shutterstock_447931165Listening to the pundits and talkers on TV and radio, we’re hammered with politically motivated, incomplete soundbites from people who lack awareness, at best, of the practical effects that our present immigration system engenders. It feels like we’re at such a low level of discourse on the issue that it leaves those of us in the trenches often feeling the weight of despair.

The increasingly restrictive and punitive views on immigration that are voiced by some are a reaction to  frustrations and fears that arise from terrorism, general violence, and the ups and downs of the economy and unemployment rate. In spreading these views, those we should be embracing are instead alienated.  Harsh immigration laws penalize individuals who are just as American as any of us who were fortunate enough to have been born here. Those laws also place unnecessary limits on innovators and entrepreneurs in the business and technology fields, preventing them from establishing roots in the United States and pushing away economic opportunities that would add to our shared prosperity.

We all face a choice: that of optimism or despair. The spirit of optimism is best cultivated by mutual agreement, a shared ideal. It is fostered by togetherness and unity, and the fruit of optimism is progress. America must become optimistic again. Instead, divisiveness and the inability to empathize have brought forth despair.

I recently drove from Fort Worth, Texas, with my family in tow to spend the 4th of July in the panhandle of Florida. The drive took me through the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and then Florida. There was an abundance of American flags flying high lifting up our hearts with civic pride as our country’s birthday approached.

The 4th of July is a celebration of not only our independence, but our country’s enduring spirit which has seen us overcome foreign aggressors, a civil war, slavery, a great depression, world wars, the holocaust, terrorism, and so many other times of division and tragedy. In the moment, facing great tragedy or strife, many understandably feel despair. But many more manage to push that despair aside and remain optimistic, fighting to retain our American ideals.

On the 5th of July, I received an email from a neighbor who generally is very restrictive in her views on immigration. She expressed concern and sought advice about a colleague of hers who grew up in the United States and was recently approached by federal agents and informed that she was not a U.S. citizen. This young woman’s parents told her that she was a U.S. citizen and had a birth certificate to prove it. She is, in actuality, an Australian national. She was raised in the U.S and she knows no other country.

She now faces deportation and her life has turned upside down. Because of the allegations that she falsely claimed U.S. citizenship, even if not intentional, she could be permanently barred from ever becoming a citizen or even a legal resident. She is filled with despair, as are her friends and family.

My neighbor, who had heretofore not had much sympathy for the plight of immigrants, is now coming to terms with the realities of the restrictive laws passed two decades ago and their impact on her friend. She is frustrated by Congress’s inaction to reform those laws and is now divided on her stance on immigration.

I’ve heard similar stories so many times in my work as an immigration attorney. It’s easy to see hopelessness when faced with a sympathetic case with no clear workable solution.  So as we look toward solutions, will we find the strength to be optimistic about our future or will we continue to retreat into divisiveness and eventual despair?

I for one, choose optimism. I hope you will all do the same.

Written by Jason Mills, Chair, AILA Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico Chapter