Archive for December, 2009

Coming out of the Immigration Closet

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

It’s been a while since my past post, before which there was a slow down in my rate of posting. The reasons, while bad for readership, are simple, and a topic which I think deserves some light.

Nearly two years ago, as I was about to graduate college, looking for jobs, I questioned my parents on the current status of our immigration woes. After having waited years, I was finally asking the hard questions which I should have asked so long ago. Given I had faced few difficulties concerning my immigration status, I had scant reason to question or doubt my parents previous responses, and given I was relatively comfortable in the situation as I knew it, I had little reason to research it myself. As with most things, people try to avoid answers that will change their worlds. And so finally I did ask, and finally I was told the truth: we had been in the country illegally for a number of years. Having lived in the US since I was 5, it was a life-altering shock. There were a number of reasons that played in. My dad was unable to renew his visa, and the alternatives he was pursuing kept falling through. The US government was also nice enough to inform him that his visa had expired 3 months after it had expired. But regardless of how or why, I now knew of my legal (or illegal) status three and a half years after I turned 18, now unable to do anything about it.

Now I’m 23. I came to the US when I was 5. I’ve spent over three quarters of my life in the States. I was brought here legally, and due to my parents’ mistakes, I am an undocumented immigrant. And at the end of the day, there is nothing I can do about it. The system of law/justice we think of as the American court system doesn’t apply to immigration: you don’t get a chance to argue your case, there is no jury. There is a public prosecutor and a judge. You’re not even entitled to a defense lawyer, it’s an option; you have to find and pay for one on your own, and having seen it without a lawyer around, I can tell you no lawyer just means deportation. Really, immigration is less of a law system as it is edicts from a judge.

America has long prided itself as many things. One of the great prides of the US is that it is a land of opportunity, a place where people of humble origin can rise to the top, go from destitute poverty to unimaginable riches. This was once a unique truth to the United States until about three score years ago. Back at its founding, the US represented freedom, and that early jump on freedom allowed the US to be a land where history didn’t determine future. In older countries, social classes existed with prejudice. What class you were born into often indicated your opportunities and life choices. Over time, however, as the populaces of other countries saw the opportunities of America and as the aristocracies began to lose power, America slowly went from being unique to being commonplace to becoming a liar. America’s grand growth through the years has been in no small part due to immigration. The flux of new people, new ideas, and fresh mindsets helped make America a leading innovator in the world. What started as open minded acceptance of immigrants has become closed minded abuse.

Now I’m obviously a biased source… I’m hoping for change at least in part because it will help me. I’ve lived almost two years of my life in fear, without the ability to drive or travel via plane, no official ID, unable to work, etc over something I didn’t directly do and would love to correct. Everyone knows of that particular brand of freedom that comes with your driver’s license, the joy of the first paycheck, the peace of mind of realizing you pick where your life goes, for the most part. These are all denied to me. Hell, I’ve had to skip out on hanging with my friends simply because I don’t have ID to get into a club, or because I couldn’t get a ride. I sit at home, every day, with nothing to do but study, work on websites, and play video games. Let me tell you… playing video games for a year and a half takes all the fun out of video games. Unfortunately, the current solution (unless a judge finds reason to make an exception for me) is to leave for 10 years. And while I’m no supporter of open borders at this time, America’s immigration system is flawed at best and broken at worst.

Now someone, someone is reading this and thinking, “Ha! I should call INS on this dirty, job stealing Mexican.” Someone more sensible is reading that last sentence and wondering why I think that. When I first found this out, I was too ashamed to tell anyone I knew in real life… I came forward on a forum I used to be a regular on. People there knew me somewhat well, my thoughts were valued; it was a community. Though I mentioned how I’m of Indian decent, a few of the early comments were about how I’m ruining American life and how I should go back to Mexico. It was a shocker for me… someone hears illegal immigration, and the first things on their mind are stereotypes. Anyway, to anyone thinking of calling INS, I have news for you: INS doesn’t exist anymore, its ICE, and I’m in the system anyway. For those confused, INS was the acronym for Immigration and Nationalization Services, the old department in charge of immigration, and ICE is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a nice new aggressive name. I’m sure you’re hoping for my swift departure, and I forgive you. On that forum, someone mentioned how they’d never let that happen to their family. When I asked how he knew, if he had ever been in a similar situation, he simply replied no and that’s because he’d never end up there. Like with many other situations in life, you’ll never know until you’re in the situation, and for hundreds each year, they find themselves in the situation without even realizing it, with no alternative but to completely uproot their lives, be criminals, or get stuck in a system that’ll take years to decide anything.

So what now? Now, I’m deep in the system. I was fortunate: I found a lawyer who doesn’t seem to care about the money (she’s charging half per court appearance what the next cheapest lawyer did and she actually plans on doing something), and is an immigrant herself. She also was kind enough to spend time talking to us, and through a random conversation about what life back in India would mean, discovered we might qualify for asylum. We are also fortunate enough to have a judge known for being open minded. So we’re busy translating documents, and we’re here for at least a few months as the process gets underfoot. If the asylum application is accepted as valid, then we begin a process that will last at least a year (not counting appeals) in which essentially I’ll have to prove I’m so American that life in India would actually be dangerous. So I’m here for at least a few months… and if the application is accepted, probably a year and a half, then another half year for appeals. It would mean my brother gets to finish college, and if we get our EADs, we can get our passports so if we are deported, we can leave to a country other then India. I would really like to do my graduate studies in the UK, if for no other reason then it would be nice to break this monotony.

I debated a lot making this post… what was the point, should I bother… the reason is pretty simple. To a lot of people, illegal immigration is a fantastical tale of aliens who don’t speak English taking away jobs from Americans. In truth, it’s often people you couldn’t distinguish from any other American, just hoping they can find a solution to the hell they’re in, more likely then not trapped because the immigration system itself screwed them. Everyone deserves a chance; we can’t pretend America is the bastion of democracy and hope then horde it to ourselves. And we definitely have to stop pretending that some of us are more American then others. In fact, immigrants tend to know and value what it means to be American more then most of us raised here… they have to fight for it, earn it. I didn’t really understand what it meant until I found out about my situation. I tend to find that those I argue with on the topic who make these outlandish claims of authority through birth tend to be the least informed or knowledgeable about America, let alone the rest of the world. I’m sure a number of you are out there, but meh. Though uncharacteristically partisan of me, I challenge you to prove to me you have any substantial quality that makes you more American then me.

To the rest of you, I’m not gonna say push or vote for immigration reform. I’m not here to tell you what to think, or to make your minds for you. I will ask you to research it for yourself. I chose this title because much like the LGBT community in America, undocumented immigrants are fighting to be accepted in a country that seems to think them less then human. I am biased, but if anyone wants to know what I’ve been through in more detail, I’ll let you know. Check out Dream Activist and read a bit as well. The DREAM Act is a law that’s been tossed around for nearly a decade now that would allow for someone who’s in the US illegally under the age of 16 and completes two years of high school in America to apply to stay in the US temporarily, and should they complete two years of military service or two years of college, the chance to apply for a more permanent residency. It gives kids who had no choice in their coming here a chance to stay, rather then to be ripped away from their homes. Of course, it does nothing to solve the issue of tearing families apart, but debatably, one step at a time. There are also mailing lists out there who, if nothing else, combat the lies and venom spread by supposedly “true blooded Americans”.

It’s a hell. For me, the end is no where in sight, and right now, all paths are bleak. As time progresses, things may change. And even if I’m deported, something has to change. So many people talk of change, and revolution, and taking America back. Maybe it’s about time we learn where America actually came from, and actually take it back.