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Saying Adios to the Good vs. Bad Immigrant Narrative

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month reflection series, Danna Castro Galindo, one of CCIJ’s college volunteers, shared her reflections on the “good” vs. “bad” immigrant dichotomy and how her own experiences as an immigrant have shaped her goals for the future.

My journey as an immigrant began when I was just four years old. I was born in Bogotá, Colombia’s bustling capital, home to over seven million people, and the heart of a country that is rich in biodiversity, land, culture but also, poverty, guerilla wars, and government corruption. 

My parents, both healthcare professionals, like many other immigrants, moved because of numerous factors: the guerilla led violence against health care professionals, poverty, corruption, and their aspirations for their daughter’s future.

This November we’ll have lived in the US for fifteen years, and I consider ourselves to have been incredibly fortunate in our asylum/ immigration processes. However, while we were some of the “lucky ones,” our journey was anything but easy. People who’ve never experienced immigration are often blinded by the government’s lies that immigration is easy if people simply “play by the book.” My family did just that, and it still took us around four years to get asylum due to misplaced legal documents, numerous cancelled court hearings, delayed work permits, and other loopholes put in place to wear immigrants out. In fact, the day our judge granted our request for asylum was the same day that my parents had looked at each other with fatigue in their eyes and decided that sometimes, somethings just aren’t meant to be.

Now, fifteen years from the day we came to this country with only three suitcases and so much hope, California is my home. Unlike some of the family members we left behind, I grew up in a beautiful, safe neighborhood, went to amazing schools, was nurtured, and am now reaping all the benefits. Yet at the same time, I’m constantly aware of the bubble that my privilege has allowed me to grow up in, and the barrier that it has simultaneously created, separating me from my Latino heritage and culture.

 As a young child, it was relatively easy for me to assimilate into my new, predominantly white, community and to distance myself from the parts of my Latino heritage that would’ve made me stand out as “that one Latina girl.” In a time when people of color are targeted, put down, told they are “less than,” it can certainly be hard to find the strength to love one’s culture and challenge the standard narrative. I’m lucky to now know my worth, and my culture’s worth, and be so at ease with my identity that I’d never want to be anyone but me. After years of hiding my roots, it feels so good to stand proud and to use my privilege and education to uplift all our beautiful immigrant communities. 

I’m currently on a pre-law track at UCLA in hopes of pursuing immigration law and pro bono work as an attorney. However, this quarantine has certainly taught me that you don’t need a degree to get involved and help uplift both the Latinx and broader immigrant community. You just need to be willing to reach out to organizations whose work you admire and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. 

After years of hiding my roots, it feels so good to stand proud and to use my privilege and education to uplift all our beautiful immigrant communities.

By reaching out and emailing several California immigrant rights organizations, I connected with SF Undocu Fund; a program created in response to the severe economic crisis the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown undocumented families in. Although the great majority of undocumented folks pay taxes and contribute to both the state and country’s economies, they don’t qualify for any federal assistance or unemployment insurance. Ironically, these families have been hit the hardest during the pandemic and are still facing extreme housing and food insecurity. To make matters worse, this community faces constant abuse by the media and politicians who’ve created a divide within the immigrant community, making a distinction between “good” and “bad” immigrants. This distinction further marginalizes immigrants who have historically been at a disadvantage in comparison to their white counterparts and have been criminalized for the color of their skin and lack of opportunities. 

One study, published in the RSF Journal of the Social Sciences, analyzed newspaper articles in the South, from 2003-2013, to quantify how immigrants have been depicted in the media. Their study noted that, “nearly 60 percent of the negative arguments made about immigrants involved judgments about immigrants’ involvement in criminal activities or their criminal predispositions.” Based on the media’s characterization of immigrants, many assume that immigrants make up a significant percentage of criminal behavior in the US. However, according to a 2010 data analysis from the American Community Survey, “roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.” Although the media and public’s assumptions regarding immigrants’ criminal behavior have been proven factually incorrect, the “good” vs. “bad” immigrant dichotomy, to this day, ignores the complex structural disadvantages that Latinx communities have historically faced. 

As someone who meets all the requirements to be considered a “good immigrant,” I want to explain why this division is incredibly unjust. When we lived in Colombia, we were far from wealthy, but we never lacked money, food, or shelter and saved up enough money to fund our legal process in the US. Furthermore, my parents both went to university and have professional degrees, all things that immigration officials take into consideration when determining whether or not you’d be beneficial to the US.

Last year, to my family’s concern, my twenty-one year old childhood friend immigrated to the US illegally. Although we didn’t grow up side by side, he’s one of my closest friends and his decision saddened me because I knew how hard the journey he embarked on would be. While my parents and I don’t support his decision, we completely understand his motivation for making it. My friend wasn’t as fortunate as me. He didn’t grow up in a household where his education was prioritized even though he’s incredibly talented; a month after moving to the US he actually received a diploma from the Colombian government congratulating him on his outstanding collegiate GPA. Unfortunately, there are numerous obstacles to success in Colombia, (such as money and crime), and he couldn’t safely continue his career. Feeling completely lost and without any opportunities, he believed his best option was to try his luck out in a country that doesn’t really want him. 

People who’ve never experienced immigration are often blinded by the government’s lies that immigration is easy if people simply “play by the book.”

Right now, I’m interning with CCIJ because I want to work towards creating long term, structural change for the immigrant community in the US. CCIJ is currently one of the few organizations that tracks immigration court outcomes and ICE tactics, information that will undoubtedly serve immigration rights activists in the future and potentially prevent further unnecessary deportations. Even more so, CCIJ’s social media outreach, op-eds, workshops, and blog posts are simultaneously working to tackle the “good” versus “bad” immigrant narrative that’s at the forefront of the immigration debate. In an era of xenophobia and racism, legal change by itself won’t be enough to create long lasting change. Some of the most important work we can do is to engage in difficult conversations to tear down the wall between the lucky ones and the ones society’s cast aside.

More than anything, I’m so thankful to have found organizations where I can be a part of the solution and start working towards one of my lifelong goals this early in my life. In a world full of divisions, we, as immigrants, only stand a chance if we continue to fight for each other and lift each other up.

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