[Tonight's blog post is taken from the blog "Around the World in Katie Days." Yes, Kate gave me permission to steal it. No, I'm not just reposting this because she mentioned my story. She had me at "I was an illegal alien for four days." I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!]
"Thoughts on Stuff"
My residence permit expired on June 1. It was supposed to expire on July 1—as all other UU students’ permits do—but somewhere, a typo happened, and my permit got messed up. I noticed this immediately after getting it in February, and UU’s international office moved mountains to get an extension for me. They gave me the paperwork, they checked the paperwork, they paid the extension fee (200 euro for A MONTH’S EXTENSION. They don’t issue a new permit for that—they send you a LETTER), and they followed up with the immigration office for me.
We did everything right. I was on the right side of the law, I had highly educated, native Dutch speakers advocating for me, and I filled out all the right forms. Despite this, I didn’t get my extension letter by June 1. I had to take the bus to the immigration office to get proof that my extension is processing. My meeting with the IND officers was ridiculously complicated and involved but ultimately ended with me getting proof. All things considered, it wasn’t a huge deal, but it was stressful and involved an awful lot of time and money from lots of different people. And it’s technically not over yet.
As I was sitting in the IND office, waiting for my proof of residency, I got to thinking about the immigration problems in my country. I’m a Texan, so border fences and INS roundups make the news fairly often. We have a loud, public, and frankly sometimes racist debate about immigration all the time in America. I don’t want to comment on that debate, though I know I will probably offend some of you with my views on this issue.
Instead, I want to comment on the sympathy I feel for immigrants in America. How confusing they must find our system. I found the Dutch system confusing, and like I said, I had the right people on my side and followed the legal procedure. It must be terribly scary and difficult for people who don’t speak English to navigate our system.
I get a picture of a young boy in my head when I think about this. Sonia Nazario, who I met when she last spoke at UNT, chronicled the tale of the kids who ride on the roofs of trains through Central America and Mexico to America. It’s called the Train of Death. And so I think of the Enriques of this world, who risk everything to ride this train to illegally immigrate to America. I think of the women who work in terrible conditions to keep their kids alive because they know they have a better chance in America than they do at home.
I think of the guys standing at the day labor site in Denton, trying to provide for their families. My dad does work with international economies, and a few years ago, he started working with Mexico. Somehow, he ended up involved in producing a documentary that found him following a man from Mexico around the DFW metroplex. I remember him coming home and showing me footage of these day labor sites, these guys taking any job that came along from any guy who stopped because they had families at home to feed. This man—and I think many of these men—was an illegal immigrant who spoke very little English. How scary it must be to try to navigate our immigration system for men and women like this—not to mention for young children.
And I think, where are their advocates? Where are the people to guide them through this process? Who translates documents for them, who explains why things are the way they are, who helps them when things go wrong? Who helps them get the money they need? The answer—in many cases—is no one.
That makes me sad. Illegal immigration is a complicated issue, but I can’t help but think that maybe we could reduce the problem if we made our system a bit less complicated.
I guess immigration has been on my mind a lot as I’ve seen two of my fellow Gaylord Ambassadors have very different experiences with the American immigration system. Both of them followed American laws to the letter, but they’ve had similar struggles.
My friend, Chinh, lives with her mother for the first time in 18 years (or she did, before she recently had to move for a job). Chinh and her father immigrated from Vietnam when she was little, but her mom wasn’t able to come with them because of our immigration system. After working her butt off for years (seriously, this girl works harder than anyone I’ve ever met), Chinh was able to sponsor her mother, and she received her permanent visa in April—just in time to see her daughter graduate as our outstanding senior. That’s a success story that makes me really happy, and I, like most of the state of Oklahoma, am just thrilled for her family—though the fact that a family was separated for 18 years absolutely crushes me.
Another Gaylord alumna hasn’t been quite so lucky (yet!). I started following Lauren after I discovered her blog about her fairytale long-distance romance. Lauren fell in love with a British man, and they decided to get married this year. They cleared all the hurdles that you see inThe Proposal but when it came time for the final questions, they found that her fiance’s visa had been deferred for “additional processing,” meaning they had to cancel their wedding and live separately for an indeterminate amount of time. There’s quite a bit of suspicion the processing happened because of her fiance’s Pakistani last name. At any rate, they have no answers and no wedding date.
It’s stories like these that really make me think about our immigration system. This is not an issue I’m an expert on, but these situations really make me think about how incredibly terrifying immigration is.
It was scary for me not to know what would happen if IND rejected my extension petition or didn’t give me proof they were considering it.
It must have been scary for Chinh’s family not to know when they would be reunited.
It must be scary for Lauren not to know when she’ll see her fiance again.
It must be scary for the countless other immigrants who try to come to America legally or who come to America illegally and try to get permanent visas.
And I can’t help but wonder: isn’t there a better way?
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