The Cost of Emigrating
If you are an expat, you (or someone else) has paid generously for your right to live and work in a foreign country. In order to get your Visa you have been subjected to federal police checks, financial disclosure, interviews and fingerprinting. PLUS on-going tax filing in two countries and correspondence to both governments as to where you are living and working, in order to maintain your right to stay. As romantic as being an expat or resident might seem, this is the gritty (time-consuming and expensive) side of reality.
Since I have been through this process, I thought I was passionate about people arriving legally into a foreign country. When you look at the cost without the process, it is indefensible. I hate the human trafficking aspect of illegal immigration and I ache for those immigrants seeking a better life who are killed en route. There is an assumption in the USA perpetuated by the media that only a certain type of person enters the country without going through “proper channels” and now this assumption is under attack.
The self-published article in the New York Times “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” written by Pulitzer prize writer, Jose Antonio Vargas (video above) was printed earlier this week and it has stunned many readers around the world, myself included. Here is a hard-working, well-respected writer, who has been an inspiration to both hopeful and senior journalists alike and is also a self-proclaimed illegal immigrant.
Legal vs. Illegal Immigration
The issue of where to live, who can enter a country and under what pretenses is not a new one. For centuries countries around the world have grappled with these questions as they try to define the policies that ultimately create the social constructs in which their citizens raise their families. The US is a “melting-pot” of cultures evidenced by the iconic lines “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” on the iconic Statue of Liberty. It is also where today legal vs. illegal immigration and taxation of these people is a major election issue, as there are an estimated 11 million “undocumented immigrants”.
As a blogger I see the reaction to this story hotting up as a storm of contentious comments are being cracked across the cloud of the internet. Twitter, Facebook, websites and blogs around the globe are logged with emotional responses to this story and the issues surrounding it. At time of posting, the NYT website had nearly 1,000 comments attached to Vargas’ article alone! (Not to mention over 60,000 views of the attached YouTube video above) So I feel the urge to contribute myself…but I’m unclear on my position.
How does Citizenship Relate to Cultural Values?
When I look at Vargas as a potential US Citizen, I have to put him (and consequently other “undocumented immigrants”) as well as myself, under a microscope. As a professional leadership coach, I turn first to values. I’d like to think of myself as someone who is governed by integrity. As a legal resident, I have “followed the rules” and feel justified in saying my immigration journey has been one of integrity.
Yet I did not come here from war-embattled country or a country in which human rights are a low priority. I chose to come here as an adult, I met the “criterion” and had the means to do so. I do not and have not posed a drain on society, I speak the language and have integrated into the culture, so this culture has consequently accepted me into theirs, seemingly the ideal immigrant. I was lucky to emigrate because I fit the necessary criterion and my timing was right, as I wouldn’t fit the criterion today.
Comparatively Vargas’ story: we’re led to believe he’s been honest, he’s learned the language, been a positive contributor to others and has a paying job, also someone who’s been accepted into the culture. He has received incredible support from high-profile figures who have been willing to put their names and reputation on the line, also part of the immigration process. I feel myself wanting to support him in becoming a legal citizen as he meets my criteria of being a “good American citizen”. He has proven himself, so let him stay.
The Cost of Integrating
The other side of me is conflicted as I wonder why NOW? Now at 30 years old, after his clear success and his notoriety he chooses to come out? Why not at the legal age of 18, for example? Why not when he won the Pulitzer Prize? Or to be a bit cynical, why at all? More importantly, is Vargas as straightforward as what his story leads us to believe?
Simultaneous to publishing his article, Vargas has established the Define American organisation with accompanying website to open the discussion about this issue. It has been deluged with tweets, comments and support. I love the idea of discussion around this topic. Intuitively something doesn’t feel right and I can’t put a finger on it.
What I don’t understand is Vargas’ position. All this attention isn’t for his legal citizenship or to gather voters’ signatures. In fact, there are
no call to action items (yes, there is a donate button!) and comments on his story, so it is predominately emotive. His NYT article supports his position as the people willing to publicly back him gives us even more reason to pause. Vargas wants his story to tip the balance for passage of the DREAM Act.
Vargas’ story plays on our hearts because as the poster boy, we can compare his story to the potential of this generation of young people and accept them into society. Vargas’ agenda seems to imply that we don’t need a formal integration system for children of “undocumented immigrants” because they are there as a matter of circumstance, by rights they should be integrated. There is nothing I can see whatsoever about their parents or other previous generations.
As much as my heart is saying “let them stay”, my head is wondering how. Creating sustainable populations is rife with difficulties, without the complexity of immigration or integration. The immigration issue has become so immense that this year alone 1,538 bills dealing with immigrants and refugees have been introduced at a state level, according to the National Conference of Legislatures. At a Federal Level, implementing the DREAM Act is estimated to cost roughly $6.2 billion per year according to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies. Then there is timing. What is the impact to legal American citizens who are vying for both scarce jobs and college placements, which are at an all time premium?
Given the sheer numbers of “undocumented immigrants” and the amount of time politicians are spending on this issue, clearly something needs to be done. I’d like to think we can create homes where people can live where they’re safe and there is enough food, housing, water and opportunities — regardless of the country. I’d also like to believe there is an easier way to solve the immigration quandary without so many challenges and costs.
My head is spinning and I’m not coming up with any solutions. So I turn over to you…join in the discussion:
- What do you think?
- Do we create homes for “undocumented immigrants”? If so, how?
- If not, why? Where do these families go?
- Is the DREAM Act the answer or should processes like legal immigration still hold?
- Is the fear driving this issue getting in the way of coming up with potential previously unrecognised solutions? Or are the fears justified?
- Bloggers’ Reactions to “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” (blogher.com)
- Journalist’s Story Highlights Patchwork of Immigration Laws (propublica.org)
- America’s Shameful Moments (huffingtonpost.com)
- Undocumented Parents Sweat Out Debate on Immigration Reform (blogs.cnn.com)