When Vivian Lin first came to the United States, she cried every day. Lin is now strong enough to hold her head high as an American Citizen and is happy with her Chinese American lifestyle.
Lin is an immigrant from a village in Fujian Province, China. Her parents brought her to come to the U.S. when she was 14 years old. Having been away from her parents for seven years, Vivian was frightened when she first came to the United States. She saw different faces, faces that felt strange to her. She felt scared and wanted to hide behind her parents.
“My parents teased at me even now that Vivian can save money for water to use tears to wash her face,” Lin said shyly. “However, I have to admit that it was the darkness when I came to America, life, study and environment, everything is totally new for me.”
There were 38,517,234 foreign-born immigrants living in the U.S. in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Every one of them has face, a name, and a reason for coming to the U.S. Immigration reforms could change the future of immigration for Maryland-area immigrants.
The decision to come to the America was not only difficult for the shy girl, but also for her parents. Vivian’s father, Chen, came to the United States for the first time at the age of 27, in 1999. Chen wished to come to the America to give his daughter a bright future and a better quality education. Chen worked for a small Chinese restaurant as a helper. Chen lived in a basement while he saved every penny for the sake of his family. Living in a basement was cheap, but also very damp. Six out of the seven days of the week Chen would work from 6. p.m.- 6 a.m. He rarely saw the sun or much else beyond the kitchen stove.
For this special group of people from Fujian Province, they have a Fukien American Association to help the immigrant group. This association offers agents to help people seek jobs, a bank to lend business owners and prospective business owners the money they need to operate, and they have an immigration lawyer that provides legal counsel to some of the illegal entrants seeking green cards.
To get a green card, Chen sought out a lawyer to help provide him with evidence as to why he cannot return to China. He attempted to claim political asylum and the lawyer gave a story for him to meet the judge. For most Fujianese, political asylum is a good excuse and holds higher success rates for them to get a legal identity in America. Chen went to see the judge, where he informed them that he was a victim of the political repression.
After years of backbreaking labor, and endless nights spent in a dank cellar of a room without his beloved family, Chen finally attained the legal identity of an American citizen. His newfound identity meant that he could now begin the life he had craved with his wife and daughter. Chen readily began to make preparations for their arrival. He turned for the lawyer for help once again, using the same reasoning to gain legal entry for his wife and daughter. It took six years his family to be granted permission to enter America, but after years of hard work and loneliness, Vivian and her mother were finally able to join Chen in the United States.
Many Fujianese believe that immigration officials in America are much more lenient than those in Japan and Taiwan. Fujianese leaders in New York estimate that at least 300,000 Fujianese are now scattered across just about every state. Precise figures do not exist because most of the immigrants entered illegally, according to a New York Times report.
Immigration rates hit an all-time high in 2010 with 40 million people, which is the highest rate in American history. Roughly three-fourths of immigrants are illegal immigrants, according to United States Census Bureau statistics. This rate has increased drastically in the last few decades, doubling since 1990.
Factors that go into immigration include desire to be with relatives, political freedom, and American public services, according to the United States Census Bureau. Immigration can also be driven by social network of friends who provide information about United States conditions.
In attempts to enforce immigration laws in the United States, the Border Patrol is responsible for enforcing 8,000 miles of United States land and water boundaries between legal points of entry, according to U.S Census Bureau information. The U.S also has an organization called U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which regulates international trade, collecting and importing duties¸ enforcing U.S. trade laws, and enforcing immigration laws.
“We have a broken system,” said Immigration lawyer, Michelle Lazerow, “They need to increase border control. It’s increased, but it’s not enough.”
Lazerow explained that people don’t take the job seriously and that border patrol officers aren’t paid that much.
The Gallup poll shows that 43 percent of those surveyed say securing the border is “extremely important” while 44 percent attach the same importance to dealing with the status of undocumented immigrants in the country.
Mexico by far, has the most immigrants going to America, accounting for 29 percent of all immigrants in 2010, according to U.S Census Statistics.
Michelle Lazerow, a U.S. immigration lawyer, says that there are two basic ways to come to the U.S. as an immigrant. A relative or an employer must either sponsor you. If you do not have a sponsor then there is an array of visa options available to you, starting with form A and going all the way down to form Z. People fleeing from dangerous situations in their home countries also have two other options open to them, refugee status and asylee status.
“It’s an interesting process,” said Lazerow. “Because many years ago when I started practicing law the asylum process was easy, and it was flawed and abused, and they literally had to shut it down and start again.”
Those coming to the U.S. claiming asylum should declare that they are seeking protection from their home country to U.S. officials in the airport they arrive in. After the asylum seeker declares asylum, they must go through an extremely lengthy legal process to prove their claims.
“It’s a long process,” said Lazerow. “They will be interviewed by an asylum officer, they will receive employment authorization, and once it is approved the person has to remain as an aslyee for one year before they can apply for residency in the U.S.”
Raciel Vargas (who refused to use his real name) was born in Mexico. Make pizza, cook subs, cut lettuce for salads, sweep up, do the dishes, non-stop all day, every day. Zooming across the kitchen, Vargas said jokingly, “You have to work like a Mexican. Very fast.”
He doesn’t mind working the tedious work day after day, making $9 an hour.
“In Mexico, if you spend a lot of money, it’s too much money. It’s a lot to you. $10 here is a lot of money there,” said Vargas. He has no family in the United States. They are living across the border in Mexico. Vargas is working day after day to send his family money so that they can stay out of poverty.
“I can’t stay here much longer. I miss my mother and my family,” Vargas said.
He plans on going back home in May. He left Mexico with a group of people he didn’t know and came to Arizona and he plans on going back to Mexico with a group of strangers. He is risking his life living in the United States illegally and he will be risking his life again when he decides to go back over the border to Mexico.
Although Vargas misses his family in Mexico, he will miss the land that he has called home since 2007.
“I’m gonna miss this job. I’m making good money. I’m gonna miss my friends. I’m gonna miss going to the mall and spending money,” said Vargas.
Vargas would stay in the U.S. even under poor conditions, if he could. Because of changing times and laws, it is becoming difficult to live in the U.S. as an illegal immigrant. He is forced to live in a one bedroom apartment by himself, and get rides from friends to and from work because he was not legally allowed to obtain a driver’s license. He is forced to hide his identity from employers due to risk of deportation.
Lazerow believes that the U.S. desperately needs immigration reform, but does not believe that it will actually come. Lazerow thinks that politics will get in the way of any immigration reform passing into law. When President Obama first came into office Lazerow felt optimistic for the future of immigration reform, but before any such agenda could be cleared through the Democrat dominated House, the Republican Party took over House majority. Lazerow says that this alone is enough to prevent the rumored immigration reforms from coming to fruition.
“Let me tell you about immigration reform,” said Lazerow. “It’s a sad broken system. The system has been broken for 25-30 years. It’s a broken system.”
Lazerow feels that immigrants come into the U.S. with no respect for American law, because they did not have to follow the law to enter. There aren’t repercussions for illegal immigration the way there are in other countries. Lazerow points out that in England, you can’t illegally obtain a job, because no one wants to take on the risk of hiring you. She goes on to point out that the illegal immigrants need a legal way to enter the U.S., because right now a legal gateway into the U.S. doesn’t really exist for them.
“Do we need these Hispanics to come to the U.S. to be our bus boys, to be our waiters, to be our farm boys?” said Lazerow. “Of course we do.”
President Obama is taking steps to reduce illegal immigration in the United States. and encouraging legal immigration. He wants to pass the immigration reform by this summer. He plans on cracking down on border patrol, reducing illegal immigrants, increasing visas to encourage integration, and reduce the number of employers hiring illegal immigrants.
President Obama is encouraging immigrants with visas who are entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses in America to stay in order to create more jobs and grow the economy. Obama also encourages foreign graduate students to stay in the United States to contribute to American society.
Under President Obama’s immigration reform, Vargas would be required to obtain a green card or be deported. The restaurant where he works would be required to give documentation on the illegal immigrants working there. Vargas would have to go through the process of getting his green card or work visa, and then apply for citizenship. Under these laws, Dolma and her husband would not have been able to gain illegal entrance through India.
Today, Dolma and her husband might be living an oppressed and impoverished existence, continuing to suffer the racial discrimination that they have been held under all their lives, or even worse, today they might be dead. Although these laws are currently in place, these laws will be enforced more. With national security cracking down on border control, if Vargas decided to come back to the U.S illegally, he would certainly have a more difficult time getting across the border and getting a job.
“Sadly, this is an absolute tragedy that there’s no immigration reform,” said Lazerow. “The American people should be rioting against Congress, because it’s a disgrace.”
Even immigrants that enter the U.S. through legal means have many hurdles and personal trials to overcome. James Griffiths met his American wife, Rebecca Trevino, while on vacation in New York. Griffiths and Trevino fell head over heels for each other, but unfortunately Griffiths wasn’t on vacation from an American city. He was visiting from England. Griffiths, a native English speaker, and a university graduate married his wife in April 2013, but wanting to enter into the Unites States through the legal route, was only allowed to stay in America for 90 days. In order to bring her husband to the United States. Trevino had to show proof of her employment and salary.
Griffiths and Trevino were left to sort out the entire immigration process on their own. Trevino pulls a disgruntled face and grumbles about having to peruse forums and non-government websites in search of immigration requirements. Griffiths and Trevino both insist that the government itself provides no information regarding the requirements needed for those who wish to enter the U.S. through legal methods. Trevino and Griffiths feel that everything is written in code and completely disorganized.
“The actual government don’t tell you anything,” said Griffiths. “It was only through Rapidvisa that you got extra information about how long it takes to… You know, based on other people’s applications they’ll sort of say, ‘oh it usually takes about this long, it can take as short as this or as long as this,’ and the government don’t actually give you any information. You kind of have to work it out yourself.”
However, the future is bright for entrants like Lin, Dolma and Griffins. Griffiths and his wife will be celebrating his first year in the United States in March 2014. Both Griffiths and Trevino are ecstatic to finally be together. Dolma and her husband have both received legal clearance to be in the United States. Dolma has earned her GED and is working towards a college degree. She now works in a pre-school, a chance she would have never received in Tibet. Dolma’s husband no longer has to fear being killed for vocalizing his beliefs. He remains active in his protest against China’s hold over Tibet. Every year he and many other Tibetans chain themselves to the front of the Chinese Embassy in New York.
Lin passed the test to be a legal American five years ago. After seven years apart, her family of four is now living together. Life has become easier for them. Lin has a positive attitude towards her future employment. Majoring in accounting, as a sophomore, Lin has received student aid that will help push her through college. President Obama wants to promote the cultural integration with legal immigrants. Vivian and her family are a perfect example of successfully integrated immigrant family.