We are a nation of immigrants. Except for the Native Americans among us, we all have roots that reach back to other soils. Our history tells of commingling nationalities and cultures and individuals seeking freedom and a better life. There is no greater statement of America’s identity than our Constitution and no clearer symbol than Lady Liberty in New York Harbor.

Law and freedom go hand-in-hand, and there seems to be no greater test of that these days than the problem of undocumented immigrants, which is challenging all of us to acknowledge our origins while appreciating the gift of being citizens of the United States. That said, it is no revelation that, from our country’s very beginnings, immigrants have been a measure of the growing edges of our worldwide mystique. They are part of the ever-changing face of America and need to be recognized for all they contribute to what has been and continues to be the greatest nation in history.

But these days there is an immigration problem among us that needs fixing. It is not just the problem of documentation. That in itself presents complexities not simply solved, though it may find resolution long before the problem addressed here: that of prejudice, misinformation and just plain ignorance.

Because there is no discernable way to distinguish documented from undocumented immigrants, some among us make insensitive judgments about others because of color, accent/language and appearance/employment. As a result, many bona fide citizens and legal residents are victimized by feelings and “attitudes” of small minds. Stereotypes always create collateral damage – demeaning undeserving individuals and nurturing resentments most can do without, thus complicating the larger problem, rather than helping solve it.

The following information, while not exonerating any illegal activity, might make for a different kind of sensitivity:

• Most immigrants, documented or not, pay taxes, even if only sales tax and property tax (as part of their rent).

• Many undocumented immigrants work such low-paying jobs they would qualify for the no-tax category anyway.

• Many in fact do pay federal income taxes through a special program that provides them a TIN (Tax Identification Number).

  • Undocumented immigrants pay money they will never see – an estimated $7 billion a year – into Social Security by using falsified cards .

• Small, immigrant-owned businesses, like any other, are responsible for the standard fees and taxes.

Point being: There are no free rides, or streets paved with gold, for our immigrant population. Those among us, documented or not, know that better than the rest of us. Our own ancestors knew it as well.

Still, the law needs to be honored, as well as the privilege of citizenship. Simply saying that does not make Lady Liberty’s job any easier. But there are a lot of immigrants among us who are hoping she is up to the task.