Myths About Immigration
There are many translators that work directly or indirectly with immigrants so I thought it would be interesting to write a series of posts on myths relating to immigration, especially immigration coming across the Mexican/ U.S. Border.
Myth 2 & 3
It’s just as easy to enter the country legally today as it was when my ancestors arrived.
There’s a way to enter the country legally for anyone who wants to get in line.
In the 16th century, Pilgrims came to the new world to find freedom of religion as my own ancestor did on the Mayflower (Edward Doty). The 17th to the 19th centuries brought hundreds of thousands of African slaves. During this time, the only concern was the trip. Would one survive the perils of the journey? For about the first century, the United States had an “open immigration system that allowed any able-bodied immigrant in,” explains immigration historian David Reimers. Today, an immigrant can legally enter the U.S by being sponsored by an employer or a family member, they can enter the country as refugees, or they could receive a diversity visa. That is if they can afford the cost of the needed visas, which can range from $200 to $700 not including any legal fees. If they can afford the visa and legal fees and let us not forget the cost of transportation to get to the U.S. nor the needed money to start up a household in their new country they can get in the imaginary immigration line. This line, according to the State Department is already 4.4 million people long. Depending on an immigrant’s country of origin and the type of visa the wait can be years, even decades! It is not uncommon for those coming from Mexico or the Philippines to wait 20 years to come on a family visa. In addition, there are visa quotas, which limit immigration from any given country. Generally, this line is only for those that are (1) highly trained in a skill that is in short supply in the U.S. (See brain drain for more information) , (2) escaping political persecution, or (3) joining close family members already here. Many of our immigrant ancestors would be denied entry under these current immigration rules.
It is this unbearable wait of years that turns into decades that has people from poor, violent-ridden countries wanting to escape their situation or those that no longer can stand the separation from their loved ones to resort to illegal border crossing. A costly trip, both financially and many times physically. Sometimes the cost is death. Coyotes or smugglers will charge anywhere from $3000 to upwards of $70,000. Even then, some coyotes abandon their “clientele” in the desert where they die.
History has a tendency to repeat itself. A century ago immigrants lived in neighborhoods where they spoke the same language, shared similar customs and built businesses up around them to cater specifically to their fellow emigres. Facing discrimination as an immigrant was true 100 years ago as it is today. Every new onset of immigrants throughout American history has met the same mistrust only to be vindicated later.
Even Benjamin Franklin wrote about his mistrust as concerns of immigrants. For him, it was the Germans. He complained that they weren’t learning English and they were importing books in German. Many street signs at the time were in English and in German and some only in German. He was fearful that his own language and the government would be at risk and not be preserved. At one time, others felt the Irish would undermine the country’s Anglo-Saxon social and political traditions and after that it was the persecution of the Chinese for working low-paying jobs.
The United States is known as a “melting pot”. I see it more as a stew with unique pieces of meat and vegetables whose flavors meld together creating the best of both worlds.
The French friends recognized the importance of our immigration history when they erected the Statue of Liberty to serve as a beacon to all those that wanted to share the American dream. The statue’s pedestal bears the famous words of poet Emma Lazarus:
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”