Friday, July 25, 2008

Living in Fear

Millions of people in this country are constantly worried every time they see someone in a uniform. Most have never committed a serious offense, other than being here... illegally. Being apprehended for jaywalking or a minor driving infringement or even suspected of a crime will likely result in deportation, a fate worse than death for so many of these people who came here hoping for a better life.

I was reminded of this as I read last Sunday’s NYT article about Juana Villegas DeLaPaz, a Mexican woman who was nine months pregnant when she was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Nashville. After giving birth in a hospital with her leg secured to the bed, she was returned to jail and then her baby was taken away from her for two days. Meanwhile she was denied a breast pump and developed a serious infection. She was clearly treated like a criminal, when in fact she was just a scared woman who happened to cross paths with authority. It seems likely she will be deported. And then what becomes of the baby born after her arrest?

Last night we went to see The Visitor, a PG-13 movie about Walter, an older man who is burned out in his career, and his bizarre encounter with two illegal immigrants, Tarek from Syria and his girlfriend Zainab from Senegal. Tarek breathes new life into Walter’s rather depressed body when he begins to give him drumming lessons. Then Tarek is arrested in the NYC subway for a crime he didn’t even commit.

He is taken to a detention center in Queens, where he is kept with 300 other such people, none of whom are terrorists. His widowed mother arrives from Michigan when she hasn’t heard from her son for 5 days. Ultimately Tarek is deported to Syria and his mother follows, knowing neither of them will ever be able to legally enter this country again. Of course that leaves Zainab all alone to sell her jewelry on the street.

For a PG-13 movie it is a sad ending, but it is the only realistic ending for people who end up in this situation.

I’m not an advocate of opening our borders to anyone who wants to enter, but the cruelty we seem to inflict on those who get here one way or the other is sometimes beyond belief. Do we need to be reminded that the majority of people living in this country had their roots elsewhere?


Blogger Steve said...

The anti-immigrant mob mentality out there is truly scary. I think we'd do well to practice some compassion and work with the people who want to come here, rather than making it virtually impossible for them to do so legally. Instead of blaming immigrants for our economic woes, we ought to be blaming the real source of the problem -- our national leaders.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- Those failed national leaders always need scapegoats and people who can be trotted out as terrorists. There is a ready supply of illegal aliens to serve that purpose. In truth they are the ones doing many of the jobs that seem to be beneath the native born these days. Their work ethic should be a model for us all.

1:42 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Should have made Mexico a State or two long ago.

"First we take Manhatten....THEN WE TAKE BERLIN!"

Guess who I am!

Hey Steve #2! if I could lose 40 pounds and cut off my hair, we'd be twins!

4:58 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve #1 -- You will always be unique. That's just the way it is.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Ruth D~ said...

This is not something that has a simple solution. I think most people object to "illegal" immigrants, not legal ones. Think if you saw a movie that showed a horrendous crime by illegal immigrants, one designed to get your sympathy for the citizen whose life was ruined . . .. the movie raised sympathies in the opposite direction . . . and there are soe sad stories. But I also saw a story of a woman whose husband and two children were murdered by an illegal immigrant, so ...?

I'd be curious to hear your solutions, Steve, to make legal immigration easier?

9:24 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

Well, I've gone through legal immigration and let me tell you, it is NO picnic! Reza and I got married and started the process. I went with him on the interviews and I have never been treated with such rudeness before. First they make you sit in an office that looks like you are in a third world country bus station. Then they pull you in and treat you with such suspicion, watching you all the time for little cracks. At one point the agent asked Reza why he was driving so far to go to work and to go to school (he was completing his doctorate in Davis, CA and working in North San Jose, living half-way between them). "You would think, that someone as smart as you would have figured out a better system," the agent sneered as she shuffled through our paperwork. Finally I told her that if she didn't believe us, she could call my mother and she would straighten her out (I guess I think my mother can straighten anyone out!). The agent told me there no reason for me to get snippy. ::::laugh:::: I can laugh at it now, because Reza had every single piece of paper that he needed and we were able to make the journey successfully. If he had had a harder time with English, or was not as well organized, it would have been a nightmare. That year we had two celebrations, when he was sworn in as a US citizen (which is a very moving ceremony, my Mom and Dad and Sister came with us to experience it, there was not a dry eye in the house) and his PhD ceremony.

Just recently, one of my favorite waitresses was detained in Mexico when trying to return from a vacation. Because she is hispanic and a few other factors, it took them a YEAR to reconcile her paperwork. Yeah, sure, keep the gainfully employed, hardworking women who are taking classes to become psychologists from entering our country! I was very glad to see her back. It is a testimony to the cafe and what they think about her that her job was waiting for her when she came back.

BTW, I loved the movie, "The Visitor"... took my mom and she loved it too. That Tarique was one sexy drummer! I loved the first scene with the piano teacher when she offered to buy his piano!

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Carol said...

Illegal immigrants are breaking the law. I have no problem with legal immigrants, but when people break the law, there are consequences and there should be. Breaking the law is WRONG.

If someone is pregnant and they break the law and they get arrested, whose fault is it? Uh. I would say the person who broke the law. Whether or not they are pregnant is irrelevant. They CHOOSE to break the law, knowing if you get caught, there are consequences.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Ruth D -- I would venture to say that most horrendous crimes are not being committed by illegal aliens, whose main goal in life is to go undetected. Most of these people are harbored by family or friends as they just try to survive in a country where they don't know the language and where they have no rights because they are undocumented.

Kelly -- Congratulations to Reza and to you for running the immigration gauntlet successfully. I get the impression than many of the people working in immigration are not nearly as smart as the two of you. It can't be easy for people with minimal education obtained in another country.

Carol -- As for the story of the pregnant woman who was arrested, I was complaining about how she and her baby were treated, not so much the fact that they were arrested. Even though they are illegal, they are still human beings who deserve better treatment.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

Thank you, Barbara, right now we are in the midst of applying for a Visa for Reza's Mom and Dad to come for an extended visit. How much do you think it costs to apply for a legal visa?

4:28 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kelly -- I would have thought a visa required paperwork, but was otherwise free of charge. How much?

8:42 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I cannot imagine the constant state of fear and the risks people take to avoid getting caught. The movie sounds very interesting.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- The movie made me value the fact that as a US citizen I am immune to this dilemma. I usually just take my citizenship for granted. Anyone like Kelly and Reza, who have gone through the immigration process, knows full well how much it is worth!

10:20 AM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

We have been applying for a visa for Reza's Mom and Dad, sister and brother to come to America for a visit. Initially, it cost about 400 apiece to start the process. When Mom and Dad were expedited because of their age, we were asked for another 400 dollars apiece for processing. We are lucky because we can fill out the forms for them and haven't (yet) occured any lawyer fees. One of the forms that we had to fill out in order to sponsor Mom and Dad was a pledge that we would be responsible for all of their expenses. We had to send in copies of our last Income Tax form along with the numbers of our last four years. There is a formula that they use to decide if we make enough to qualify for this.

Reza came here on a student visa which we changed to a permanent resident and finally a citizen after we were married. At first, my parents were worried that he was marrying me just to become a citizen (gee, thanks, Mom and Dad!), but I think that not even citizenship would be worth marrying me! ::Laugh:: I am lucky that Reza was able to cross his tees and dot his eyes... one little screwup and you become "illegal".

1:28 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Hey barb...check this'll have to paste it.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kelly -- I never realized how much it cost to apply for (tourist?) visas. No wonder people choose to come illegally!

Steve #1 -- This is a really good link that describes the plight of those brought into this country as children, illegal but without a choice. I have heard horror stories about these kids, often outstanding students, who can't even apply for college admission because of their immigration status. I would firmly support "The Dream Act" they advocate.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

One of my students won a scholarship to Berkeley, but was unable to accept it because of his (illegal) immigration status. I think that he got some legal help and was later able to attend (pretty amazing for a child who started out in special education classes -- and not because of a english as a second language issue). One of the things that California has been fighting is whether to deny education, medical treatment, driving privileges to people who are not legal immigrants. To me, it seems that that is two wrong definitely not making (but perhaps in another way) a right!

3:33 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kelly -- Many of these kids who start out under such difficult circumstances in this country go on to do amazing things. The "system" does not make it easy for them to succeed, but often where there's a will, there seems to be a way. I would like to be an advocate for someone like this.

5:24 PM  

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