Last night, President Obama unveiled his executive actions “crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes in order to temporarily stay in the U.S. Without fear of deportation.”
During Civics Class, we discussed what this means. To my surprise, the residents were not as excited as I was about the program. One had a concern about a person she is having troubles with fits the criteria for the action, and instead of being made to leave, now this person has an opportunity to stay and bother her even more. Others in the class were more pragmatic. Like me, they struggle with the idea that people have, in black and white, broken the law. Anyone who is in the country out of status (expired visa) or undocumented (illegally) are criminals. BUT, and this is a big but, as residents new to the country, they can understand the need and desire to get to America by any means necessary.
As we went over phonograms, shaping our mouths to coax the correct sound out, I kept going back to the idea that immigration is not the black and white issue as the average person thinks. Until I begin this job, I too thought it was just a matter of tighter border control, and people waiting their turn to get to America.
According to CNN:
Many Americans want immigrants to enter the country legally.
The way the system is set up now, the path to immigration is limited and expensive. To get to America legally, an immigrant may be sponsored through an employer or family member, they can enter as a refugee (or stay as an asylee) or get their name called in the coveted and limited Diversity Visa Lottery.
There’s still a wait based on what country you’re coming from. I have worked with a family who has waited 13 years for a brother to get a Visa issued in Afghanistan. Countries like China, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Mexico can have a wait time of 20 years. Yes, Two Oh years. A quick visit to the Department of State Visa Bulletin page shows that there are visas from 1993 that still being processed. That’s 21 years a person is waiting for their chance to queue in line.
There’s the costs associated with immigrating. Most immigrants have to get to the city where the visas are issued and hope that the officer is not in a foul or larcenous mood, closing the office if the palm isn’t packed right, or telling a person to come back in a week because they don’t “feel like it” (these are stories I heard from the residents. I can’t verify if this is true or not).
Once the visa is issued, there’s the cost of GETTING to the United States. These are the people who do it the legal way.
The illegal immigrants also have a cost getting to America. This past summer as I fretted over The Boy’s first solo public transportation bus ride, mothers of South America were sending children his age and younger solo across the COUNTRY to get to the Mexican border. Some of the children made it, and were immediately put into detention. Some were able to find family and live with them while they tried to untangle the red tape to find a legal way to keep the child in the country. Some were not as fortunate. On the trip to the US border, some children are used as drug mules, raped, or murdered.
To learn more about children crossing the border on their own, the documentary Which Way Home, is an excellent example of the desperation of these children.
Those that are qualified under the president’s actions should heed the following warnings:
- There is no information other than what President Obama said in his speech last night. DO NOT give anyone money to “hold your place”, gather documents, or give you forms. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services provide all forms for free either through their website or through their offices.
- Begin to gather any paperwork that will prove continuous residence in the United States since January 1, 2010. This is probably a PSA for everyone. Stop coming by with papers balled up, in no logical order, some pages missing, stained, scribbled on by kids, in other words, paperwork that is a hot mess. This helps no one. And irritates the person helping you.
- Start learning FOR YOURSELF what the initiative is. Now is not the time to whisper down the lane or helplessness, because English skills are not strong. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
Feedback from the President’s speech is mixed, just like the feelings of my students and residents. I’m excited for the opportunity to assist people who usually skulk around with questions for a “friend”. Like President Obama said, It’s time to come out of the shadows.