Immigration Reform Part I: The Plight of the Legal Immigrant

In 2014, Brazil will host one of the world’s foremost athletic events—the FIFA World Cup. Brazil was chosen to host both the World Cup in 2014 AND the Olympic Summer Games in 2016. While Brazil’s leadership sees this as a way to showcase their country to the world, the Brazilian people are protesting en masse. They feel cheated.

Brazilians, like many Central and South American citizens, live under high taxes and little return for their money. “Favelas” (slums) are highly prevalent in the main cities, crime is out of control, and the public systems for which Brazilians pay so much are decrepit, inadequate, and shameful. What’s more, the infrastructure is horrendous, and the cities aren’t even prepared with enough hotels to accommodate all the impending tourists. (At present, plans are actually in place to dock cruise ships at Rio as a sort of “floating hotel” complex).

The fallacies of day-to-day Brazilian economic policy aside, the point at hand is that the Brazilians haven’t seen much for their money.

Suddenly, two major global athletic events come along, and Brazil declares that this is “just the incentive” the country needed to get better. So much so, that Brazil plans to spend upwards of 30 billion dollars on the World Cup alone. Keep in mind, that the last THREE world cups combined totaled only 25 billion.

A video uploaded to YouTube by a young Brazilian woman details just what the government is doing to clean Brazil up for the world’s eyes, and describes in detail what’s being taken from its people to do it. Carla Dauden, the creator of the video, says this:

“. . . A country in which illiteracy can reach 21 percent, and averages 10 percent; a country which ranks 85 in the human development index; a country in which 13 million people are underfed every day, and where many many other people die waiting for medical treatment. . . does that country need more stadiums? Some politicians argue that the World Cup and the Olympics are the incentive our country needed to get better.

Wait … what?

So, we’ve been paying taxes all these years … for what?

What country needs an incentive to take care of its people? Suddenly there’s all this money to build stadiums, and the population is led to believe that the World Cup is just the change that’s needed for their lives to get better. (snaps fingers). The truth is that most of the money that comes from the games and the stadiums goes straight to FIFA, and we don’t even see it.”

She goes on to detail how houses in the “favelas” are simply leveled to make way for the stadiums. Worse still, the slum-dwellers are given nowhere else to go. Gangs and criminals are temporarily rounded up and put in temporary holding locations until after the games; native Indians are kicked out of their historical sites to make room for an Olympic Museum. Protestors have been violently suppressed.

In short, the World Cup and the Olympic Games come before the Brazilian people and their needs, and the resulting “additions” to the country (primarily, money-guzzling stadiums in a country which already boasts a plethora of sporting arenas) will continue to cost the people for years to come.  The law-abiding and tax-paying Brazilian citizens feel as though they’ve gotten the short end of the deal.  Something else has come before them.

A Tale of Many Cities

A little over 5,000 miles northwest of Brazil’s main cities is Chicago, IL–another city not unfamiliar with social strife. In it, a different kind of “favela” rose up. During President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, the city of Chicago decided to deal with older, low income residential areas by tearing them down and erecting what would become known as  “Projects”—a word now synonymous with gangs, drugs, and unspeakable violence. Cabrini Green, part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) answer to poverty, was the worst high rise of the CHA venture.

The residents of Chicago had protested the creation of the Projects, but the complaints fell on deaf ears.

Instead of letting private business and enterprise renovate and rejuvenate the area much like what would be done with nearby Lincoln Park, the city decided it knew better. Out went the new ideas, and in came the Projects. Chicago’s poverty problem now rose vertically, and in far more concentrated a fashion. The city had done nothing to actually address the core problem, and instead created a place for it to grow. CHA’s Projects attracted crime like a magnet and grew it like a Petri dish. So intense were the crime levels that the Chicago Police Department had to create a “Cabrini Green task force,” but Chicagoans will tell you the place was rarely patrolled. It was just that dangerous. The city had created the problem, and then couldn’t handle it.

Because the Projects didn’t deal with poverty as innovation and business growth would have, many residents stayed in squalor for decades, and still many others were evicted from the very Projects that were supposed to help solve their problems. Poverty wasn’t eradicated or even partially subdued—and the whole surrounding area had to then deal with the effects of the crime that ensued.
In 2011 the last of the Projects in this development was demolished—a testament to the city’s failure.

For those unfamiliar with social experiments like the Projects, how would you feel if your city came along to an older, problematic sector of your neighborhood, announced it was going to knock it down and build what something you knew was going to intensify the problem … all on your dime and against your will?

Think about Brazil and the frustrations of its people. “Why does our government care less about us and our nation’s problems, until the world’s eyes are upon us for the World Cup?” Think about the people of Chicago, with a love of their city and plans (that went on to work in other neighborhoods!) in mind, rejected by a city which then proceeded to spend their tax dollars on an experiment that would miserably fail. “We could have rejuvenated this to the benefit of ALL Chicagoans, but CHA shoved us aside in favor of another group of people.”

Now think of an immigrant, patiently waiting his turn in a long line of paperwork, procedures, and backlogs. To make matters worse, he has been separated from his fiancé for months on end, while she works and waits in the United States. He’s done everything right—he’s gone through each painstaking step, and now he’s nearing the end of the line. Suddenly, he watches as a door opens in the front of the room. Beyond this door is the United States—no one can get through that door without the very paper he so anxiously awaits. Confused, he watches as this door opens, and a new line of people are ushered to the front of HIS line, and their applications are seamlessly approved while he still waits.  In shock he watches as these people, who didn’t wait in line, didn’t go through the process, and didn’t follow the rules, obtain the very permission he (honestly and forthrightly) worked so hard to achieve Tearfully he calls his fiancé to inform her that it’s going to be a little longer … as they’ve decided to let millions in ahead of him.

This would have been my husband Gil, had we had the misfortune of going through the process in 2013. Despite this, it was still a terribly painful and expensive process. We spent months apart, while we worked with a lawyer—paying her with money we didn’t have—meticulously filled out form after form and paying the U.S. government hefty filing fees with even more money we didn’t have. When he finally got here, we had to begin another process to receive a second temporary work permit, a temporary permanent resident card, and finally his “permanent” permanent resident card (green card). To make matters worse, a slight error in our filing process awarded Gil 4 months of unemployment while we waited for his second temporary work permit. We had to find a sponsor (someone who will sign official documentation stating that we would receive financial aid from him in the event of a financial crisis), and sign papers stating that we recognized that my husband could not apply for unemployment, welfare, or food stamps. His forced unemployment happened while I was still a student. Aside from the little that I received from tutoring Spanish students 2 times a week, we had no income for four months. To imagine going through all that, only to be told that 13 million+ people would get to go ahead my husband would have utterly devastated our already fragile situation. That said, we’re not out of the clear yet. Gil will soon be eligible to leave his green card status and apply for citizenship. . .

This is amnesty, and it’s at our country’s doorsteps once again.

Tell me—is there really much difference between the frustrations of the Brazilian people or the Chicagoans I described above … and the plight of the legal immigrant in the midst of the current immigration reform debate? The circumstances are different, but the outcome is the same. In all three cases, something the government deemed more important than its people, or the people obeying the law, is taking precedence. 

Immigration Reform

Right now, there’s an immigration debate in full force on Capitol Hill. At the forefront is a bill– The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744)—crafted by what’s become known as the Gang of Eight—8 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have constructed a comprehensive response to our current state of affairs. At present, our border is a mess, our immigration system is dysfunctional at best, and we’ve got a flood of illegal aliens in the millions, compounded by a gross misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment to our Constitution. Keep in mind that this amendment was originally drafted to ensure that all the recently freed slaves would be legally considered citizens and that no state could prevent this from happening. As analysts at the Heritage Foundation put it, “The Fourteenth Amendment made United States citizenship primary and state citizenship derivative. The primacy of federal citizenship made it impossible for states to prevent former slaves from becoming United States citizens by withholding state citizenship. States could no longer prevent any black from United States citizenship or from state citizenship either.”

The Amendment reads: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”  “Subject to the jurisdiction thereof” is important, as this amendment has since been interpreted to mean that anyone born on American soil is automatically granted American citizenship, even if his or her parents are not citizens, or are here illegally.  “Subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means that the person in question owes no allegiance to any other nation. It’s easy to see how things can get sticky when this amendment is applied to children of non-citizen immigrants. This is the problem our nation faces today—with millions of illegal aliens having children in this country, this affects how we address the illegality of the parents’ status.

In response to what has become a massive mess, this comprehensive bill proposes to, in sum, provide a “framework for legalizing an estimated 11 million people unlawfully present in the United States,” while providing supposed triggers to secure the border.

At present, legal immigration is terribly hard and quite painful (emotionally and financially). Imagine adding salt to the wound by telling those who have been standing in line that, effectively, had they bypassed the rules in the first place, they could have already been here—working (albeit under the table, though not always!), and building a life for themselves. Adding insult to injury is the fact that this bill would legalize the illegal aliens nearly right away, while legal immigrants remain in line, just like what would have happened to my husband and me.

Before anything else, let us first examine the premise upon which the immigration debate is always framed. Simply put, there’s a school of thought that says we need to deport each person who came in through the back door—do not pass “go;” do not collect $200. This is the first path. There’s another that advocates the legalization of each illegal alien as a means to solve the problem. This is the second path. These paths are almost always discussed with some semblance of “border control” and “law reform,” but rarely anything serious.

Reality (that is, that we’ve got a problem decades long, and millions of people deep) and the rule of law (that is, that our nation must remain true to the rules) have to somehow be seamlessly interwoven to create a solution that actually works. A third path, perhaps?

One thought on “Immigration Reform Part I: The Plight of the Legal Immigrant

  1. Pingback: Immigration Reform Part III: Why Immigration Reform … Why Now? | A Future Free

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