In August 2017, I attended a church in the US as the guest preacher to a congregation of 150 in which 120 adults were undocumented immigrants. I learned of their statuses at a dinner in the evening which sent a shock-wave into my spine. They had lived in the US between five and thirty-eight years. They each spoke of the challenges they faced in the host country. Recounting his ordeal, Mr. Johnson (not his real name), has lived in the US for seventeen years while his wife for twenty-three years and the couple has one seven-year-old daughter. Mr. Johnson says he had four children in Mexico while his current wife had three and the couple have not visited their home country for more than seventeen years. “We want to see our children, hug them, and even play with them but we just cannot. Though we live in the land flowing with milk and honey, we are trapped and insecure,” the couple lamented.
I have heard of immigrants’ challenges in the US and other countries but that was the first time I had the opportunity to their stories. Though they had jobs (under-the-table-payment), accommodations, and raising kids, and missing their respective homes became a huge challenge. A further probe into their situation also revealed that they never had valid driver’s licenses, Social Security Number, bank accounts, medical insurance, and could not travel by air with the States for lack of travel documents. This nostalgia often causes a lot of stress and regret.
The above story motivated me to embark on this research; to search for more stories, pains, and possible solutions. Every individual ought to have a place called home that is free of threat, deportation, security, and discrimination. This place called home ought to be a haven of rest for all its citizens. However, recent trends have threatened such rights and privileges thus triggering thousands if not millions fleeing their homes for various reasons including political unrest, economic hardship, maladministration, human rights violations, and female genital mutilations. Ironically religious fanaticism such as Islamic Jihad and Boko Haram war popped up their ugly faces as well as a disaster – earthquake, flooding, hurricane and civil unrest posed a serious threat to the citizens. Among the seven reasons postulated for people’s immigration to other nations, four stand out; 1) financial insecurity, 2) high standard of living, 3) lack of good education, and, 4) political instability.
According to US Immigration Statistics and Facts, eleven million and one hundred thousand unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States of America in 2014, four million lived with their US-born children. Sadly the Homeland Security deported 450,954 in 2016.
Who then lives in the US? There are four major groups of people living in the USA:
- Citizens Residents of the USA, also known as the Native-born and naturalized – this group includes Africans and other nationals who immigrated to the USA legally and obtained legal status either through marriage or DV lottery.
- Noncitizens Permanent Residents of the USA – resident migrants with Green Cards.
- Noncitizens Residents of the USA – F-1, and M-1: Persons seeking to pursue a full course of study at a school in the United States may be eligible for a visa for the course of their study plus, in some cases, a period for practical training in their field of study.
- Noncitizens Nonresidents of the USA – the undocumented immigrants
Group Four can further be divided into two subsets:
One, the legal entry undocumented. These are aliens from other countries such as Asia and Africa; countries far away from the US borders, who entered the country under any of the Temporary Visas described below : B-1/B-2 Tourist/Visitor, E-1/E-2 Treaty and Investors, J-1 and Q-1 Exchange Visitors, K-1 Fiancé (e) Visa (who should get married within 90 days or they become illegal), p-1 Artists and Athletes and R-1 Religious Workers.
Therefore, all immigrants living in the US who entered under any of the above-listed visas went through the legal process of securing entry and were granted temporary resident statuses but the duration largely depends on the specifications of their respective visas. We also observed that some visitors returned to their home countries while others overstayed and became undocumented.
Second, non-legal visa entry visitors. This refers to visitors with illegal motives or visitors with no legal traveling documents. Illegal immigration is the illegal entry of a person or a group of persons across a country’s border, in a way that violates the immigration laws of the destination country, intending to remain in the country. Illegal immigration, as well as immigration in general, is overwhelmingly upward, from the poorer to the richer country. In this scenario, individuals may have crossed the various US borders on foot or by swimming across shallow rivers, entered the American territory illegally and continue living in the country illegally. Unfortunately, most of these individuals have US-born children, a reason the DHS finds it extremely difficult to deport them.
The above scenario ruptured the agreement between some immigrants who entered with temporary visas and the US government together with those who entered illegally which has ignited serious conflict and which continues to threaten the immigration policies. Consequently, this action has prevented more than ten million undocumented immigrants from returning to their home countries for fear of being refused re-entry into the country to take care of their US-born children while the US government on the other hand continues to breathe brimstone and fire to deport them.
As generous as the USA had been to millions of foreigners and the undocumented and as bad as living in this country illegally can be, reconciliation has never been reached. Both parties are opposed to each other and may not be reconciled without the intervention of peacemakers. Peacemakers who aimed at reconciling factions at variance and to proffer solutions to this conflict are needed to intervene in this case.
The thesis aims at entering into the conversation with a simple mindset- to find a long term solution to the current problem of the undocumented immigrants living in the United States of America and the American Dreamers on the topic: The Perils of Undocumented Immigrants in the USA and Lessons for Sierra Leone American Dreamers: A Challenge for Peacemakers.
Like Jane Addams who established the Hall-House, peacemakers should be intrigued by the interweaving of her personal emotional crises which should be a primary concern between thought and deed. In the context of this piece, peacemakers should rise up and intervene on behalf of the millions of undocumented that had lived in this country for so long.
Target Population and Methodology
To disentangle this prevailing enigma pervading the US government and the millions of undocumented immigrants, the writer distributed 500 questionnaires to undocumented immigrants living in the US but retrieved 176 each from Mexicans and Africans, 40 from Hondurans, and 48 from Dominicans, with 60 Sierra Leone American Dreamers who formed focused groups. Three focus groups were formed from three major cities of Sierra Leone – Freetown, Makeni, and Bo. While the immigrants living in the US shared their perils and suggested solutions to their predicament, the respondents from Sierra Leone projected their dreams for the Land that full of milk and honey. The discussion with the focused group centred around three basic questions:
- Why do you wish to migrate from Sierra Leone?
- Which country do you wish to migrate and why?
- What preparation would you make before migrating?
For security reasons, all undocumented immigrant respondents remained anonymous and their respective identities would never be disclosed as a result of this work.
The second phase of this section was to review the existing literature to unravel what had been written on the subject matter of immigration.
Purpose of the Study
This study was set to:
- Examine the reasons for the status of undocumented immigrants in the US.
- Evaluate the condition of undocumented immigrants in the US.
- Compare and contrast the immigration policies of the US, the European Union, and Canada.
- Sensitize the Sierra Leone American Dreamers about the conditions of living abroad and to explore other migration options such as –internally, intra-regionally, and continentally.
- Suggest a prescriptive method of mitigating between the US government and undocumented Immigrants.
- How do people become undocumented in a country with strict laws and high profile immigration policy?
- What challenges undocumented immigrants faced in the USA over the years?
- What strategies did they employ to escape Homeland Security deportations?
- What are the implications of deporting undocumented parents with US-born children?
- To what extent will Sierra Leone American Dreamers explore the options of migrating to other countries with more friendly immigration policies?
- What role should Peacemakers play to salvage the current situation of the undocumented immigrants in the US?
If the US government legalizes undocumented immigrants with good criminal records, and have spent a prescribed number of years in the US, it will resolve the immigration conflict between them. The writer also thinks that if these undocumented immigrants had adequate knowledge about life’s reality in the US, they would have explored the possibility of migrating internally or intra-regionally before continentally or internationally.
Significance of the Study
Immigration has become a thorn in the flesh for many countries including the USA. Africa has become the leading continent with migrants all over the world. The reasons for migrating include but not limited to economic hardship, droughts, desertification, floods, coastal erosion, deforestation, conflict, political violence and religious persecution. Therefore, this piece would be significant to:
- Bethany Theological Seminary who will use the materials contained therein as a reference when addressing immigration issues. Future students who might be interested to conduct research on an aspect of immigration will find this work useful.
- Undocumented Immigrants globally will be come into terms with the causes, impacts and solutions to the predicaments exposed here. They may refer this piece to future immigrants as resources to guide make the right choices.
- Future American Dreamers including Sierra Leoneans. Future immigrants from Africa generally and Sierra Leone, specifically should be able to consult this resource before embarking on any greener pasture journey. Understanding immigration policies is key to all potential migrants – internally, continentally and internationally.
- Future Researcher. This work will contribute to an existing scholarship. In this work, a clear definition of an American citizen was given which will address the hyphenated labels such as African-Americans, Asian-Americans or Indian-Americans. In Welcoming the Stranger Matthew Soerens & Jenny Hwang addressed the principle of birthright citizenship as enshrined in the U.S. constitution in the 1868 as the fourteenth Amendment: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state of wherein they reside.” This definition can be accepted for its brevity by any researcher.