Can we say “Ellis Islands, West?”

Big Lizard has a terrific post in which he wonders why none of the hardliner, “ship ‘em all back – illegal is illegal” bloggers are so disinterested in the nightmarish hoops people must jump through in order to come here legally, and how necessary is real immigration reform is in this country. He writes eloquently, and you must read his whole post. Here is an excerpt:


My wife was a legal immigrant; she jumped through all the hoops, did everything by the book. She got a green card; she went through the whole citizenship procedure, satisfying every requirement save one: her swearing-in ceremony.

Along the way, she was bullied, threatened, shouted at, belittled, insulted, and once made to wait from 3:30 am on the sidewalk outside the INS… only to be told at 9:00 that they were only seeing twenty people that day. She was number 27 — and there was a very long line behind her. (I waited with her that day; she had to forcibly restrain me from strangling the moron who didn’t bother putting a sign up the night before.)

But in the end, she satisfied all the requirements and needed only to be sworn in… and they simply wouldn’t give her an appointment…she had been here for years and years, she spoke excellent English, she was perfectly legal. They just didn’t give her an appointment… for years.

It finally took the direct intervention of our then Republican representative to finally get the damned INS to set a date for her to get sworn in; she went, raised her hand, and finally became an American.

Please don’t brush this off by saying, “oh, the government is always bureaucratic.” This goes far beyond mere bureaucracy into despicable abuse.

I’ve told the story of our friend Takao here several times. He came from Japan legally, but the most he could get was a work visa. He lived here, worked here — all legally — paid his taxes, bought a condo and a car, had health and auto insurance, learned English, got a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from an American university, never got in the least bit of trouble with the law… yet in all that time, he was never even able to get a green card.

Not in sixteen years.

He hired an American attorney, but it made no difference. No matter what forms he filed, the INS simply never bothered responding, beyond sending a receipt of the filing. They never told him what he lacked, what he had to do, why he couldn’t get a green card.

That is because there was no reason: there is no reason why some breeze right through in five years; no reason why others get stuck in a holding pattern for three times as long.

In the end, Takao was laid off from the Japanese hotel where he had worked for so long; it was shortly after 9/11, and Japanese were afraid to travel to America… so the hotel got into financial trouble and had to lay off many workers.

Takao’s work visa specified that hotel; he filled out the forms for the INS to apply for another job. Instead of granting it — they ordered him home… that’s it, sayonara, it’s been a slice having you.

Because he would not break the law, he found himself on an airplane back to Narita Airport…He still hopes that someday, he will be able to come here as a permanent resident.
There is no rhyme or reason, no logic why one is waved through at a trot while another is thrown to the ground and made to crawl. It’s entirely random — or worse, the caprice of the interviewer — who gets a pass and whose paperwork is lost for two and a half years on somebody’s desk, with nobody at the INS (now the USCIS — same car, different plastic) caring enough even to go look for it.

The system is entirely arbitrary. It is the most unpredictable agency in the United States government, except in one respect: immigrants are routinely treated like animals. That they can expect.

People are told what is happening; people are told what they need to do. People are treated with respect, even when they have to fill out eighty-five forms in triplicate.

Immigrants, legal immigrants, are not people… not as far as Immigration is concerned.
…simply to have a system where someone who follows every law scrupulously can actually be told what he must do to become a permanent resident and eventually a citizen. For God’s sake, even a horse is taught what commands it must obey; it doesn’t have to guess.

Big Lizard is quite right
, and I has have written previously, there are plenty of people living and working here whose green cards or visas expired and who, encountering the quite broken INS, made the choice that to rip their established lives to shreds (particularly if they had children) in order to obey a corrupt and ineffective, floundering bureaucracy have made an understandable choice. “Illegal is illegal” might sound good, but it does not acknowledge the fact that our INS is irretrievably broken and unwilling or unable to look at these human beings and see human beings. And lots of hardliners have stopped seeing the human beings in this issue, too.

I got lots of hate mail for this post of mine but no one ever addressed this part of the piece:

Aside from the legal and moral ramifications of trying to “round them all up -” I got out of the car thinking, are they forgetting that we are talking about human beings, here? Many of whom have been here for years, initially through legal means, and who have created lives? People with lives and families who – like how they got here or not – are HERE and are mostly contributing to society in positive ways? Honestly, the folks on the radio sounded extremely narrow and over-the-top. The humanity of the illegals seemed as unmentionable to them as the humanity of a baby-in-utero is to a feminist.

No one ever addressed this part, either:

70 or 80 years ago, my own ancestors were coming in, legally, and learned to hang drywall and fix automobiles and fight fires. Yes, they were legal…the nation had well-run, functional programs to handle a huge influx. Had such a program not been in place, they would have come, anyway…and they would have been illegal!

I wonder why it is that we do not, today have a well-run, functional immigration program to handle the huge influx of people who wish to live here. Why aren’t we WORKING on creating such a program? Why isn’t that part of any immigration bill – the reform of the INS?

We’re going to need our immigrants as the boomers retire and weigh heavy on our SocSec system and their children barely reproduce at replacement levels. Why can’t we bring back the idea of Ellis Island – create an Ellis Island West (or “Islands”) of strategically-placed processing centers, so to speak — which would prevent the “illegality” of our immigrants?

That might be helpful, you know? Make ‘em legal, get ‘em paying taxes…Sure, some people called my grandfather a “filthy wop” and my other grandfather a “lazy mick” and they bitched because the carousel at Coney Island suddenly played Italian hurdy-gurdy instead of genteel songs from the gay 90’s, but everyone adjusted. The nation grew stronger.

And please don’t give me Rush’s lines about how the country cannot absorb so many immigrants, or that it will either lower or raise standard wages. Rush loves supply and demand when it suits him, and our economy is surging and so strong – strengthened by tax cuts and the resulting increase in tax revenues – that we don’t have enough workers. The nation is already absorbing her immigrants, and I can’t imagine why suddenly the idea of an increased tax base is anathema to so many. Let’s get the illegal Irish over in Southhampton and Montauk into the tax base, too, while we’re at it, because guess what, folks, thousands of ‘em come in every year, and they’re not going home, either. Although I don’t hear any complaining about it.

I have written about some of the illegals who go to my church, who have lived here for many years, established themselves as best they have been able, have learned English, worked hard – they haven’t complied with the broken INS system, but they have become as model citizens as they might be under the circumstances. They come to church each week with mannerly children, impeccably turned out – the father is at daily mass every morning, and every day before he leaves for work he prostrates himself before the Tabernacle. Yeah…he should just be shipped back. Illegal is illegal and that’s all that matters. But what am I saying? I forgot, I’m a Catholic, I can’t be credible on this issue, because all we Catholics care about are asses in the pews and money in the collection basket.

No normalization, no reasonable examination of a person and his life and his circumstances…no plea bargaining…“no excuses, illegal is illegal…ship them all back…” might sound pithy, moral and right to some. But it is offering no solutions beyond a fence – it considers no reform. Some of these high-minded moralists betray something in themselves when they write – as some have in the ‘sphere, all their principals really demand is the “rounding up and shipping out” of millions of people, the disruption of established families, a wall and a guard standing a post with a loaded rifle.

In some ways
the breezy categorizing and dismissing of the human beings involved in all of this sadly brings to mind these Phelps disasters who see only “fags” and “fag enablers sinning away grace and messing with the wrong God.”

President Bush has not forgotten that we are talking about human beings, here and his “base” is all-too-eager-and-willing to kick him in the teeth for it. But he is on the side of the angels on this, and not for the first time.

Like Patheos Catholic on Facebook!


About Elizabeth Scalia