Chris Wade cares about the people of Monroe, Louisiana. He was born there, raised there, and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology there, from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He’s also spent a significant portion of his adult life volunteering in and around the city: driving a truck for the local food bank, helping out in area soup kitchens, and volunteering with the Red Cross, following severe floods that ravaged his state last year.
“I’m a humanist, so anything I can do to better the lives of my friends, family, and community is something that will help me feel fulfilled,” says Wade, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Louisiana Tech University, in nearby Ruston. “That’s why I’m seeking the education that I’m seeking, so that I can help people on a professional level.”
These are people who work in this community, who are trying to support their families, and who are here trying to get an education and better themselves.
One of the issues that’s most important to him is immigration. In February, he organized a march to oppose the order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. “That was very concerning to me,” he says. Similarly concerned were the dozens who marched with him, including an 86-year-old nun, a rabbi, and a Baptist preacher. “I’m a white male from a Christian background, so for all intents and purposes I’m a very privileged guy who’s not going to be discriminated against because of how I look or where I come from,” he says. “But there are other people here who weren’t born in the United States, and I don’t want to see them treated unfairly because of it.”
Wade points to his alma mater, which has more then 300 international students from 55 countries. “I have a friend who’s on a student visa,” he says. “I know people in the area who are from Yemen and own businesses and are the most amazing people you would know. These are people who work in this community, who are trying to support their families, and who are here trying to get an education and better themselves. Going out of our way to make things more difficult for them is a slap in the face to American values altogether.”
National security is important, says Wade, which is why he’s not advocating “for open boarders 100 percent.” But he doesn’t believe that restricting visas and enforcing a travel ban are the way to make America safer. In fact, Wade fears it will only make the United States less attractive to immigrants. “I don’t want to be isolated from other countries like that,” he says. “I want to be a country that embraces other cultures.”
Wade wants reform that starts with a pathway to citizenship for the foreign-born population that is already here. “If you’re going to send a mother back to her home country, and her citizen children are left here by themselves, what does that do for us apart from make them burdens of the state?” he asks. “That’s why finding a pathway to citizenship is going to be much better than mass deportation.”
Besides, he adds, the immigrants he knows are hardworking people. Not only do they play key roles in his congressional district’s accommodation, food services, construction, and wholesale trade industries, they are also 60 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs than are U.S.-born workers. Without immigrants, Monroe would miss out on many of the things that make his hometown such a wonderful place to live, he says. “You only hear the bad sides of immigration,” says Wade. “But the people I’m familiar with own chains of gas stations, mom-and-pop type stores and restaurants. They have a work ethic, a drive and determination, that you don’t really hear about on the news. Interacting with people from other cultures is what drives our progress and growth.”