Posts Tagged ‘Immigration’

Can’t Solve What You Don’t Understand: Illegal Immigration

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I can say from personal experience that few people know anything significant about the American immigration system, and the general attitude I face very closely resembles the attitude drilled into soldiers: dehumanize your opponent to make tough decisions easier. Undocumented immigrants are painted as villainous scums, subjected to treatment and situations we reserve for murderers and child molesters. Our current immigration system, and the treatment of those in immigration court and detention, is broken at best and inhuman at worst. And every day, Americans clamor for immigration change, the vast majority of who make baseless, board accusation with little to no proof, and sit happily in their ignorance. With the giant claims of grandeur next to “ignorance is bliss”, any real American should be outraged. Immigration is not a simple issue, and solving the problem of undocumented immigrants is not as simple as “throw them out”.

People need to understand is that most undocumented immigrants are not immoral people, and definitely not “Mexicans stealing American jobs”. They are the same as anyone else: many, if not most, are parents who want to support their families, to keep their families alive. Many are people who enter legally and due to the red tape of our immigration system, end up falling out of status. Many are enticed by the ever-present call of the “American Dream” and feel it is their last hope. So why do these people enter or stay in the country illegally? Because America is better from where they come. Americans take special pride in painting the United States as the best country in the world, but seem surprised that people will do anything necessary in order to come here. While it doesn’t justify entering or staying in the country illegally, it sounds like a five year old talking about how great their toy is, but if anyone tries to touch or play with it without their permission, they’ll tell on them. Many people who enter illegally do so because they have no other choice; they come from countries where they’ve lost their jobs or make so little they can’t support even a small family, either case in no small part thanks to multinational corporate exploitation. Those that enter illegally gather whatever they can hold, and make a dangerous trip across the border to a country they know little about, where they don’t speak the native tongue and are often if not always harassed by locals, reduced to doing arduous labor or demeaning jobs that, face it, most Americans are too pompous to do themselves. It makes us feel better to say “illegals are stealing American jobs”, but it’s been a long time since making money in America has been about hard work. These days it seems to be about suing someone for your own mistakes. But none the less, these people come over in hopes that by coming to America, they or at least their children will have a better life. They put up with little money, tiny apartments, abuse, and a myriad of other issues none of us can imagine, and each day risk that they’ll be returned to where they come from, no better if not worse off. Its the companies who exploit these workers, paying them just enough to get along, much less then an American would have to be paid (minimum wage), so they can cut corners and make a higher return. Good ol’ American capitalism: do what it takes to reduce cost and maximize profit, be it exploit workers in other countries or exploit undocumented immigrants right here at home. If the jobs weren’t available, there wouldn’t be much keeping or bringing more undocumented immigrants here. We choose to blame undocumented immigrants for taking jobs, but how often do we accost those hiring jobs?

I’m sure people are wondering, why don’t they just come over legally? First, the immigration system in the US is very convoluted. It requires a certain amount of starting capital to simply get a visa. For those who can scrounge up the money, there is the issue of time. A limited number of visas of various types are given out each year, and are granted based on where you’re coming from, your skill set, if you have a job waiting, etc. If you’re thinking that an under-skilled worker coming into the States would just be a hindrance on society, I would ask: what are we doing about all the people in the US now who are under-skilled, and more important, unwilling to work? I’d contend that an under-skilled worker who’s willing to work is better then someone capable but unwilling. Many of these immigrants also have families they need to support. Ask yourself, if you could not support your own family in your current situation, and you found you could work under the table at a factory as long as no one knew you were there, would you do it? Would you let your personal morality to stand in the way of feeding your children?

Americans can blame immigrants for our problems as much as we want, but it won’t make it any more true then saying our national debt problems are because of one political party or the other. The problem is complex and deep and won’t be solved simply by deporting people, enacting tougher punishments, or building a giant wall. Deporting immigrants will not stop new ones from coming in, and will do little more then build ill will against America. Currently, immigration holding facilities are often worse then prisons, for a crime which at best compares to a store robbery. Families are split up, people are treated terribly, and immigration court is a mockery of our system of law. We treat hardened criminals with more respect. A giant wall will not stop people from digging under, punching holes, or finding other way around it, and really, just serves as an eyesore and an environmental disaster.

With all this, mind you, I am not a supporter of open borders with the world as it is now. Countries need immigration laws to maintain populations and services, and for a balanced to exist among various countries. If borders were open, people would flock to well off countries, depriving poor countries of needed human resources, and over flooding richer countries, also bringing them down. Instead, I believe in a fair immigration system. Understanding people and connecting with them goes much further to solve a problem then an iron gauntlet. We need to control the current undocumented population, enact strict laws punishing the companies hiring them, and put smart controls on the border. If we aren’t going to grant those here amnesty, we should at least hold true to our ideals and give them an opportunity to present their case. It would help improve our image as a understanding country run by laws, not emotions. If we don’t eliminate the under-the-table jobs available here, there will always be reason for immigrants to try to enter here illegally, knowing they’ll have a better life then where they came. And as for smart controls, while I have a few ideas, I’m certain if we can spend $3 billion fighting wars we don’t need to be fighting, or at least to the level we currently are, we can find a few million to come up with something effective. At the least, we can be human.

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.