Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a flying illegal immigrant. Immigration, both legal and illegal, has been a hot topic issue for over a decade, but with the upcoming election it is gaining new prominence, thanks in part to our own toupee-wearing version of Lex Luthor. Donald Trump has proven his obsession with immigrants in much the same way that the bald CEO of Luthor Corp both hates and fears a certain undocumented worker at the Daily Planet. Both men even enjoy putting their names on the side of buildings, but this article isn’t about Trump or Luthor or any other super-villain running for President. This is about looking at how modern immigration works for both legal and non-legal residents, because when you start to look at the paperwork, the rhetoric, the costs, and the red-tape, you begin to understand that even the Man of Steel would have problems leaping through them all in a single bound.
The Golden Age of Immigration
The immigrant story has always been a core part of who Superman is, a being come to live in a place where he never feels as if he belongs, but striving to do all he can to help his new home prosper. There is a reason for this. Both Joel Shuster and Jerry Siegel were the sons of Jewish immigrants. In fact Shuster himself was originally from Canada. They created Superman in the late 1930’s, at a time when Jewish immigrants were trying to escape Germany and the encroaching horrors of the holocaust. America -still emerging from the Great Depression- was torn on whether or not accept them. Thus, in 1938 Superman arrived on the scene, an immigrant with extraordinary abilities. We’re not claiming that Superman was created as some sort of political statement about immigration policies, only to point out that we are not the first nor the last generation of Americans to struggle with questions of immigration.
For much of the 18th and 19th century, this country had a fairly open policy when it came to migrants, whether they be German, Irish, or Kyrptonian. It was not until after the Civil War when economic hardships forced states to pass their own immigration laws that things started to become more complicated. In response, the Supreme Court ruled that only the Federal Government could regulate immigration, and regulate it they did. They created laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act, which did exactly what it sounds like. From that point forward laws governing citizenship and immigration grew more convoluted and biased, until 1965 when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act. It ended a 1924 quota system, which heavily favored Western European immigrants over all others, and aimed at bringing skilled workers to the United States whatever their ethnic backgrounds.
The Migrant of Steel
Essentially, the 1965 law ended immigration preferences based on race, sex, or place of birth. It also heralded a rapid decline in white European immigrants. In 1965 European and Canadian immigration made up 60% of the migrants entering the USA. By 1970 that number had dropped to 20%. The total non-Hispanic white population in America declined from 85% in 1965 to 62.2% in 2014. Certain politicians -like Lex Luthor and his orange real-world counterpart- use fear and bigotry as a justification for closing our borders, often claiming Mexicans and other illegal immigrants are coming to take Americans’ jobs, but really we have not been talking about illegal immigration up to this point. The changing racial and ethnic make-up of America is not due to people here illegally, but because of those that came through the proper channels. In fact, undocumented residents make up a very small proportion of the people who enter the United States every year, but you would never know that by the rhetoric of some politicians.
Would it also surprise you to know that only 81% of illegal immigrants are from Latin America? Did you know that the illegal migrant population has actually declined from 12.2 million in 2009 to 11.3 million and has remained steady ever since, or that Mexicans only make up 49% of the undocumented population? When most people think of illegal immigrants they have a clear picture in their heads, and the Lex Luthors of the world often exploit those stereotypes to put blame particularly on Mexico for sending us their “criminals and rapists,” who burden the good people of America.
Superman is an illegal immigrant, and far worse Clark Kent lives each day under a forged birth certificate and a falsely issued social security number. Most undocumented migrants do not have that luxury, but the Man of Steel, on the other hand, is eligible for healthcare -not that he really gets sick- and social security benefits, -not that he really ages- but we don’t think of people who look like Kal-El when we think of undocumented residents? Maybe we forgive Superman because of his abilities, but what if that is not the only reason? What if it has less to do with his heat vision and more to do with the color of his skin? There has always been an ugliness to the American immigration system, one that is often lessened for white immigrants. The more you examine the history of US Immigration policies the more racial and regional biases become apparent, and that is doubly so when it comes to illegal migrants.
Faster Than a Speeding Green Card
You might be saying, “Why don’t they just come here legally, like everybody else?” Current American laws are complex and take a lot of time and money. Not everyone has access to either of those things, especially when trying to escape violence, drought, or starvation. In many cases the people that would benefit most from immigration are the ones that simply cannot do it.
The legal immigration process is fraught with more obstacles than a deathtrap designed by the Riddler. There are only four conditions under which a person is allowed to legally immigrate to the United States:
- Already have a family member who is a citizen;
- Marry a citizen;
- Have a valuable skill set; or
- Be a refugee fleeing from a country.
Each of those four criteria come with their own host of problems. For example, marrying an American citizen is not the “easy-street” process that movies and hilarious sitcoms make it seem. Not only do you still need to go through the regular channels of immigration, but your marriage will be evaluated and tested by the government at every turn. Being a refugee is not much easier either. America accepted less than 80,000 refugees last year and the paperwork, inspections, and background checks could take years, even for people in urgent need of relocation. Normal immigrants could wait literally decades to be allowed to enter into the country, and the process takes a lot of money. Medical examinations, interviews, legal consultation, and more interviews. The process is far from straight-froward and the paperwork is often confusing. Mistakes are common and that could mean delays, more legal fees, and even starting again from scratch. Most people will find themselves paying thousands of dollars and could be left waiting for up to 20 years to be accepted. There are over 1.3 million Mexican immigrants waiting on backlog to come to America legally, right now.
We at the NYRD are not excusing illegal immigration, but when your home planet is exploding you don’t always have the time to fill out the proper paperwork. When you live in a place where drug cartels behead people and your child has to subsist on diseased water you probably cannot afford to wait two decades. Where does that leave Clark Kent? An argument could be made for refugee status, or foreign adoption, or even that he has a unique skill set. After all, the immigration policy literally says that they are looking for “aliens with extraordinary abilities.” Yet, Jonathon and Martha Kent followed no legal channels. They forged documents and created false records, offering sanctuary to a literal illegal alien. Does that put them in the wrong? What about Jor-El? Should we demonize that Marlon-Brando-wannabe for not going through the proper channels before sending his baby to Earth? Is the plight of Kal-El so much different than the plight of a child from Honduras or Mexico, whose parents can only hope that they are doing everything they can to send them away to a better world?
Believing a Man Can Fly
Lastly, it is worth dispelling certain notions that people have about illegal immigrants. First off, 69% of Americans, are actually against deporting the undocumented whom are already in this country, and maybe that is because those people understand that illegal immigrants are not “taking American jobs” or “sucking dry the welfare system.” When you logically think about the argument, it seems more absurd than that time Superman flew backwards around the planet. By definition undocumented immigrants are undocumented. That means they do not have a social security numbers or even a birth certificate. They don’t have the proper paperwork to get a driver’s license let alone apply for unemployment, food stamps, medicare, or any of the other systems that certain people claim they are overburdening. Illegal immigrants are already here and they are already contributing. In fact, illegal immigrants only make up 3.5% of the US population, but they make up an estimated 5.1% of the US labor force, and not because they are taking people’s jobs as doctors, lawyers, or journalists with the Daily Planet. Many have to work multiple low-income, highly physical, and hour intensive jobs just to support their families. Another recent study found that illegal immigrants actually pay about 11.8 billion in taxes, with no chance of receiving any of that money back through refunds or services.
Of course, this situation does hurts the rest of us as well. Some estimates say that illegal immigrants cost Americans residents 100 billion each year, but not in the way you think. Illegal immigrants can’t drive because they don’t have driver’s licenses, but on the rare occasion they are forced to drive -whether for work or due to an emergency- and they hit your car, then guess who will have to pay for all the damages. Undocumented residents also tend to avoid hospitals because they are afraid of being deported, which means they only seek medical help for the most dire of problems. Unfortunately, they are not eligible for healthcare, so the cost is shouldered by the hospital who then shifts that burden to other patients. Deporting Clark Kent and other illegal immigrants is not the solution either, as the deportation process is lengthy and costly. The irony here, is that the best course of action is to actually give these 11.3 billion migrants legal status so they can contribute and work in our nation in legal and meaningful ways, because if Superman is meant to teach us anything it is that people can be extraordinary if they are given the right chance.
There have been more than a few studies to prove that immigration works. Immigrants, of any color or creed, help revitalize areas like Detroit. Many do work that native residents often shun, while others start business and bring fresh ideas to boost the economy. Migrants also help keep our country young at a time when modern and developed countries are facing an aging crisis. Places like China and Japan are looking at an aging population, while we will continue have a fresh workforce and young taxpayers. Immigration has shaped this country for the better, but we need to move beyond those old fears and bigotries. America has always been about taking in the tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free the rays of a yellow sun that will make them stronger here then they were at home.
Yes, we 100% need to reform the immigration system, but we cannot close our borders, nor forget the people who are already here. To do so would mean a chance on missing out on the next Einstein, Shuster, Siegel, or maybe even the next Superman.