Essay Contest Winner Speaks Up for Voiceless

Karina Ortman is the winner of this year’s MCC Washington Office High School Essay Contest.  Her essay, “A Voice for Those Who Are Not Heard,” discusses immigration policy in the United States (read the entire essay below).

Ortman’s essay deals with drivers of immigration and unjust U.S. policies that make our country unwelcoming to those we are called to help.

Many immigrants, legal and illegal, come to the United States to receive a better education or to find work in order to support their families.  However, immigration has become a problem in the United States, and US policies are contributing to the problems of the immigration system …  It is our responsibility as Christians to call for change and speak out for those who have suffered.

Click here for more information about this year’s winners.

This is the first of two posts on the 2011 Essay Contest winners.

A Voice for Those Who Are Not Heard

Karina Ortman, Freeman Academy, South Dakota

If you needed a job to support your family, and there were no jobs available, would you leave your family to try to find work in another country? If there were better educational opportunities in another country, would you leave your current country to receive a better education elsewhere? In 2007, there were a record 37.3 million immigrants living in the United States as compared to 2000, when there were only 30.0 million (Camarota). Poor educational systems and economic conditions in immigrants’ home countries, compounded with United States’ policies, increase the number of immigrants coming to the United States.

Five years ago, Elena came to the United States from Mexico with her son. Many of her family members were already here, including her husband, who had come to work on a dairy farm. She chose to come to the United States because she felt her son could attend a better school here (Martinez). She also believed that she could receive more money working here than in Mexico. “It’s just better here,” she explained. Although it took nearly five years, Elena did eventually receive her documentation. She, along with her family and friends, felt very welcomed when they arrived in Freeman, South Dakota.

In Mexico, the school for her son was not focused on learning but rather on playtime. She felt that the teachers in the United States were better, and she wanted an improved education for her son (Martinez). It was not difficult for her to find a job when arriving in Freeman. She found work at a local flower shop and makes more money here than she did in Mexico.

Life in Mexico was difficult. It had become a dangerous place, and drugs were a major problem. Elena is happy where she is now and does not feel the need to go back to Mexico to visit. She explained that it would be very difficult for her to cross the border when returning to the United States (Martinez). Elena has family members in Mexico who are still hoping to come to the United States and make this country their home as well (Martinez).

The Bible also has many stories of migration. Joseph’s brothers initially went to Egypt to buy grain to support their families, and eventually they migrated with their families to live in Egypt with Joseph. By the time Joseph’s generation had died, the land had become filled with the Israelites. However, when a new king took over Egypt, he enslaved the Israelites; the Egyptians worked the Israelites ruthlessly (Exodus 1:13 NIV). Eventually, they were able to leave Egypt to migrate to the Promised Land where there was a better life with more opportunities for them.

In the book of Ruth, Naomi and Elimelech left Bethlehem with their two sons because of a famine in the land. They migrated to Moab, but after Elimelech and their two sons died, Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go home to their mothers. However, Ruth would not leave Naomi, so together they migrated back to Bethlehem, where they had been told God had provided food for his people (Ruth 1:6 NIV).

My ancestors migrated from Germany to Russia and then to the United States. Queen Catherine the Great wanted to improve Russia, so she invited Germans to Russia and gave them many privileges (Hofer). They were given land, were able to form their own village government, were given religious freedom, and most importantly, she said that they would not have to serve in the Russian army (Hofer). However, in 1870, Tsar Alexander II took away the Germans’ privileges and said that everyone must serve in the army. In the United States, the Homestead Act was passed to entice people to move to the Midwest. My ancestors needed to leave Russia to escape fighting in the army, so they migrated from Russia to the Midwest where they would receive land to settle and farm (Hofer).

Each person or group had a specific reason for migrating, and every reason was part of a unique situation. They migrated to find better education, receive more money, provide for their family, or receive religious freedom. There are similarities in all of these stories of migration. Elena, Joseph’s brothers, and Ruth’s family all migrated because there was better economic promise in a different country. They could receive food or make more money to support their families. Likewise, my ancestors and Elena migrated for a chance to live a better life with more opportunities both economically and otherwise. In each story of migration, there was something better offered in the place where they migrated to than where they had been, and this is what motivated them to migrate in the first place.

Immigration in the United States has increased, and U.S. policies have contributed to this. The North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented on January 1, 1994, between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. This agreement immediately limited tariffs on many of the goods produced by the three countries. It also called for the gradual elimination of all other remaining barriers over a period of fifteen years (“NAFTA”). This included cross-border investment and movement of goods from one country to another.

Benefits of NAFTA have been reported. Two-way agriculture trade has increased by 10.9% from 2003 to 2004 in the U.S. and Mexico (Juliet). NAFTA also is said to encourage trade and development between the U.S. and its partners. It allows the countries to specialize in certain products to be more efficient (Juliet). U.S. foreign direct investment increased by more than 11% from 2006-2007; there is a broader array of competitive good, which allows consumers a wider variety of products at competitive rates (Juliet). Finally, NAFTA has enhanced the job market in the United States. “While on the one hand Mexico can make use of advanced technology to boost its industrial and economic development, US can avail of comparatively cheaper labor” (Juliet).

However, all of these “benefits” only take the United States into consideration. They do not account for what happened in Mexico due to NAFTA. Excess products, such as corn, from the United States were sent to Mexico and flooded their economy. Many farmers could not make a living, so they were forced to go north to find work. Wages in Mexico have stagnated and have even declined in some industries since NAFTA took affect. Also, over a million corn farmers have been displaced because of subsidized corn from the United States and Canada flooding the Mexican economy. These farmers who can no longer support their families try to cross the border illegally to find work in the United States in order to support their families (“Immigration and Globalization”).

NAFTA needs to be revised. There needs to be a limit on the amount of products that can go from country to country so that one country does not get so many excess products. Trade barriers need to be taken down in the United States. The United States is eager to send products to Mexico, so Mexico should be able to do the same. NAFTA has caused much suffering for people in Mexico. They struggle to survive while we in the United States live prosperously. The agreement needs to be fairer and take into account the suffering people who are desperately working to support their families.

Many immigrants come to the United States to receive a better education. If these immigrants could receive the education they desire in their home countries, they would not be as driven to come to the United States for education. More funding and organization of the educational systems in immigrants’ home countries would reduce the number of immigrants wanting to come to the United States for education; consequently, these immigrants would not be forced to leave their families and country.

On April 23, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a new immigration bill, referred to as Arizona SB 1070, which requires all immigrants to carry their registration documents at all times and permits police to question anyone they believe could be in the United States illegally. The purpose of this law is to “identify, prosecute, and deport illegal immigrants” (Archibold A1).

The Arizona law is reducing the number of illegal immigrants, but does this law not target all Hispanic people? Is it not racial profiling? Is it not more likely that police will question a Hispanic rather than a Caucasian? This law needs to be reversed because it is neither just nor fair. The police should not be able to question anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. If they want to reduce illegal immigration, the police should be asking everyone for their registration documents and not just those whom the police suspect of being illegal immigrants.

Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted after an applicant has fulfilled the necessary requirements. Before naturalization can occur, an immigrant must live in the United States for at least five years. To do this, one must be approved for a green card. According to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, to receive a green card, one must “be eligible for one of the immigrant categories listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act, have a qualifying immigrant petition filed and approved for you (with a few exceptions), have an immigrant visa immediately available, and be admissible to the United States” (“Green Card Elgibility”). The process of getting a green card can take years to complete, and only after that process can an immigrant apply for naturalization.

It has become very difficult to obtain a green card to the United States, and this process needs to be simplified. There are always going to be immigrants that want to come to the United States by whatever means necessary, so would it not be better to make the process easier so that they can come legally rather than illegally? With a simpler process, immigrants would not be forced to go to the extreme measures that they currently are to come to the United States. Fewer deaths and injuries along the border would result from a revised immigration process. Immigrants are forced to come here illegally because they need to support their families or want to receive a better education, but they cannot receive a green card.

A simpler process would most likely lead to increased immigration. Many people currently living in the United States would be opposed to this because they would feel threatened by more immigrants. They would be worried about losing their jobs. However, if we were in the situation of desperately trying to support our families, would we not want the opportunity to go somewhere where we could try to find a job? Were not most of us immigrants to the United States at one point? We were welcomed and even encouraged to migrate. The Bible tells us to love our neighbors. “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself’” (Leviticus 19:18 NIV). Should we not as Christians welcome immigrants to our country? Are not the immigrants our neighbors? We are called to care for our neighbors, and we must call our leaders to care for them as well.

Many immigrants, legal and illegal, come to the United States to receive a better education or to find work in order to support their families. However, immigration has become a problem in the United States, and US policies are contributing to the problems of the immigration system. Changes to NAFTA and the green card process need to be made to improve our trade and immigration policies. We must help those who have struggled due to policies such as NAFTA. It is our responsibility as Christians to call for change and speak out for those who have suffered.


Works Cited

Archibold, Randal C. “Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration.” New York Times 23 April 2010 NY ed.: A1. The New York Times 6 Nov. 2010

Camarota, Steven A. “Immigration in the United States, 2007.” November 2007. Center for Immigration Studies. 17 November 2010 <;.

“Green Card Elgibility.” 3 September 2009. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 6 November 2010 <;.

Hofer, Norman. Personal Interview. 6 November 2010.

Juliet, J. “Benefits of NAFTA.” 2010. 6 November 2010 <;.

Martinez, Elena. Personal Interview. 5 November 2010.

“MCC U.S. Washington Office Guide to Immigration and Globalization.” 2009. Mennonite Central Committee Washington. 6 November 2010 <>.

“North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).” 6 November 2010 <;.

1 Comment

  1. Jim Shuman

    In these discussions we usually avoid mentioning the corrupt governments of the immigrants’ home countries. Not too many people around the world are running from democratic countries looking for a better life. Thank you!

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