Published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – Aug. 28th, 2007
One year ago, my husband, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, left our home in Milwaukee for his visa interview at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Today, after 11 months of waiting in Mexico, he is back, with a valid Social Security number and that elusive green card.
I’ve alluded to our situation before, particularly in May, after I left the immigration march on the streets of Milwaukee feeling that the energy and enthusiasm of the millions of undocumented workers in this country would never align with the feelings of hate and fundamentalist legalism that seem to drive our nation’s vocal, anti-immigrant minority.
I also questioned whether the Department of Homeland Security would determine we had proved enough “extreme hardship” to grant my husband a visa. For anyone still wondering, immigrants who marry U.S. citizens do not immediately become U.S. citizens.
A week after my May column was published, I received an unexpected letter, which gave my husband an appointment to pick up his visa – essentially, notice of our approval.
Meanwhile, the so-called grand bargain immigration proposal being discussed in Congress caught fire from all sides, collapsing as those who only want border security and mass deportations clashed with those who want a legalization program for the millions of undocumented residents living within our borders.
As the national debate deflated, my husband returned legally. While we were thrilled with the outcome of our case, I began feeling a dull sense of defeat about the prospects for a fair national reform to our immigration system.
As our lives return to normal, I’ve had a difficult time ignoring countless other families and friends who are stuck, in one way or another, because of both their personal choices and the immigration system that provokes and punishes them.
There is my husband’s distant cousin, Jose, an exceptionally hard-working and responsible individual, who has lived without documentation in the United States for more than eight years. At a party this summer, I heard him comment how much he had hoped for an immigration bill that would have allowed him to remain here legally. But as of now, he has no options.
Then there is Cindy, a young woman I met via an online immigration forum. Cindy’s parents brought her across the Mexican border when she was 4. She grew up in California and Texas and graduated near the top of her high school class. The only thing that kept Cindy from college was a valid Social Security number.
Cindy married her high school sweetheart, a U.S. citizen, two years ago. She is now a lawful permanent resident.
Cindy’s sister, however, just a few months old when their family came to the U.S., has no options. She is engaged to a Honduran immigrant, and although she has resided in the U.S. for all but a few months of her life, she has no opportunity to remain here legally.
These stories, sadly, are a dime a dozen. On a national level, the debate centers on the idea that our country is crawling with lawbreakers who strain the welfare system while evading taxes.
These myths control the debate and distract from the economic, social and cultural questions that belong at the center of the discussion over immigration laws.
Are we going to be a nation that erects walls – both literal and figurative – to keep the world’s poor and needy at a distance? Or could we attempt to embrace our history? Could we be a nation that embodies the principles inscribed on our most iconic statue?
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”