How many immigration rallies will it take?

(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.


5 Responses to How many immigration rallies will it take?

  1. George Mitchell says:

    What is your position on the proposal supported by President Bush?


  2. laurafern says:

    I’m really burned out today from all of this immigration talk today. So I’m sorry, Mr. Mitchell, that this will not be a very clear or complete response to your question.

    I had to go back and read the specifics of the Bush plan again, and when I tried searching I couldn’t find the text that I had read about it weeks ago. One article I read mentioned that the plan had originally been leaked, and that Bush had not been commenting since on the proposed “Z” visa.

    Anyway, here is a summary I found on

    ‘Z’ visas
    The plan would grant work visas to undocumented immigrants but require them to return home and pay hefty fines to become legal U.S. residents. They could apply for three-year work visas, dubbed “Z” visas, which would be renewable indefinitely but cost $3,500 each time.
    Briefing reporters on Bush’s flight to Arizona, Johndroe would not offer the president’s position on the “Z” visas.
    “There are a lot of proposals floating around out there,” Johndroe said. “I don’t want to negotiate from here. I’m going to let secretaries Chertoff and Gutierrez do that with members.”
    The undocumented workers would have legal status with the visas, but to become legal permanent residents with a green card, they’d have to return to their home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine.


    I have different levels of feelings about this. Were this law two years ago, and had Fermin and I known the extent of the separation time and what this process would cost us financially in salary lost, phone calls, traveling, etc., we would have probably just paid $10,000 for a green card.

    A lot of the people on the immigration forum I frequent felt similarly. They would have done a lot to avoid the separation caused by the processing of the I-601 waiver of inadmissibility (which I referred to in my column as the process of proving extreme hardship were the immigrant spouse to be barred from the U.S.).

    On the other hand, I believe $10,000 for a green card is prohibitive for many people. It essentially takes money from poor workers and gives it to the government which will do (honestly) who knows what with it. If something that involved this level of fees were actually in place, there would need to be some justification, in my mind, of how that money would be allocated. If that money were to be used to make the immigration system more efficient or invested in partnerships that would benefit both the U.S. and Mexican economies (not like NAFTA) I would be okay with it.

    Re: $3,500 for a yearly guest worker card. I feel slightly better about this, I’m not sure why. On one hand, I don’t really think a guest workers should have to pay to come here and work, but I realize that many Americans cannot get over the “lawbreaking” connected with the number of illegal immigrants in the country today and would like to place punitive damages on them but not necessarily kick them out. I might be happier to see something like the $3,500 per year, and after the third year (when a total of $10,500 has been paid by said immigrant) they would be eligible to apply for the green card with “regular” fees (not $10,000).

    There are a lot of immigration-rights activists and union representatives that have a real problem with a guest worker program. They believe it creates class strata and will create a permanent underclass. My problem with those ideas is that they are naïve to the fact that many Mexicans and other Central Americans really just want to come here and work. They don’t all want to become Americans, and we are very presumptuous as a nation to assume all of them are interested in permanently living in the U.S. At the same time, our economy needs the workers, so why not let labor travel as freely as investment dollars and products do? If the laborers want to travel, let them travel, I say.

    Here is a commentary related to this issue that I really like and agree with:

    On the other hand from all this, if something like the Bush plan passes, there are going to be extreme waits for processing, and perhaps the entire system that I have been applying for my husband’s green card through will be altered or eliminated or something. I cannot help wonder what will happen to us. We just want to live together in this country!

    And as U.S. Citizen who has married an “illegal immigrant” I’m still not sure I can do that.

    Anyway, my brain is totally fried from thinking about this all day. I am going to make a point to write something on my ideal immigration reform one of these days…

  3. Samuel says:

    Here’s where you need clarification. First, the majority of Americans support border enforcement before granting any substantial benefit to those who ignored and violated immigration laws. Why do you think many of the Dems and Reps are virtually ignoring immigration as an issue?

    In order for you to justify your husband’s actions and to rile against the system, you seem to brush aside and demonize those that want and expect their government to protect and enforce its laws. In putting your personal concerns above all else, you are being closed minded and completely shut out any other serious opinions. If someone doesn’t echo your opinions in this matter, they are automatically labled as racist and anti-immigrant. Try real debate and remain open minded to all points of view.

    You’re right that this has been, continues to be, and will always be a nation of immigrants. Is it also too much to ask from our government to enforce its own laws and ask those wanting the great benefit to live and work in the US to follow the law? I think not! Why do those who violate our laws deserve a pass over those that have been waiting for years to do it the right way? You and the other pro-illegal immigration people always talk about fairness. Tell that to the Philipino brother or sister of a US citizen that has been waiting for over 15 years to get a visa and legally enter the US! Let’s get serious about fairness.

    Your so called progressive Feingold is willing to pander to you and others to keep his job and will probably agree with all who write to him. I’m sure that he also responds to those “anti-illegal immigrants” constituents with words they also want to hear.

    During May 1’s marches and protests, we saw a lot of the anti-Bush crowd protesting against the war and preaching hate. These super radical leftist groups didn’t seem too impressed or concerned with the plight of the illegal immigrant. They used these events to push their other hate agenda to get on the nightly news.

    I live on the Mexican-American border and May 1 was a big let down for those who supported boycotts of American goods and businesses. I believe that reason and sanity won out this year and reasonable and thinking people realized the ridiculousness of the actions of a few radical nonthinking groups. The line to enter the US at the El Paso POE was over two hours long. So much for boycotting goods and service Mexcicans love and need.

    Last year thousdands of students all around the country including on the border had a free day from classes to run down the streets, wave flags, disrupt working citizens and make complete fools of themselves. Level headed adminstrators and parents ensured this didn’t happen again this year.

    Also, remember last year when Mexican flags outnumbered American flags during the marches and how the group organizers panicked and handed out American flags to the marchers so as not to offend the country?

    This left a tremendous bitter taste with the majority of Americans, not just your regular immigrant haters. This included first and second generation legal immigrants. Maybe you should get around more and socialize in different circles besides the Mexican underclass of middle America!

    To answer your question, “How Many Immigration Rallies Will it Take.” When level headed non-extremists persons begin having intelligent discussions to come up with a real solution that affects all Americans, not just a few.

  4. George Mitchell says:


    Apart from your thoughts on the Bush plan, what specific changes to current law do you believe Congress should pass?

  5. laurafern says:

    I received some other interesting comments today. George, I will post my immigration-reform wishlist later tonight or tomorrow.


    From JH:

    Dear Ms. Fernandez,

    I read your column with much interest today. It is certainly very unfair that your husband has to jump thru all the hoops that the Immigration Service throws in his way. I am greatly troubled with the plight for so many illegals currently in our country. I am a retired businessman who spent much time in many states of our union & of course I had the privilege of US citizenship from the day I was born.

    Please advise me of a web site to go where I can learn the details of the Immigration Laws that are causing you & your husband all the grief. I can’t do much, but I can compose an intelligent communication to send to my senators & congressman. If more of us would do that, maybe there would be more concern amongst those of us who take citizenship for granted.

    My mother’s parents fled Ireland in the mid 1800’s to come here to try & make a decent living. That’s what many of our Mexican neighbors want to do now & they are meeting all kinds of obstacles. As far as I’m concerned, we need more of these people. They are willing to do the work that I used to do as a young man before I completed my education. Now no one, but these hard-working people will do it.

    I wish you Godspeed in your endeavor along with your husband. I do not understand the 10 yr. wait period. To be truthful, I was not aware of it. I need to study the immigration laws so I can tear them apart when I write to the people I want to. I will talk this up with my family & friends also.


    From JM:

    I consider myself to be a middle of the road Democrat, and on rare occasion agree with your columns. I must say, however, that I feel you are out of step with most Americans on the immigration issue. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I think you need to accept the opinions of some of your fellow Americans as well.

    These immigrants are people (and I don’t care what their ethic background is, or the color of their skin), who enter this country illegally, and then have the nerve to hold protests making demands? You point out that most of our ancestors were immigrants at one time. I can assure you, based on my own family history, that my ancestors did not enter this country illegally and then proceed to demand various rights. They were forced to learn the language, work for next to nothing, be treated as animals, all while trying to assimilate into this culture. It was also a very different time – this country and its ecomony are not nearly the same as back in the 1800’s. Your comparison, then, does not hold water as it is apples and oranges. And it’s also ridiculous of you to brush over the fact that they are illegals, and then plead their case by stating they have put down roots, raised children, etc. So what? That excuses illegal behavior? Gee, next time someone commits a crime, maybe he or she should use that as their defense.

    Also, based on the description of what your husband is going through, it appears he too felt he was above the law and entered this country illegally. Forgive me if this is incorrect, but it sounds exactly like a process a close friend of mine went through with her husband, only to find out he was using her to get citizenship. I am certainly not saying that is the case with you, but my point is he should have followed proper immigration laws. If he could not enter in that manner, then he should not have entered at all. I have relatives in Ireland who have tried for years to come here legally, and they have not been successful. They play by the rules and do not come at all, and that is something the illegals here need to learn. Let’s face it, who wants millions of people who freely break the law, feel they are above it after getting here, and then make demands on top of it? No, it’s time we crack down and send these people packing.

    (For the record: I take great offense to JM bringing up a friend of hers who married for citizenship. It’s offensive and ridiculous, and I will not dignify the comment by even addressing my own relationship).

    The above argument is the typical American response today to undocumented/illegal immigration. Focus on the illegality with nothing else taken into account. No ability to look beyond that issue. Well, I have nothing in common with a person who cannot see humanity behind laws, soooo, that’s just the way it is. I’m not advocating a complete amnesty, or law-breaking behavior, but it’s far too simplistic to focus, as many are, on the simple illegality……

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