in the immigration debate, which is ultimately about people who believe in the promise of America and want nothing more than to fulfill it.
(Rebecca Gurrola is a resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico.)