Being an immigrant, legal or otherwise, has never been easy. In fact, the things immigrants deal with are often overshadowed by the unmoored rantings of politicians, the willful ignorance of many voters, and the misconceptions of larger society. This is particularly tragic considering the United States, from its establishment, has been a nation of migrant settlers. Immigrants not only built America, they are an inextricable part of the nation's fabric.
There is simply no way to separate the nation from the countless contributions made by immigrants. Incidentally, neither Christopher Columbus (who never set foot in North America) nor a single white settler was "documented." In other words, America is immigration. That's been true since 1892 when Ellis Island opened.
Many Americans don't think about what it's like to be an immigrant, however. But the challenges they face are increasingly significant.
Many immigrants are forced to live in persistent states of fear and vigilance. Those who are undocumented could be found out at any time. A routine traffic stop, a visit to the doctor, even a trip to a kids' school could all alert ICE to an documented immigrant's presence, leading to detention and deportation. And those immigrants with legal statuses deal with constant fear as well. The Trump administration seems to have emboldened the nation's racists and xenophobes; hate crimes have surged when Donald Trump took office.
Whether documented or not, an immigrant must summon a considerable amount of courage just to leave the house.
The older you are, the more difficult it is to learn a new language. But many immigrants must learn an entirely new way life in addition to figuring out the nuances of the English language. They must challenge themselves everyday to master all the slang and unusual grammar. The good news is that, as of 2018, English is not America's official language, and more and more Americans are bilingual. While this makes things a bit easier for immigrants, they do still have to master the language in order to integrate more fully.
Any human being, regardless of ethnicity or national origin, has fundamental needs that deserve to be met. But accessing the services that meet those needs is a scary undertaking for many immigrants.
For instance, immigrants are less likely to report violent crimes like rape and domestic abuse for fear of being persecuted. Immigrants are also less likely to report work-related injuries, and they are starting to avoid programs that provide resources for food and healthcare. Consequently, some immigrants in the US struggle with abject poverty, hunger, and serious safety concerns.
Being injected into surroundings where you don't speak the language is challenging. Being injected into an entirely new culture is even tougher. Author Young Yun Kim writes, "The process of crossing cultures challenges the very basis of who we are as cultural beings."
What is commonly accepted in some cultures is taboo in others, and it isn't easy to navigate these differences. In some cultures, for example, it is considered extremely bad form to brag about one's personal success and wealth, and this can really throw off an immigrant's sense of what is normal and what is not. An Italian immigrant explained their experience with this:
At parties, you [Americans] ask people what they do. For us [Italians] that's really rude. And what is most embarrassing is how you talk about how much progress you've made. Even your presidents brag about how poor they used to be... We never talk about [that] – except to our closest friends who already know. Here in America, I never know what to say when somebody starts to tell me how successful he is. I am embarrassed.