An Immigration Story

Seventeen years ago today, I moved to the United States; an immigrant filled with hope and uncertainty!

I feel grateful that in these times of political turmoil over immigration that I am a libertarian and uncommitted to the staunch political ideals of Democrats and Republicans on the immigration issue.

We discuss immigration often in terms of statues, laws, permits and authorizations and we forget the humanity that lives behind those documents, sometimes in fear.  I may not necessarily look the part of a struggling immigrant, but I too have felt that fear.

From a theoretical perspective, I believe in an ordered method for documenting who is in the country.  We should know who is here.  I also believe many of the laws we have in place, even those in place to show compassion to those who came here as children, fail to provide a final solution to the immigration problem.  This leaves many people feeling like they have no other home, and yet no path to citizenship in this country where they act as contributors.

I know many immigrants from different countries.  While I do not discount that some immigrants are lazy criminals, the ones I have known are hard working contributors to this country.  Taxpayers, paying into a support system that in many cases they are not eligible to draw from.  Many of them are required to pay international student tuition rates, even when they live in town.

My own path through the immigration journey, which may seem fairly unremarkable on the outside, came with it's share of tribulation.  Over the course of my journey, I was on renewing visas, I had an expired visa for some period of time (please read here that this means that for some time I was considered "undocumented"), I have been in a green card queue, and a citizenship queue.  When I became eligible to apply for a green card through marriage to an American, he was required to sign an affidavit stating that he would support me financially, that I would not be a burden on the welfare system and that if I did apply for support he would pay it back on my behalf.  For many years I was unable to work.  I was forced to leave school at one point.  I have held my breath going through immigration check points.

Meanwhile, my family members and I have been here these nearly two decades, paying taxes, volunteering in our communities and trying to contribute in a meaningful way.  On the other hand, we have been unable to vote.  As a student in undergrad and graduate school, there were scholarships I was not eligible for because I was not a citizen.  I have never complained about these things, as I understand I am here by choice.  But it does make it difficult to not be a burden when some of the opportunities are withheld.

All along, I have been as independent as possible.  I have never held a student loan, despite achieving 3 degrees in this country.  I carry almost no personal debt (besides my mortgage, where I have never missed a payment).  In times where my husband made barely $14/hr, we scraped by when I was not allowed to work, living off ground chuck and Hamburger Helper, never once being allowed to or attempting to seek financial aid.  On the contrary, my entire family, even in difficult times, have done our best to be as charitable as possible.  My dad set a wonderful example in this.  My brother, a permanent resident (green card holder), is self-employed and through his work employs a group of Americans who, off of his talent and hard work, are then able to earn a living as well.

The faces of immigration are all different.  We all have stories.  Many of us have done our hell bent best to do so within the limits of the law.  Many others are here by no choice of their own, eager for a productive, American life.  We need laws, but we need pathways.  We need reason, but we also need humanity.  And lest we forget, let's remember the words on the plaque that sat at the base of the Statue of Liberty (which most people cut short, irritatingly):

The New Colossus - by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea washed , sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" she cries
With silent lips.  "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"