There’s no place like home.

That thought comes to mind when I think about the families who are working their way through the labyrinth-like system of immigration in the United States.

These are folks who have made the difficult choice to leave their native countries. Stop for a moment and think about what it would take for you to pack up, leave home, and move to a land where you don’t know the language, the customs or the culture. You’d have to re-learn everything. How to navigate new roads, shop in new grocery stores, and enroll your kids at new schools. Hovering over all that is an immigration system that is, at best, overly bureaucratic and, at worst, outright hostile to you.

Leaving your home country would easily rank as the most difficult decision a family could ever make. And yet people do it every day because they see the United States as a place that their children can have a better life — a life of opportunity.

Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, serves in the Wisconsin Assembly.
Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, serves in the Wisconsin Assembly.

It’s easy to forget that when we are talking about immigration policy, we are talking about people. Recently, I held a listening session focused on immigration and spoke with a young woman who has been living alone in Wisconsin since she was 16 years old. Her family was forced to leave the United States. She chose to stay behind while her parents and younger sister left. She has been a part of our community ever since, pursuing higher education and making Madison a better place, but without the benefit or support of her family. She is 23 now and has not seen her parents or sister in seven years.

We are a nation of immigrants. Nearly everyone who lives in this country can point to a place in their family’s story that includes a chapter on immigration. Here in Wisconsin, we cherish these stories. We identify as the “Wisconsin Badgers” due to English immigrants who came here and mined the earth. Each beer and bratwurst consumed this summer can be traced back to German settlers. Roughly one in 12 Wisconsinites is Latino or Asian in heritage. In fact, the foreign-born population in Wisconsin has doubled since 1990. I don’t point this out to identify “otherness,” but rather to say that we are them and they are us.

I have heard stories from members of our community who live in fear because our immigration system is broken. So let me say this loud and clear: Immigrants in our community have an important perspective that we must listen to.

When we look at the agenda being pushed at the state and national level, it’s clear that politicians aren’t listening, and have forgotten their past. Every generation of immigrants has had to work hard and struggle to get ahead, but today we are ignoring our history and closing the door in the face of our neighbors who are simply trying to achieve the American Dream.

Remember, these are our friends and neighbors. Their children go to school with ours. They pay taxes. They go to work every day and create profits for their bosses. They honor their faith and family. At the listening session, I heard firsthand from hardworking folks who are instrumental members of our community, yet feel silenced. They want the people of Wisconsin to hear their stories. They deserve to be heard and we deserve a state that stops and listens.

When you do stop and listen, when you authentically get to know this community, I know you will agree with me that what we must do is provide a path for these law-abiding mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters — to continue our American tradition of paving the way toward prosperity.

There truly is no place like home. I want those who choose to make Wisconsin their home to feel they are welcomed. I hope you’ll join me.