Monday, October 10, 2011

Becoming Legal: An Immigrant's Path to Citizenship

A short course on immigration in the USA:

1.  Anti-immigrant sentiment is nothing new nor limited to our current affairs or just the U.S.:  all over the world immigrants are shunned and the outside ethnic group is always seen as inferior.  Just a few which come to mind:  Shiite and Sunni,  Japanese and Chinese, Kurds and Turks, Slavs and Croats, Romanians in Spain ( the Spanish gov. recently was offering them money to go back to Romania, if they promised to stay there for 5 yrs ! ), Catholic Irish vs. English Protestants, the Algerians in France etc.  In the US we have historically found groups that were easy to discriminate against:  Native Americans, Italians, Germans, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Africans, and now Latinos.
    2. There is always an element of "otherness" commonly based on religion or skin color or language in the "outside" group.
    3.  Those in a position of influence ( talk show hosts, politicians, religious leaders, and in some cases even teachers) tend to take sides.  Those who exacerbate the dislike of the scapegoat, usually focus on the "otherness" and try to foment fear of the unknown.  Most people naturally have certain fears of that which is outside their comfort zone, their realm of familiarity.  So, this is an easy way to persuade the populace of the demons in "those people."   We hear terms like "the axis of evil," and "They are either for us, or against us." or "They are taking away our jobs."  This is a common one in our current financially stressful world.
    4.  With the passage of time, at least in the US, our "social mind-set" or popular image softens toward many of our formerly disliked groups.  Think of the changes we have seen in attitudes in our lifetime toward, say, African Americans, Japanese, and the Vietnamese.  These changes come slowly, with influence makers and moms in sneakers speaking out. 
    5.  Seeing the above pattern repeat itself several times in our lives, we now are much more skeptical of accepting the initial demagoguery.
    6.  Based on our own experiences and observations, we have found the hispanics we have met here in the US and Latin America, mostly genuine, generous, hard-working people, who are trying to make the best of their lives.  The newly emigrated are leaving poverty, violence and corruption, looking for a new beginning, a second chance.  When we recently read in an internet forum a comment from a woman who described herself as a conservative, born again Christian who thought that all Mexicans should be deported, what came to mind was that the essence of both Christianity and immigration is a second chance, a new beginning, an opportunity to start fresh.  She obviously saw life differently from us.
    7.  Attempts to force immigrants out of our communities have repeatedly proven unworkable.  The resulting economic impact is disastrous to those on both sides of the tracks.  The citizen farmers and small business owners find themselves without customers and workers.  The immigrants, both legal and illegal, have their lives and families thrown into chaos.  For some, this may be the goal.  For us, it is unfathomable.
    8.  So, indeed, we would favor changing our laws to provide a path to citizenship.  Perhaps fines may be a part of the equation, but few will be able to pay them.  If it is found that back taxes are owed, certainly employers would be required to pay their portions, along with penalties and interest.  We think that it will be nearly impossible to find small business employers who have relied in the past on undocumented workers, now willing to step up and pay these back taxes, fines and interest.  Hence, "making up for the past" is a difficult part of the solution.  Criminal records should be examined and not allowed for violent crimes.  Service to the country (USA) in the form of work in the Peace Corps, Americorps etc would be a good thing.  Basic English proficiency should be required, as well as knowledge of our governmental system.  We see this not as amnesty.  Rather it represents a means of earning a way into our system.  In the early days of our country, many people earned their way in - as indentured servants.  When they could not pay for their passage across the ocean, they "borrowed" the money from a landowner already living in this country, then worked for that owner for five to seven years without pay.  Hence, working to achieve legal status and citizenship in the US is nothing new.

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