“Ladies and Gentlemen please get ready for landing…” that’s all that I hear from the flight attendant as we were getting ready to fly into Fort Worth, Texas airport. As I looked out the window I started to take a survey of the land, I looked out as far as I could. As I did this I couldn’t help but think to myself how big and open the country “appeared” to be from the sky. As I continued to survey the Fort Worth territory and as we got closer to the airport, reality hit me and the caution message posted on all car mirrors flashed before my eyes: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear” the emphasis here is on the word “appear”. As I continued to look out the window I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful and peaceful it all seemed from my view. The pastures look gorgeous and calm showered in different colors of green. The blue of the lakes and rivers blissfully echo the stillness and serenity of the clear blue skies above. From up here even the city seems to be in harmony, but the truth is that once you get closer, the pastures and especially the city only remain friendly for a few. In reality it embraces those that meet the right qualifications: class, gender, race, and ethnicity. These last two are the most crucial, especially in the last couple of years when it seems that our government representatives have all taken a sip from the “ I HATE ANYONE THAT’S NOT LIKE ME” Kool-Aid.
As I look out and see that we are getting closer and closer to the landing strip, I realize that many will never have the opportunity to witness what I just did up in the skies. Many will never understand or relate to the Utopia-like feeling I got believing (even for a mili-second) that the country is vast, friendly and ours for the taking. See, to many the country and their vision of it is rather small or rather yet limited. Limited by their circumstance, to be more specific, by their legal status. Some might only be willing or allowed to venture out to a nearby city; this alone might already be a great risk, especially with the current anti-immigration climate that seems to be ruthlessly hitting this country.
I know very well how this feels, as a child I grew up with those close to me facing this fear; unfortunately, now that I am older things haven’t changed much. Maybe there’s different characters (individuals) that are being affected but the plot remains the same. The villain-FEAR also remained the same, but unlike the characters in the narrative this villain has grown in repertoire. More individuals have been added to play or induce FEAR such as: police officers through the Secure Communities program, deans and university staff (just ask any DREAMER), and if you happen to be in Alabama any city, public school, doctor, nurse, gas, water, and electricity company employee.
The reasons for migration are varied and complex. Some people move to improve their economic situation, reunite with families, or obtain an education. Others leave their countries to escape violence, poverty, or discrimination.*
As we land I can’t help thinking of the loved one I will soon be embracing, a loved one who I haven’t seen in seven years because the system we live in has boxed them in to a small area which they consider their safe haven. The same system that knows that they are hard working individuals, but yet does not refrain from criminalizing them. The same system that most likely had something (or a lot to do) with the reason why you had to venture out to another country to survive or provide a living for your family back home. The same system that eats and benefits from the fruits of your hard labor, but yet requires you to keep your head down and maintain your invisibility in this country.
Seven long years, how time flies. The last time I saw the children they could sit on mylap, now they ask me about the University I attend and I wonder if they will ever get to sit inside of one. I can’t help but cringe at the mere thought that their “American Dream” might end after their high school graduation. I can’t help but wish that “legal” status was transferable, I can’t but feel guilty for being born on this “supposed” land of opportunity.
Am I grateful?
Yes, but the guilt of knowing that I have access to certain benefits simply because I was born on the right side of the border is heartbreaking and unshakable. I think of all the children and young adults in our schools, excelling and proving that they have the skills to be a benefit to society. The willingness to prove to their host country how grateful and appreciative they are for being on American soil, by going out and acquiring a career…if you would only give them a chance. Instead, you deny them the opportunity and only give them access to the jobs “we” citizens are not willing to take.
This in itself is ironic. It’s ironic because we are currently undergoing a shortage of doctors and nurses in the U.S. However, instead of helping propel the children of our country towards these careers to fill in these gaps, we go out to other nations like Africa, Thailand, Philippines, etc. and poach their professionals leaving those countries without the proper staff to take care of their own people.
As the population of the developed countries are aging and coming to require ever more medical attention, they are sucking away local health talent from developing countries. Already, one out of five practicing physicians in the U.S. is foreign-trained, and a study recently published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that if current trends continue, by 2020 the U.S. could face a shortage of up to 800,000 nurses and 200,000 doctors.**
Oh, but wait…I believe Uncle Sam is trying to remind me of something…ah, yes! If you join the military you are eligible for citizenship. So, put down that book and University brochure, pick up a weapon and make sure you remember to pick up your citizenship diploma before going out to training camp. You might not make it back alive, but at least you’ll die knowing you’re a citizen.
DISCLAIMER: By no means am I anti-military, I respect our service men and women, but I am against this being used as a tool to entice undocumented youth to enlist. Especially when the due process for residency and citizenship is run in such a way that one cannot help but think that its main purpose is to make things as difficult as possible for the applicant.
…Pentagon officials expect that the lure of accelerated citizenship will be powerful. Under a statute invoked in 2002 by the Bush administration, immigrants who serve in the military can apply to become citizens on the first day of active service, and they can take the oath in as little as six months…For foreigners who come to work or study in the United States on temporary visas, the path to citizenship is uncertain and at best agonizingly long, often lasting more than a decade. The military also waives naturalization fees, which are at least $675.
To enlist, temporary immigrants will have to prove that they have lived in the United States for two years and have not been out of the country for longer than 90 days during that time. They will have to pass an English test….Language experts will have to serve four years of active duty, and health care professionals will serve three years of active duty or six years in the Reserves. If the immigrants do not complete their service honorably, they could lose their citizenship.***
Seven years, in which all we have done as a family is hope and pray for the government to address this issue and pass a legislation that will benefit or at least make the current process clearer or flexible for those we know and love. See, many think that we want to play the system. But you are so wrong. We want to do the right thing, we respect your procedures and laws, if we could we would even file our taxes. But you see, we can’t. Because the way you have set things up for us and the role you have assigned us forces us to remain invisible.
As I wait for my connection to the East Coast, I observe as travelers move to and fro eager to reach their destinations. I know they are because we share the same expression, for I waited seven years to see you. I know, I know…far too long. Trust me I wanted to come sooner but I couldn’t, financially I couldn’t. Shame, the reasons that keep us apart.
Throughout these years I wondered, if I would ever see them again. I wondered what we as a family would do if we ever got the call, the call that most families with undocumented members dread and that some don’t even get until after the fact. What would we do? What could we do?
I sigh, and I try not to think about it. I try to concentrate on our time together. At the same time I can’t help feeling angry, but this emotion is overshadowed by the urgency of the need to change this system.
Yes, a promise!
A promise that I will do something to change this awful system that breaks families apart, that brings about fear, hatred, and distrust. I promise not only for those I know but for everyone that finds themselves in what seems like a helpless and hopeless situation. I promise because as a first generation American I know what it is like to see those you love struggle. Lose not only their dignity but their voice as well, because of the fear that the “gringo” might call the migra on them. I promise, because I’ve witnessed injustices take place simply because “the freaken wetback doesn’t speak English, they don’t know!” They don’t know they are being screwed, disrespected, criminalized, taken advantage of…but I did. I knew. I just couldn’t say anything then, but I can now.
Thus, I promise to do something, say something, stand up against injustices geared towards the undocumented in our country. Why? Because I believe in a civil society, we are all linked, we are all from the same human race. Lastly, now this is pretty simple folks:
BECAUSE I WANT TO!
I can’t and won’t wait for other’s to make time to solve this issue. It affects my present; therefore, I will and must act.
How? Not sure. But I will figure it out, trying is a lot better than sitting on the sidelines and shaking my head at how unfair the world is.
- *Amnesty International “In hostile terrain: Human Rights violations in Immigration enforcement in the US Southwest” Publication 2012
- **Garrett, Laurie “The Challenge of Global Health” Foreign Affairs. Jan/Feb. 2007
- ***Preston, Julia “U.S. Military Will Offer Path to Citizenship” NY York Times 2/14/09