Illegal Immigration, the Single Story, and Empathy

Sociology is the study of people and how they behave in groups, but this definition means nothing when one does not understand empathy and the fact that stories have more than one point of view. Chimamanda Adichie speaks on this misunderstanding in her presentation “The Danger of a Single Story” on a TED Conference, while Sam Richards explains empathy, and its meaning and significance in sociology in his presentation “A Radical Experiment in Empathy” on a separate TED Conference. Richards and Adichie’s presentations both apply to current real-world events.

One that sticks out well would be the issue on illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Far too many people fail to recognize the struggles of the people trying to cross the border, and they lack empathy of their situation, while only reading into the single view that the government and media has portrayed. American people only see one side of the story and lack the ability to step into the shoes of another.

Those in power in the U.S. shape the American citizens view on the issue.

News stations and social media accounts owned by government officials or sympathizers frequently release information that only tell the illegal immigration issue from American eyes. The current president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is an advocate for ending the “crisis” of illegal immigration on the southern border. However, President Trump and his following Republican officials do not share the stories of the families trying to escape Mexico’s violence.

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Adichie was born and raised in Africa and moved to the United States later in her life. Due to this, she is stereotyped as one, and only one thing: an immigrant. Media outlets and the current government administration classifies the people trying to cross the border as immigrants, and only immigrants, just as Adichie was stereotyped.

The American population has not given them a chance to portray their entire story, so instead they are forced to hide behind a single story. Not everyone recognizes that several places of Mexico, as well as other surrounding countries “are so racked with violence, so terrorized by gangs and so infiltrated by drug cartels, they had no choice but to leave,” (Gamboa, et al.). Instead of acknowledging this abuse of Mexican citizens in their own countries, many people in the Trump Administration only see the Mexicans as people who are taking our jobs and weakening the country’s security. Not only are the Mexican people being stereotyped, but many Americans lack the ability to step into their shoes and experience their problems.

If we had more empathy for illegal immigrants coming to the U.S., the issue of illegal immigration from the southern border would perhaps be solved quicker because of the U.S. government having a larger sense of urgency to save people from the danger that they are currently living in. Richards asked his audience to step inside the shoes of an Iraqi soldier captured by the U.S. military in hopes of stopping the conflict in the middle east. He stated several times that those soldiers may be doing the exact thing the American soldiers are doing: protecting their rights, family, and country. One of the U.S.’s top priorities is to establish and maintain security whether it be on borders, in the air, or our oceans. How come it is so hard to be empathetic of the Mexican citizens trying to cross the border to ensure their safety in a more privileged country when America also views safety as something of utmost importance?

Of course, there are always threats on any large nation like the U.S. such as terrorism, but President Trump has labeled the illegal immigration as a dangerous, to the point where he has threatened to establish a national emergency if the border wall is not funded for and built (Luxen, et al.). In cases of illegal immigration, it is important to be empathic of another person’s situation, especially when viewing the Mexican immigrants as a group of people and not just a few insignificant cases. Seeing the illegal immigrants through a sociological view would help the border security issue because it would allow those in power to attack the problem by not only enforcing the laws here but also by assisting the families who are in danger in their own country.

The U.S. citizens, as well as Mexican citizens, are each in their own social locations, meaning that the social status and world view they uphold determine the events of their everyday lives. American culture has changed significantly since President Trump started his term in 2016, primarily with overlapping stories between the U.S. and Mexican views of the immigration problem. Adichie said in her speech that “our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories”, which means that the social locations of individuals in America will influence them to act on behalf of the people crossing the border to help them reach safety, or it will influence them to support greater border security. People have begun to put personal touches on the issue of illegal immigration and have connected it to their own life religiously, economically and socially, strengthening the overlapping stories and social locations.

Adichie’s speech provides good insight on the issue of illegal immigration in the United States by teaching the importance of understanding that people trying to cross the border are not only immigrants but instead that they have more to them such as their country’s violence affecting their lives. Richards presentation allows us to view the issue from a sociological standpoint by stepping into their shoes to have a deeper understanding of why people choose to come here illegally. They both demonstrate how this significant issue is shaping our culture and being shaped by the people in power in the United States.

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Illegal Immigration, the Single Story, and Empathy. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved from

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