Editor’s Note: Blog first appeared at http://bronlea.wordpress.com/. Permission was given by the author to repost. 

This card with my name and fingerprint on it, also records my official Alien Number, assigned to me by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.

We are now at the end of our ninth year of living in the States. We are, as the famous song by Sting goes, “legal aliens”. During this time, we have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on paperwork and travel to keep our visas current. We have been retina scanned, finger printed, and submitted exhausting and exhaustive records of every job we’ve ever held, every school we ever studied at, and the names and addresses of every person we are related to.We’ve been legal aliens for 9 years, but now, with three children born in the US (call them anchor babies if you must), we don’t want alien cards anymore.

We want green cards. We want to be allowed to permanently stay in the country where our children are, without fear that my hubby will lose his job or the laws will change and suddenly we will find ourselves with no legal purchase in the country where our kids are.

But applying for permanent residency is a lot tougher than you might think.

… Even though we are English speaking and have five graduate degrees between us (two of those from top US universities). Even though we hold jobs, pay taxes, have three kids who are American citizens. These things are not enough to put us on a path to citizenship.

… Even though we contribute to our community, want to ADD to this country and not exploit it, even though we serve in our church and schools. These things are irrelevant when it comes to a path to citizenship.

… Even though my husband’s job involves research which impacts the quality of the entire multi-billion dollar road network for our state…. still, our attorney advises us that this MAY NOT be enough to show that we are “valuable” enough to obtain green cards.

The bar for getting permanent residency is not set at the nice-person-well-educated-contributes-meaningfully-to-the-economy level.

The bar for getting permanent residency is currently set at the have-you-won-a-nobel-prize-or-can-you-prove-you’re-going-to levelThe is-your-work-contributing-to-the-NATIONAL-interest level.

Excellent and meaningful work done for the state of California is insufficient. We have to prove, on paper, that our contribution is better for the ENTIRE country, not just the state we live in. Our attorney is “hopeful” that we “might” be able to show that the work done in our State affects others, and that our petition “could” have a “pleasing result“.

Our friends here have often assumed that OF COURSE we have green cards. They seem surprised when we tell them we don’t (Why? Because we’re white? Because we’re English speaking? Because we’re employed? As we keep telling them: we are aliens, friends. Every law dealing with immigrants, borders and national security means another set of fingerprints we have to submit, another security clearance form we have to fill in.)

The options open to us to pursue residency are limited: we can’t marry an American (oops – married already). Our kids can’t sponsor us for another dozen years (oops – we don’t have that long on our current visas). So instead we (or our employers) have to pursue the “prove you’re indispensable to the country” option.

So, when I heard that legislation championing immigration reform was being proposed which would “open up a path to citizenship”, my heart leaped. A path for people with degrees from American universities (that’s us!), for families with American kids (that’s us!) Not that we would instantly be granted citizenship… but at least a path would be visible.

However, America is the land of Newtonian Politics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Immigration reform was just one of the many heated topics under discussion in the final weeks before last year’s election. Emotions run high in voting season, and people are free to express their thoughts. I generally try to keep my head down, but I was deeply hurt by one friend from church’s frequent Facebook posts on the hot-button topic of immigration reform. He warned about legislation which would let “them” in, about the threat to “us”, “our way of life”, “our culture and liberties”.

I felt so hurt. So unwanted. I stood with a leaden-heart behind him during a worship service and silently pleaded at his back: “My brother in Christ, with whom I share citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven: do you know that I am one of ‘them’? Do you know that I am the immigrant in the immigration reform you’re talking about? Do you know that without some reprieve in the current legislation, we may have to go? Your wife would have one less bible study leader, your kid would have one less parent volunteer in the classroom, your business would have one less paying customer. Did you know it was ME you are closing the door on?”

I never said anything. I suspect he didn’t know.

But maybe if he had, he might have more compassion. Maybe he would feel less threatened.

I write this piece with trembling fingers. In fact, it has taken me some time to muster up the courage to post it. I am afraid of the lash back of speaking out on such a touchy topic. I would rather be an ostrich. I am afraid of owning up and confessing in a crowd that I’m one of “them”.

Sometimes we have to be brave. I don’t have a vote, but this blog is my voice. So this is me being brave and saying this:

I want to contribute to this country. I am invested in its future, especially for our kids. I want to create jobs, not take them. I am not an exception to the rules regarding immigration, nor do I want to be. I am one example of exactly who the immigration reform is talking about. When you think about the “immigrant”, think of me too.

I am the immigrant. And I really want to walk the path to citizenship, should it open up.

Night by night, I collect and collate documents to present our case to USCIS. I hope it we will be accepted. I hope in the interim that the legislators will look at the immigration rules and see that the current “path” to citizenship is extremely narrow, with precipices on either side. I hope they will see fit to widen it, even if just a little.

But if they don’t, and if our petition is not successful – so be it. If our time here runs out and we cannot stay, we will say our goodbyes and be thankful for the wonderful years we have lived in these United States. And then we will take our American children elsewhere and do our very best to teach them to be brave, honest, hardworking immigrants there. For that is what they will then be.

 

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Bronwyn Lea was born and raised in South Africa where she earned degrees in political philosophy, law and theology. She has worked in campus ministry both in South Africa and Northern California, where she now lives with her husband and three children. You can visit Bronwyn online at bronlea.wordpress.com

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