Time for Ellis Island West?

Time for Ellis Island West? June 21, 2006

Big Lizard has an important post up this morning regarding just what nightmarish hoops “legal” immigrants must jump through to get citizenship (if they manage) via our quite broken INS system.

He writes:

Maybe people really don’t know; here are the two examples closest to me:

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.

No reason. She wasn’t missing any papers, she had passed all the tests, 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 lives in Tokyo today, but he still loves America… even after what America did to him. God knows why. He still hopes that someday, he will be able to come here as a permanent resident.
Random Chaos

I hear about others who come here and have no problems: they get on the green-card track right away, they get residency, they’re given an appointment for being sworn in… no problem. Others live through the nightmares depicted above.

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./em>

I’ve written before that the hard-liners who insist that all illeglas “be shipped back; illegal is illegal!” are not looking at the many people who have come here legally but have found their student visas and greencards expired and have made a choice that their established lives here – particularly if they have kids – should not be ripped to shreds simply because our immigration policies are in such dire need of reform. I’ve wondered why the people screaming so loud are offering no solutions in that regard or why a sort of Ellis Island West could not be created – a program similar to the one in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which helped process the surge of immigrants who came and helped build the nation – and who, so desperate were they to be part of America, would have come even if Ellis Island were not in place.

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, 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 line about how all of these illegal immigrants will be a drain on our workforce and will either lower wages or demand higher ones. Rush loves supply-and-demand until he doesn’t and our economy is surging so strong we don’t have enough skilled workers to meet demand. You won’t convince me that adding folks to the tax-base is going to somehow hurt America.

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