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by Peter Moskos

February 7, 2009

A story of 6 immigrants

I hate anti-immigrant people. Really. And I don’t hate easily.

No, we’re not full. Just think of all the depopulated cities in this country. Those are the places that need people: Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Camden, South Dakota. The list goes on and on. The very least we could bring these places back up sustainable and healthy population from the past.

The U.S., despite being incredibly friendly to immigrants, has long has a Nativist strain. Idiots, they are. And over the past decade they’ve become a lot more powerful.

Not to my surprise, part of the war on terrorism has somehow morphed into a war on good immigrants.

I hate U.S. policy that deports and makes criminals of good men and women. I hate splitting up families. I hate kicking productive tax-paying men and women out of our country.

At a talk today I was asked why New York became so safe. There are a lot of reason, but one of these is the 40% of New Yorkers (that’s right: four in ten) are immigrants born in another country. And many of them are illegal. And I’m happy they’re here. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t want to be here. Immigrants are what makes this neighborhood, this city, and this country great.

Here is a story of six immigrants:

1 and 2) My grandparents.

My grandparents were Greeks from what is now Albania. They were born Ottoman Subjects (sounds ancient, doesn’t it?). My grandfather came to America around 1918 on an Italian passport. He shined shoes and started a shoe repair business. They met and married here. They raised two successful sons. He lived with us till he died when I was seven. I am named after my grandfather.

3) My mom.

She came to America from Germany when she was 16, in 1959. At the time she just wanted a visa to study English. But when she went to get her visa, the woman on the other side of the glass said, “Why don’t you apply for an immigration visa rather than a tourist visa? Then you can work.
“Because I am not going to stay there,” said my mom.
Well, check it anyway, she said. There’s no downside. You don’t have to stay. But you never know.

Well, my mom did stay. Thanks to some bureaucrat and a system that wasn’t out to get her, my mom checked the right box and stayed here. It was that easy. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. I like to think we’re all better off.

Those were the old days. Now things are different. Now we’re stupid.

4) A business owner.

I just got back from my favorite bike store. Yes, business is crappy, but the owner was very happy. He's now a U.S. citizen!

Despite being a model resident, paying taxes, starting a business (you know, the kind the provides jobs), being a good grandfather, he feared deportation for 18 years.

He came with his wife and two young daughters overland (and sea) from South America via Guatemala and Mexico. I asked him if the Mexicans were nice to them. This good-natured man simply said: "No. It was rough." I can't even imagine.

They traveled to the U.S. via boat, foot, train (freight), bus, and truck (hitching). Any way they could. Many times in many countries they were caught and deported.

And no, it wasn't always technically, what's the word? Legal.

He applied for U.S. citizenship but was afraid that his “crime” of being here was going to get him deported. He was afraid, and for good reason, that he would be kicked out.

He got his passport on December 28. He celebrated by going home, for the first time in years, to visit his parents. He hadn't seen them in years because he was afraid he wouldn't be able to get back into America, his home.

5) A nurse.

A young woman took care of my father briefly before he died last year. She wants to stay in this country. It may not be possible. She is from Nepal and a registered nurse. She is a good nurse. But she only has a student visa. So she’s got to keep taking classes. What then?

6) My cousin.

This Russian came to America on a student visa. She’s smart. She graduated and went on to Harvard Law School. Then she got a job in a Chicago law firm. At work, she met and then married my cousin. They live in Chicago and pay taxes (a lot of them, I might add). They also have a one-year-old son (who is adorable and really took a liking to me, for some inexplicable reason). She is currently expecting a second son in June.

Well in the process of making her a citizen, it was discovered that a requirement of her original visa was that after school she would had to leave the U.S. for two years. Why? Who knows? She didn’t.

Yeah, just like a common criminal, she went to college, Harvard Law School, and then to work in a law firm. For that she is now at risk of being deported. And this despite doing all the right things, being well educated, having an American husband, and being financially well off.

So if she gets deported, they all leave. For at least a two-year forced exile. In whose interest is this? Really. People, what the hell are we doing?

Who the hell wants these good people out of our country? Who thinks we’d be better off? Sure, I suppose it would be good if everybody followed the rules. But that assumes the rules make sense. They don’t!

Why do we educate people and then deport them? Why do we threaten nurses, business owners, and lawyers with with deportation? What the hell are we doing? Where is the rationality? Where is the humanity? Where is the morality? Where is the common sense?

Really, what’s become of us? Have we no shame?


Louise said...

I agree, 100%! In fact, I agree 120%. Since you promised us 5 examples and gave us 6, that makes the math work out. :-)

But seriously, I hope some big changes are made in immigration policy under President Obama. We are traveling along the southern US border near Mexico, and the sheer amount of money being spent to keep out "dangerous" Mexicans who want only to work hard to support their families is infuriatingly stupid.

PCM said...

Thanks. And I go the arithmetic fixed! I'm good in math... really!

tim said...

I agree on all points with the rather significant exception of Miami.

For whatever reason, there seems to be a culture of crime into which most immigrants to Miami are integrated. It's a shame, because for decades the traditions of citizenry and patriotism reflected by the Cuban-American population were a great benefit to the community, and it is very much a possibility that the ridiculous immigration rules pertaining to Cuba vis-a-vis other Caribbean nations (escaping poverty in Cuba? Welcome! Escaping poverty in Haiti? GET OUT!) is the major contributor to this attitude.

Regardless of the location, though, if you treat someone like they are a criminal, and surround them with a culture that promotes the identity of "illegal," they are going to embody a "criminal" behavior pattern.