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Inhospitable Wind

September 14, 2010

by Immigrant Friend

When it comes to immigration, I try to avoid the news. I’ve generally stayed apprised of current events, but when it comes to immigration, the topic is too painful. The subject and its implications, the rhetoric, are put out of mind. I pray for help for my husband who has lived undocumented in the US for twenty years, and for the throngs of people like him. Then I try to trust… and forget about it.

Sometimes thoughts about immigration, about the vulnerability surrounding my husband and our lives, come unbidden during the fragile, silent hours of the night. They slink through the sieve of my defenses like particles of silt. I look over at my husband where he sleeps, placid and beautiful as dew on a leaf, and try not to imagine what could happen if our luck turned. When these thoughts won’t recoil, I imagine our living in another country, being separated from family and friends, being forced to leave the place that is our home.

Sometimes a headline will grab me and against protective instincts I follow it. This week a headline led to an article on the effort of some Republican senators to end the “birthright citizenship” ensured by the 14th Amendment so that babies born in the US to undocumented immigrants will not be US citizens. More than 90 members of the House are co-sponsoring this bill to block the 14th, a post-abolition amendment written in 1868 to ensure citizenship for the children of ex-slaves. The undertones of the anti-14th effort are hard to ignore. Supporters use dehumanizing language saying that immigrants cross the border just to “drop a child and leave” (the words of Senator Lindsey Graham). They say the babies of undocumented immigrants amount to a “virtual tax on US citizens to subsidize illegal aliens” ( 8/3/10). What a way to speak of children.

When I read things like this, I feel a chill troubling wind. It is a wind familiar to ethic minorities in the US, a wind that whispers “Get out. You are not wanted here. You are less than human in our eyes.” Until now, my white skin and middle-class life have shielded me from its sting. Now, as the immigration debate heats up and anti-immigration groups take the offensive, my skin feels the sting of these attacks. The consequences of the debate have the potential to disrupt, on a mind-boggling scale, the daily life my husband and I share. No matter how strong our faith that God will care for us wherever we end up, we can’t help but sense the threat. This is how it feels for millions of Americans with immediate family members living and working in the US without papers. This is how it feels, for people like my husband, to be the unwelcome stranger.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Hopkins permalink
    September 14, 2010 4:49 pm

    Friend speaks my mind. In my household we are relatively safe, thank God, but we have sometimes been less so. And I pray for friends, neighbors, my town … I think that many who disapprove of the undocumented perhaps don’t have a clear idea of how many are present, how seamlessly many fit into life here, how big the holes that would be left if they were all torn out.

  2. Shaun permalink
    September 14, 2010 9:35 pm

    “Undocumented” is often used as a polite code word for “illegal”. In order for this to be an open and truthful discussion, people need to stop using fluff words and say what’s what. If one is illegal because of expired papers, go through the proper channels and get them renewed, get new papers, or leave. If one is illegal because they had no proper papers in the first place then stop breaking the law and leave.

    Abusing the 14th amendment is not a way to endear one’s self to the public. It was designed for ex-slave’s children. Ex-slaves were already here legally, so their children should be as well. However, if some documented worker has a child here, that doesn’t mean that that child should be a citizen, just because someone came here to work and had a baby. This amendment is made even more a mockery by illegal immigrants coming here and having an anchor-baby for the purpose of being able to stay themselves, and so their child can have all the benefits provided to those legal citizens that have children. American citizenship is a huge benefit and a privilege, and is highly sought after. Why should some who cut in line (or go around the line entirely) get the same benefits as those who wait in line and go through all the hurdles of legally obtaining their citizenship?

    • Mary Hopkins permalink
      September 22, 2010 5:10 pm

      In response to Shaun:

      The kind of Christian I am is Quaker, and I live with a fairly clear discipline of nonviolence in word as well as in deed. This includes avoiding abusive language. The word “illegal” used as a noun to describe a human being, is in my opinion a term of abuse. It suggests that the person is defined and fully described by their lack of legal status, and I don’t agree with that. We’re all God’s children, and we’re all imperfect. Therefore I actively avoid the use of the term, and object to its use by others. We need to avoid confusing truth-telling with verbal abuse.

      The options that you suggest for the undocumented are, alas, not very real for most people. If people have not renewed papers on time, they’re undocumented. There is no grace period, and no renewal. If you’ve overstayed a visa in some cases you can adjust status without going home; if you came in without documents you generally have to go back to your country of origin. If you’ve been undocumented in the US for 6 months and you leave, you can’t even apply for re-entry for a period of 3 years. If you’ve been undocumented over a year, the bar is 10 years. This is not so easy if came here because you’re trying to keep your kids in school, or pay for medicine for an ailing parent. “Go home and get your papers in order” is not so simple. (These wait periods are the IIRAIRA bars, enacted in 1996.)

      Getting proper papers in the first place is not as simple as many assume. If you have a close relative in the US who can petition for you, you may have it relatively easy. A citizen can petition for spouse, parents, children, or siblings. A Legal Permanent Resident can only petition for spouse or children. In order to petition for someone you have to undergo a thorough review — the Feds want to talk to your employer, your bank, check your criminal record, see the lease or the deed to your house. You have to prove that you can support the intended immigrant above the poverty level — new immigrants can’t have any public benefits for the first 5 years. After that you pay $985 visa application fee, and you wait for a period of years. A minor child may have to wait only a couple of years, an adult for decades. Then, as the person’s number comes up, you pay hundreds for medical exams, background checks, etc. I’ve done this, and I know whereof I speak.

      For someone coming from outside the country, the costs are staggering. In my husband’s home country, the application fee is the equivalent of a couple of month’s pay for a senior teacher; the medical exam costs another month’s pay. No one will lend you the money, because the wait is so long and because your chances are so bad. In places where people are tempted to emigrate by economic need, the US immigration system sounds like a cruel joke. Most folks, if they had that much money, would happily stay home.

      I know a number of people who’ve come here without formal authorization. None of them is as cynical as you seem to assume about having children.

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