borderline existence

July 22, 2008

This LA Times story was posted on the immigration forum this morning, and as I read it I realized it’s actually the story of one of the members of It’s a well-written story with a great, accompanying audio slide show.

For Heather, 29, every day is a struggle. The native of rural Kentucky didn’t know how drastically her life would change after she fell in love and married Evaristo Suarez, an illegal immigrant.

The couple assumed that Evaristo, 30, would be eligible for a green card once they got married and that they would raise their family near her hometown. But because he had crossed into the United States illegally more than once, he was denied a visa and must wait 10 years before reapplying to return legally.

Please leave some non-offensive comments when you are done reading as well.


“conventional wisdom” v. facts

February 29, 2008

Daily reading of the articles in Bender’s Immigration Bulletin is admittedly too depressing of an endeavor for me. I have an emotional and mental limit for reading what I consider ever-more-depressing news about the actions our nation is taking against immigrants. I don’t need to be reminded every day that deportations are tearing families apart, that we are building a great wall — which I am confident will become a great embarrassment before the end of my life — on our southern border, or that nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment is becoming mainstream as it does every few decades.

This week the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California released a study titled “Crime, Corrections and California: What does immigration have to do with it?” And guess what? Not a whole lot. Among other surprising (to some people) findings, people born outside of the United States (legal or undocumented immigrants included) make up a whopping 35 percent of California’s total population but just 17 percent of its prison population. Non-citizens men ages 18-40 born in Mexico, who are very likely to be undocumented according to the study, are more than 8 times less likely to be in a correctional setting than native-born U.S. citizen men of the same age group. The report also found lower rates of crime in California cities with higher number of recent immigrants. Overall the report shows that immigrants are far less likely to commit serious crimes in California and goes against all conventional wisdom that more immigrants mean more crime.

Despite the non-partisan nature and high ethical standards of the research, news articles covering the report’s findings, such as this one in the San Jose Mercury News, inspired dozens of nasty, bigoted comments such as this anonymous gem:

“Predictable left-wing lies. All one needs do is look at the list of prisoners’ names to see the South-of-the-Border heritage of incarcerated men in California. Further destroying the credibility of this report is the fact that so many illegals who commit additional crimes return to Mexico to hide out from authorities, and the left-wing idealogues that compiled this list of lies don’t refer to the skyrocketing number of Mexican rapists and murderers that Mexico declines to extradite.” I love when people argue against facts with myths, racist sentiment and political opinions. It’s awesome!

This is why I can’t stomach reading so many articles. On many newspapers’ websites, there are comments, and you can’t just ignore the comments, but when you read them, you are always sickened and sorry to have read them. Where do these people come from? I’ve been trying though, to read more again and write my own comments back. But it’s hard to argue with people who disregard intellect in favor of hatred and prejudice.


January 3, 2008

About a week ago I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered when commentator and economist Russell Roberts made a few remarks about his New Years’ wish that Americans would refrain from believing every piece of alarmist rhetoric spewed by the media, presidential candidates, friends, family, etc.

Amid his cautions against believing the economic sky is falling, he mentioned that immigrants are indeed, not ruining America. We don’t hear that very often, even from a “liberal” media outlet like NPR, and it sure was refreshing. Our country, Roberts went on, is comprised of immigrants — the constant influx of melding cultures, hard-working people and change is what has made us a great nation.

These comments have stuck in my head the last week as I’ve read year-end wrap-ups, struggled to write anything about immigration and listened to campaign coverage from Iowa. But a spark of reason can’t slow the waves of anti-immigrant sentiment. I haven’t written much lately because I’m pretty depressed and cynical about the whole issue.

A LOT of people show up on I2US asking – ‘should I file a petition for my undocumented spouse, or should I wait for the laws to change?’ A year ago, there was tenuous hope, on our forum and others that support the rights of immigrant workers. But these days, just about everyone replies – ‘a change in the laws that will help your spouse??? Keep dreaming – it’s not going to happen this decade.’ Sad? Yes. Cynical? Yes. True? I think so.

Listening to the presidential coverage does not help my outlook. During NPR’s Morning Edition this week, (I should wear a nerdy badge that labels me an NPR junkie, yes, definitely), hosts Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep have been “traveling” across the southern United States via I-10, interviewing people to find out what issues matter to them, how they feel the nation’s prospects are for 2008 and what they think of the presidential candidates. Yesterday morning I heard this gem of an interview with Cindy Sanders from Sonora, Texas:

When asked what issues mattered to her, Sanders said: “the immigration issue.”
Montagne pressed her to develop that comment.
Sanders: “They make it so hard for us born and raised Americans who are in struggling to get welfare.”
Montagne: “So, you feel you are competing with illegal immigrants…. (for services)?”
Sanders: “Oh, yeah, you are.”
Montaine: “Although that is your experience, there are studies out there that show that illegal immigrants don’t actually use those services.”
Sanders: “Oh, I’m sure there’s some of them that do. You’ve got all these families driving nice cars, but yet they’ve always got food and money in their house. I make too much money for my two kids to get them on Medicaid, so my kids don’t have health insurance right now.”

Of course Ms. Sanders’ opinion is just one person’s opinion, but the purpose of these interviews is to get the pulse of the nation. I realized as I listened that Ms. Sanders hit the new American attitude on the head: immigrants are the ultimate scapegoat — responsible for just about everything wrong with America.

So now, if you don’t qualify for welfare, it must be because undocumented immigrant workers are filling all the welfare rolls! (Okay people without valid social security numbers CANNOT qualify for welfare). If an immigrant has a nice car, it must be because they get welfare to feed their kids and then went and spent all their money on wheels! And how do they get all that money? They got it because Mexican ‘alien’ Juan Garcia walked into a factory that once employed 20 high-paid Americans and as soon as the boss saw Juan, he fired all the Americans and hired Juan and five of his amigos for half the money and no benefits! Juan probably smuggled some drugs while driving drunk across the border as well! Andale! And OMG, terrorists are streaming across the southern border, right? Mexicans are terrorists, right? They must be!

It couldn’t be that immigrants tend to be extraordinarily hard-working and choose to spend their disposable income on a nice car rather than clothes or dinners out. It couldn’t be that undocumented people actually commit LESS crimes on average than U.S. citizens. It couldn’t be that people of different cultures have different priorities, right? It couldn’t be that most people’s problems have to do with themselves, right? And not anyone else? Ultimately, you are responsible for you, and I’m responsible for myself.
I’m just disgusted, and the cynicism and disgust just perpetuates. Lately I feel that even if we get a solid forward-thinking liberal president in a year, we’re still going to have the same loud xenophobes and narrow-minded hawks blaming our problems on others and restricting the freedoms once so important to our country.

It would probably help if I listened to less news and tried to distract myself with spirits and frivolity like good Americans do on New Year!

Ahh… maybe tomorrow.

Attorney meets YouTube

October 6, 2007

Attorney Laurel Scott, an immigration attorney who is also a frequent poster and contributor on, has been doing some videos about different processes for legalizing an unlawfully present immigrant and posting them on You Tube.

It’s a fabulous idea, and I think it’s safe to say that no other immigration attorney is out there talking in a casual and helpful way about the I-601 waiver or filing adjustment of status. You can view all her videos here. She has even translated some into Spanish.

She’s also started an Immigration Reform YouTube group, (which you should join), and is testing out a video contest with a $250 prize. The subject of the video is “The right to live with your spouse.”

“The winning video will be the one that best educates the viewer on the legal and social issues involved and makes the most convincing argument that the law should be changed in favor of relief for the unlawfully present and their American families. Your target audience is the general You Tube viewers who may or may not have an opinion on immigration reform, but has a poor understanding of the law and its impact on American families.”

I would like to encourage anyone who is a YouTube user or just has a video camera and an opinion to participate. I’m much more of a writer than an exhibitionist, but I would love to see some great videos posted!

where did we go wrong?

September 26, 2007

I’m working on something that is effectively keeping me from blogging right now, but I thought I would share a few articles I have recently read and enjoyed. And now that the New York Times has ended its TimesSelect paid subscription service, you can read them all freely on their site.

The first is from a few weeks ago, and describes the experiences of a few American farmers, who faced with dire labor shortages, have rented land in Mexico to farm. I find this interesting on many levels. Read “Short on labor, farmers in U.S. shift to Mexico.

“Farming since he was a teenager, Mr. (Steve) Scaroni, 50, built a $50 million business growing lettuce and broccoli in the fields of California, relying on the hands of immigrant workers, most of them Mexican and many probably in the United States illegally.

But early last year he began shifting part of his operation to rented fields here (in Mexico). Now some 500 Mexicans tend his crops in Mexico, where they run no risk of deportation.

”I’m as American red-blood as it gets,” Mr. Scaroni said, ”but I’m tired of fighting the fight on the immigration issue.”

The second story was published today, and discusses a New Jersey town that is rethinking their anti-“illegal” immigrant ordinance, which since passed one year ago, has slowed the town’s economy and caused the closure of a number of formerly thriving businesses. Read “Towns rethink laws against illegal immigrants.

“I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden,” said Mayor George Conard, who voted for the original ordinance. “A lot of people did not look three years out.”

Brilliant. I’m so AMAZED that anti-immigrant sorts had not thought through the “economic burden” before passing these sorts of laws.  I mean, good lord, if you drive 3,000 young, hard-working, upwardly mobile people with money to spend on entertainment and services and children to feed out of a small town, what the h*ll do you think is going to happen?

I do understand that certain people — those who are ONLY willing to consider the lawfulness of a person’s entry into this country as a basis of judgment — do not care about the health of the U.S. economy, or the benefits immigrants have on underpopulated, fading rural towns, but really, what were the rest of them thinking?

More soon. Promise.

a year of writing opportunities

September 18, 2007

My stint as a Journal Sentinel Community Columnist is pretty officially over, as they new group starts next week, and they have enough columns turned in to get through until then. I was admittedly flaky the past few months, but there’s been something really challenging about the post-immigration-journey analysis of our experience. Besides that, summer is the busiest time at work, meaning far fewer solid blocks of writing time during the day. (Of course, I have no absolutely right to complain about that, so enough said).

Besides the opportunity to share an unusual perspective on immigration in a well-read public forum, the best thing about being a Community Columnist were the responses. For every few legalistic, fundamentalist or blatantly racist e-mails, I received one genuinely supportive one. I also received a few notes from readers who had no idea how strict our legal immigration system is, and were genuinely surprised that there is no legal way into the U.S. without a relative or an existing job offer (and there can be waits for 5-10 years in many of those situations as well). I got into a few very interesting e-mail exchanges and received a few strange snail mail letters (yes Mom, I know I should unlist my address and phone number) suggesting that I am actually the writer behind all the pro-immigrant staff editorials for the Journal Sentinel, among other things.

But one of the best results came today, when I checked my respondtolaura address, the one I use publicly to protect my regular e-mail account from excessive spam, and found two e-mails from women who had read my last column and were desperately seeking information on how to pursue legalization for their undocumented spouse. I can’t express how happy it makes me to be able to introduce people with little hope for their situations to one of the immigration forums, or help them figure out what they need to do next. There is so much bad information out there, particularly from lawyers and immigration consultants, and I feel endlessly grateful that I found immigrate2us when I did. Had I not, some issues with our case might have done the sort of damage that takes ten years in Mexico to recover from.

I plan to continue reading, writing and especially blogging about immigration, and I hope that once or twice next year Journal Sentinel Editorial Editor Ricardo Pimentel might print something I write on whatever immigration news comes up.

as we see it

September 12, 2007

My dad and I occasionally argue about the successes and failures in Iraq. Predictably I suppose, I see a plethora of failures, while he tends to see success. I don’t buy into a second of the Bush administration’s propaganda-like attempts to link Saddam Hussein with Al Qaida. I generally see this war as a grotesque manifestation of a personal vendetta, with 9-11 used as an excuse. My dad legitimately believes we are a safer country, even world, because of our occupation of Iraq.

But in reality, I don’t understand Iraq much better than the average person, and probably neither does my father. Neither of us has ever been anywhere near a situation as dangerous and dire and politically complicated. Sure, there are plenty of complicated political matters that happen in the U.S., but very few (if any) ever become matters of the imminent life or death of thousands of U.S. soldiers and, just as importantly, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

I’ve been quite bothered the last few days as the much-anticipated reports from Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus have urged Americans to have continued patience with the situation Iraq, while making a lame quasi-commitment to bring 30,000 troops home by next summer. But the surge sent 20,000 soldiers to Iraq a few months ago, and at that time the President communicated that this troop increase was going to somehow turn around the situation, and put us in a different place. But has that really happened? If nothing is happening, and nothing is changing, and we are arguably doing more harm than good, then we need a change of policy. Unfortunately, the status quo is always easier than change. And a 30,000 troop decrease by next summer seems like a big affirmation of the status quo. Drawing back the surge, and a little bit more for good measure. Not much else it seems.

That bit of rambling has been inspired by recent listens to NPR stories and commentary on Iraq, and a solemn reminder today after reading the thoughts of none other than a group of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq during the past 15 months.  The New York Times originally ran this controversial op-ed on August 19, one week after one of the soldiers was shot in the head during an operation. Sgt. Jeremy Murphy is still recovering. Tragically, two of the other authors were killed Monday, prompting the article’s re-print on I’m not sure if I can print the entire piece, but I encourage everyone to read it. Here are a few powerful excerpts:

“As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere.”

“… we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear.”

The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

It doesn’t make anyone happy to read this stuff, but I’m impressed that these soldiers seem to be analyzing the conflict both in American and Iraqi terms. Ultimately, whatever the results of this war are, they have to be lived every day by all Iraqis, not by Americans, and Americans tend to be incapable of thinking outside how this is affecting us. But very few Americans have ever lived in an environment where one is constantly wondering if they will be blown up today. We can’t even fathom it. We have been brain-washed into believing we are dealing with an imminent security threat in Iraq — one that affects average Americans — when really we are dealing with an insurgency that is relatively local, primitive and sectarian. I hope more and more people will continue to question what is going in Iraq, listen to soldiers and analysts who are not politically driven, and create a more effective, productive path onward and outward.