If Donald Trump's election into the Oval Office has taught us anything, it's that the nation is decidedly divided when it comes down to hot button issues like immigration. Ever since Mr. Trump introduced his signature "build a wall" mantra, anti-immigration sentiment on the right has been met with unrelenting criticism from the left. Now that the election is finally over, you probably know where you stand and how you would answer this question: Should we be granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants?
Or do you?
What if the question became a little more specific? What if I asked the same question, but this time the undocumented immigrants in question were children? For many, this additional piece of information makes the question much harder to answer — and understandably so. We don't picture children when we talk about "illegal immigrants."
A recent study conducted by students at Cornell University, including myself, through the Cornell Survey Research Institute found that 69 percent of the nation is against deportation of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S as children. After such a long and bitter presidential race, the fact that a majority of our nation stands together in favor of a particular subset of immigrants is quite remarkable. But even more notable is that as much as 54 percent of Americans who identify as conservative or very conservative, as well as 51 percent of all Republicans, agree with the majority opinion that these undocumented immigrants should be able to stay in the U.S.
So, why haven't we made any progress on legislation like the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), a proposal that strives to give such eligible undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship? The DREAM Act has been rejected over a dozen times since its first introduction in 2001. As shown by the study results, the failure of it and similar proposals does not represent what the majority of Americans actually want.
Unfortunately, "immigration" has become an oversimplified and partisan issue that many of us have come to view in binary terms. The problem we face today is that when we consider immigration, we are not framing the discussion in a way that makes room for multiple perspectives. When politicians talk about limiting or encouraging immigration, who exactly are we talking about? Immigrants are not all the same. There are legal immigrants, and there are illegal immigrants. There are illegal immigrants who knowingly cross borders without documentation or overstay their visas; and there are illegal immigrants who have no choice in the matter, brought here as children by their parents. As a country, it's crucial we acknowledge that immigration is not a black and white issue, but one with nuance and complexity. Such an acknowledgment by the majority may be the only hope toward a normal life for many undocumented children and young adults.
An overwhelming proportion of undocumented immigrants who grew up in the U.S. identify as American. They want to stay here, pay taxes and contribute to society. They want to have a political voice. And more than anything, they want the basic opportunities available to everyone else — opportunities like attending college, traveling abroad or qualifying for employment at standard companies.
For many of us, the question of granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants is as much an ethical decision as it is a practical one. The Cornell study suggests that the majority of Americans realize that we shouldn't ask children to pay the price for their parents' mistakes. But the only way for us to do that is to first create the right dialogue about the issues. Moving forward, we — and our legislators — must reframe our discussion of immigration in a way that recognizes individual circumstances.
Sally Yang is a senior studying government at Cornell University; her email is email@example.com.