(I like the headline (above) that the Journal Sentinel wrote for the rather downbeat immigration column I wrote for today).
On Tuesday, for the second year in a row, tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters filled the streets of Walker’s Point, marched through the Third Ward into downtown Milwaukee and rallied at Veterans Park in support of immigration reform.
From my unconventional perspective, last year’s nationwide rallies were a revelation. I had encountered the fascinating and often underground world of undocumented immigration through a number of restaurant jobs and was two years married to a Mexican immigrant.
While Tuesday’s rally drew a large crowd here, I couldn’t help feeling significantly less hopeful this time around.
Last year, I did not imagine that average Americans would ignore the contributions of the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. I assumed the voices of those sympathetic to these hard-working residents would drown out the tiny but outspoken anti-immigrant minority.
On a personal level, I wondered whether laws affecting spouses of U.S. citizens would change before my husband left for Mexico for his immigrant visa interview.
I hoped for the day that friends, some residents of Milwaukee for a decade or more – neighbors, homeowners, managers of local businesses, entrepreneurs – would have an opportunity to apply for the elusive green card.
This year, I’m considerably more cynical. My husband and I have been separated for more than eight months since his visa interview, essentially waiting to hear whether we have proved we’d suffer “extreme hardship” were he barred from the U.S. for 10 years.
Ironically, this process ends up causing financial, emotional and psychological hardship. Ironically, had we not applied for his legal status, we would most likely still be together in Milwaukee, living a far more normal life.
Watching the laughing, chanting, optimistic marchers Tuesday, I could not stop thinking: If a hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying spouse of a U.S. citizen may be barred from the U.S. for 10 years, where is the hope for those on the streets Tuesday?
They are, by and large, ineligible for legal immigration status. They came here illegally, yes, but many have put down roots, raised children, purchased homes, revitalized neighborhoods, opened businesses and provided a reliable, hard-working pool of employees.
Tuesday afternoon, I received a letter from Sen. Russ Feingold’s office, acknowledging a letter I had sent regarding our broken immigration system and the hardships it has caused me.
While I was glad for the support, it was to be expected from progressive, liberal Feingold. The people who need convincing are those who have been repelled from the divisive issue in fear that it will affect their 2008 re-election or presidential campaigns.
The people who need convincing are those who consider this more a nation of laws than a nation of immigrants or of justice. The people who need convincing are those who have forgotten that their ancestors, immigrants from Russia, Poland, Ireland and Germany, did not need wealth, exceptional education, visas or green cards to live and work in the U.S. legally.
But I am afraid very few of those people were in attendance at the rally. The participants were overwhelmingly young, brown-skinned and dark-haired.
They felt safe going out in such numbers. But as individuals, they do not have a voice in this nation because while we are willing to employ them by the millions, to accept their tax and Social Security contributions, we are equally willing to call them “illegal” or simply ignore them.
Laura Fernandez lives in Milwaukee.