regrets for a national failure

I was vehemently opposed to the so-called “Grand Bargain” immigration compromise during its short lifespan this year. I generally agree with this commentary and also feel that it would have made changes where they were not necessary, and probably would have resulted in the same long-term problems we have today. I am a firm believer that this nation needs more legal immigration so that illegal immigration is not such an attractive option, for Mexican and other Central American laborers, as well as for U.S. employers. I’m not a fan of any program that would bar unskilled, laboring people from this country, because those are the same sort of immigrants whose descendants are now me, and probably you.

In the last few weeks, however, I’ve mourned the opportunity the nation lost this year. During the weeks that led up to the bill’s death, resurrection and final passing (to the afterlife), I was too preoccupied with how bad the bill was to really think about the way less informed people might feel. (I don’t mean to sound condescending right there, but frankly, even I, fascinated and personally involved with immigration, had a hard time reading, analyzing and drawing conclusions on what the a bill resembling the “Grand Bargain” might have meant. I certainly do not fault even an average, liberally minded person for not delving into the issue to the necessary degree).

As the debate raged, we found out that Fermin would be re-admitted legally, and things have been looking up for those petitioning their unlawfully present Mexican spouses in particular. So while immigration is still real and personal, I wasn’t personally waiting on the passing of reform, rather luckily in fact, but the truth is, thousands and thousands and thousands are still waiting, and they were hoping.

And a few days ago that hoping came home a little bit for me again. I was reminded, so to speak. I live with undocumented immigrants, and their struggles are real to me every day, but I have sadly become somewhat used to those struggles, and the immigrants I live with are all so undecided about their futures that it would be hard to say they were truly disappointed when no reform that would allow them to pursue legalization materialized. Compared to many, they have lived in the U.S. a short time, and are therefore less attached to their lives here. But each day they remain in the U.S., the more complex those feelings become – my sister-in-law has a U.S. citizen child, my brother-in-law has learned to speak excellent English, they have jobs, they have parties. They dream of Mexico but do not return. Their lives are entangled in the politics and economics of two huge nations. It is complex.

But my husband’s cousin Carlos has lived in the U.S. for almost a decade. He speaks English and has adjusted well to life in the U.S., holding a good-paying job for many years. He has family here, a long-time girlfriend, a car, an apartment, etc. He is the type of responsible family person that would purchase a house if he could get a loan, but of course cannot because he has no Social Security number. He is smart and well-spoken and fun. And one of the first things I heard him say at the birthday party was a comment about Congress lamentably not passing any reform this year. He sounded disappointed. He looked disappointed. This good person is the type we are embittering with every year of inaction.

And it made me really sad. Carlos has no chance toward legal status in the U.S. without a reform bill passing. He will remain in the place he considers a sort of home until immigration authorities are alerted to his presence by some freak occurrence, or he decides to return to Mexico. Many Americans complain that Mexican immigrants have not assimilated, but I wonder how they can dare say that when we have refused to allow them to assimilate? If you had unclear, undefined, precarious status in another country, would you not find it difficult to love that place as a home?

Carlos is the sort of human being who will be an asset to any country he resides in. He is not alone, and his sadness made me sad. A birthday party is a time of celebration, but millions of undocumented immigrants are still waiting on some sort of reprieve from a country that has lured them with jobs, employed them without reservation, catered to them with elaborate, fully American marketing schemes, coddled them with home loans and tax refunds, but rejects them as citizens and members of society.

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