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One of the most pressing issues in this presidential election has been illegal immigration and its effects on America. Rhetoric from many in the Republican field — particularly Donald Trump — has caused many Americans to see immigrants as threats in need of deportation. However, we must resist the urge to scapegoat broad swaths of the population and should instead treat all immigrants with compassion and dignity.

When Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” who are “bringing drugs ... bringing crime,” it set the tone for the conversation about immigration within both parties’ primaries. Republicans, speaking generally, have advocated for harsher enforcement of immigration law. This would take the form of deportation raids, limitations on or a removal of a pathway to citizenship, the end of sanctuary cities like Philadelphia and perhaps even the building of a wall between the United States and Mexico.

These proposals are predicated on the notion that undocumented immigrants are a detriment to our country. The popular GOP narrative implies that immigrants bring violent crime over the borders and hurt the American economy. However, data overwhelmingly shows the higher the immigration rate in an area, the lower the crime rate.

In addition, research by economist Giovanni Peri shows that immigrants “expand the U.S. economy’s productive capacity, stimulate investment, and promote specialization that in the long run boosts productivity.” Obviously, the economic impact of immigration is complex, and it does us no good to oversimplify the situation. However, given the nuances of the issue, the ideas put forth by the GOP nominees — shutting out immigrants, deporting those already here, etc. — are not practical or reasonable policies.

Instead of allowing hatred to drive our discourse, we must offer compassion to undocumented immigrants. They are often fleeing poverty or oppressive governments and are seeking a brighter future for themselves and their families. If we want to call the United States the “greatest country in the world,” we must live up to what that entails. If we don’t treat immigrants with the dignity that they deserve, we turn ourselves into the “greatest country in the world, but only if you were already here.” Not only is that much less catchy, but it also undermines the fundamental American ideal of equal opportunity for all.

Getting down to the nuts and bolts of the issue: We need comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration is a complicated topic, but there are a few key components that must be included in any laws passed.

First off, we need to create a pathway to citizenship for nonviolent, law-abiding undocumented immigrants. There should be caveats: They must recognize that they did not come to this country through existing legal channels and should pay a small fine, but those conditions should not be prohibitive for the most impoverished immigrants. We must make becoming a citizen an easier process. If a person is already contributing to American society, there should be a straightforward process so that they can be given the equal protection and rights under law that citizenship affords.

We must also end deportation raids that are breaking up immigrant families as you read this. Taking parents away from their children, or spouses away from each other, is a profoundly unjust practice. The Obama administration’s deportation policies are one of the few areas we disagree with the president. These raids do not make our country safer and indeed contradict the aforementioned American doctrine of equal opportunity for all. To be clear, ending the deportation of all nonviolent immigrants is easier said than done, but it should be the overarching goal that we as Americans strive towards.

When discussing this issue, it is easy to forget that immigration is not some abstract concept. First and foremost, immigrants are people, and they deserve to be treated as such. Most of us originally come from immigrant families at some point in our lineage. Because of this, each of us shares a story with the people fleeing oppression and violence in other parts of the world. Each of us is seeking a better life for our children and grandchildren. That shared history is what makes America great.

We all have different backgrounds and unique stories, but we come together and share the common ideals of liberty and justice for all. We need to live up to that creed and reject the xenophobic rhetoric that has permeated the Republican narrative.

The immigration system needs reform, yes, and we must improve it. But we can’t do it just because it will make Americans’ lives better. We must do so because our country’s enduring symbol is the Statue of Liberty, and for “the greatest country in the world,” embracing the immigrants in our community is unequivocally the right thing to do.

Toe the Line examines issues from two different sides. Click here to view the College Republicans side. 

LUKE HOBAN is a College junior and the Penn Dems communication director. He is a science, technology & society major and a philosophy minor. 

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