Immigration Ain’t Easy

It isn’t easy to come to America.

I totally know this from first hand experience.

I’m a first generation immigrant. (You could probably tell from my funny clothes and my accent.)

When I was 8-years-old, my family and I left behind the hardships and struggles of our less-than-perfect life in Canada, and crossed the border to begin chasing down our American dream.

Sure, the situation in Canada is nowhere near as dangerous and despondent as those in Syria or Sudan. But the winters can be harsh, and the ’83 Maple Leafs made many a grown man cry.

And even though the two countries share so much, Canada is not the United States. Every other country in the world is some form of iron or steel, or even silver. But the United States is gold. We, like many, wanted to go for the gold.

It was June of 1983 when we packed up the Caprice Estate Wagon and drove across the border to the land of the free, ready to start anew in the home of the brave.

It. Was. Not. A. Simple. Task.

Back then terrorism wasn’t even a “thing.” It was the “economy stupid!” And every immigrant had to prove that they were valuable to the US. They had to prove that they could do a job that no other US citizen could perform. It was the only road to permanent residency and for most people, it was a dead-end.

Be one-of-a-kind. Be totally unique. Be indispensable!

Easier said than done. Don’t get me wrong, my parents are great! But that’s a tall order for anyone…

Sure, if you can perform a flawless brain transplant, or turn a Delorean into a time machine, or score a triple-double against the Cavaliers, you will have a Green Card waiting for you when you get off the plane.

But, if you are a writer or marketing consultant, like my parents were, then grab your mittens and head to the back of the line. There are about a bajillion Americans who would kill for your paycheck, and are ready to replace you with about 30 seconds notice.

For most people, the spoils of citizenship are only given to the winner of a hard fought battle.

My parents, who split soon after we arrived, fought the same battle in two very different ways.

My mother worked as a freelancer and threw all her money at immigration attorneys. It took 8 years, but she finally got the good news: She was going to become an American. It’s like that old saying goes, “Give a lawyer enough money and he can move a mountain! Or at least settle with whoever put it there.”

My father tried to become “indispensable.” He became a contractor. He remodeled bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, apartments, guest houses…anything he could find to keep us afloat. Eventually, he built a business that convinced the feds that he was irreplaceable, and he got to stay too. His battle lasted close to a decade.

My sister turned 18 before either of my parents became citizens so she had to start her own war. She chose not to fight for the ultimate prize and now lives back in Canada. This is not “Little League.” You don’t get a prize just for trying.

I sneaked through the system as a minor and was able to get my Green Card (which is actually pink) because my parents were legal. Ten years later I applied for and was granted Citizenship.

I had to take an American History exam. I had to take an English proficiency test, even though I told the agent I was from Canada. I don’t actually speak any other languages except English!

Nonetheless, I had to speak and write “The old blue car parked behind the yellow building” before anyone was going to let me stay.

Indeed, it wasn’t easy for any of us. And now that I am older, I realize that it wasn’t supposed to be. I realize that the system isn’t designed to let people in, the system is designed to keep people out.

I also realize that America is not the enemy. If you were born in this country, please understand that the US Immigration System is there to protect you and your family and your opportunities.

It is not designed to keep people who are oppressed from further oppression. Border agents and Immigration officers don’t take pleasure in turning people away, but they take great pride in keeping Americans safe.

As someone who is quite familiar with the naturalization process please know that being born in this country is, after life itself, the greatest gift God has ever given you.

We don’t all receive it. And the laws that keep people out, either permanently or temporarily, are put in place because somebody swore an oath to protect you from “all threats foreign and domestic.”

It appears today, someone is taking that oath very seriously.

I find that most naturalized citizens are the strongest proponents of tough immigration policies. We fought hard to get here, why shouldn’t everyone else?

It’s the same reason I am tough on waiters at restaurants. I worked for 10 years waiting tables. I was great at it. In my opinion, you should be too. Especially if you want 20% of my check!

America is the greatest country in the world. And it’s not because we let just anybody in. We make people stand in line, and wait their turn, and prove their worth. We make sure that they can speak the language, and contribute positively, and not desire to blow us all up.

America tested my parents, and my sister, and me. We didn’t all pass.

But like I said before, it isn’t easy to come to America. And it probably shouldn’t be.

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