BY ELYSE MCMAHON
“I’m not against immigration, I just wish people would do it legally.” Growing up, I heard that sentiment in various spaces: church gatherings, high school and college classrooms, and random grocery stores. As I learned more about the immigration system, I knew people who were saying things like, “they should just get in line” were missing the mark. I understood our immigration system was in need of serious reform (or an entire uprooting), but it wasn’t until I came to El Paso to work as an immigration legal assistant that I saw just how limiting “legal” immigration in our current system is. In the short six months that I have been in this role, I have witnessed countless examples of policies that are arbitrary, contradictory, and cruel.
For example, DACA applicants have to prove they have been here every month for 14 years. How is someone expected to provide receipts of their life in the US while simultaneously having to live under the radar? One of the most violent policies I see on a daily basis is the public charge rule, which prohibits people under a certain income threshold from being able to adjust their status. How can a person who lives in poverty for situations outside of their control gain wealth without any chance of legal status or work authorization? The immigration system, as with so many systems in the US, makes it a crime to be poor. Say a person can overcome all of these eligibility barriers: even if they are 100% eligible for a visa, the current wait time for some applicants is over 20 years. The idea that people should “immigrate legally” is not a reality for millions of people.
With November’s election results and January’s inauguration, I felt glimmers of hope that things would change for the better. I am still hopeful, but I am also constantly reminded of one of the first phrases I heard in this space: “La lucha sigue...the fight continues.” While this work is mentally and emotionally difficult, I am as motivated as ever to continue to advocate alongside my clients. Each small victory, whether it be an approval for a longtime client or someone’s release from detention, propels me one step forward. I am learning how to hold hope for a better reality and anger at our current reality in tangent, even when these feelings can seem contradictory and overwhelming.
Elyse McMahon (she/hers) is a recent graduate from the University of Dayton where she majored in Political Science and Human Rights Studies. In her free time, she loves spending time with others, having deep conversations, rock climbing, hiking, playing Scrabble, and reading too many books at a time. As an Ohio native, Elyse is eager to move to El Paso and soak up the borderland sun and join the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy team. Elyse is passionate about justice, equity, and education, and she cannot wait to jump right into this work.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.