Why Immigration Matters in 2016

By Shayn Prapaisilp

Director of Membership St. Louis Young Democrats

Immigration has once again emerged as a hot-button issue, this time for the 2016 election cycle. Not only is immigration an issue for domestic policymakers to tackle, but foreign policymakers must also confront the terrible plight of the the Syrian refugee crisis which has grabbed the world’s attention. As a nation built and made great by immigrants, how should we respond to the issues and shortfalls in our immigration system? The facts are clear. There are millions of undocumented immigrants living here now in the United States working and often times paying taxes to fund benefits they will never get. There are also millions of other people waiting in line to legally immigrate to the U.S. It is imperative that our current and future leaders pursue a fair and humane comprehensive immigration plan that keeps families together and provides a path to citizenship to people already here and people wishing to come. If we were to examine the rhetoric about immigration the issue and immigrants themselves it's clear that the Democratic Party leads the way on this issue.  

While there are many valid arguments and policy ideas dealing with immigration from both parties, many of the Republican candidates for President rhetoric towards immigrants is the most worrisome aspect of the debate. It is one thing to offer policy critiques, it is a whole other to use inflammatory and offensive rhetoric to attack entire groups of people. Candidates dealing from the “establishment’s” Governor Bush to political outsider Donald Trump have used offensive and dehumanizing language to describe the often difficult and tragic plight of immigrants.

While on the stump on August 24th, 2015 Governor Bush said “What I’m talking about is the specific case of fraud being committed where there’s organized efforts — frankly, it’s more related to Asian people — coming into our country, having children in that organized effort, taking advantage of that noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.” Many of the Republican candidates at the state, local, and federal level forget that our country’s rich cultural, economic, and political history has been intertwined with the immigrants that we have welcomed into this country from all over the world. During Donald Trump’s presidential announcement he now infamously said “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” This is the candidate that is currently leading in every poll for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

St. Louis has its own rich history of immigrants coming to our city and contributing to our vibrant fabric. From the French in the 18th century, Germans and Irish in the 19th century, to Vietnamese, West African, and Bosnians in the 20th century St. Louis has been a place for people from all over the world. Take a walk around The Hill, Bevo Mill, or South Grand and you’ll see the cultural richness and diversity that immigrants contribute to our city. Imagine St. Louis without beer and toasted ravioli. Every new wave of immigrants has brought its share of challenges, however there can be no doubt that they have made our city better.   

My parents came from Thailand nearly 30 years ago. My father boarded a plane for the first time in his life and flew halfway around the world for a chance at a better life. My mom came to pursue higher education. Both landed with little more than a few dollars, and aspirations that here in the U.S unlike their home country, they could achieve their dreams because we are truly the land of opportunity. I know there are millions of other stories like my parents out there. Some from decades ago, some from yesterday, and others yet to come.

UpdatesPaul Sorenson