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Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

Re-visiting your past

In aging, behavior, cities, domestic life, History, immigration, life, travel, urban life, US, world on September 8, 2013 at 1:52 am

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the challenges of becoming an expatriate — which I did, leaving Canada in 1988 for the U.S. — is leaving behind much of your personal history: the schools you attended, the playgrounds where you skinned your knees, the parks and ravines you walked through with your family, favorite shops, restaurants, libraries or street corners.

I lived in Toronto ages five to 30, so most of my formative and defining memories lie there: first boyfriend, newspaper job,  apartment.

Toronto viewed south from Bloor

Toronto viewed south from Bloor (Photo credit: Small)

It happens when you live far away, even across the country.

Re-visiting my past remains, however silly or nostalgic, important to me. Some of the memories are painful, and I want to re-make them with a happier overlay, while others are pure joy, like once more taking the ferry across Toronto’s harbor, to the islands there, the sun glittering off the water and the gulls circling overhead.

Bliss!

Another well-traveled path I take, and will do so on our current visit north, is down the terrazzo hallways of my old high school.

I’ve been going back there for years as a guest lecturer on writing, speaking to senior students. I was badly bullied there for a few years when I was a student, so it’s a sweet vengeance to be welcomed back as a successful alum.

It’s odd to be there as an adult, not as the eager, excited, nervous young woman I was then, dying to start university and get on with my writing career.

My name is on a wall, lettered in gold in elegant Gothic script, with all the others who won Ontario scholarships, awarded to those with the highest averages in their graduating year. It’s comforting to see my name there, to feel remembered — even if my classmates’ children have already graduated from those same classrooms.

In May 2013, I returned to the Grand Canyon for a four-day trip, camping alone in a tent. I was excited beyond measure to get back there — my last time was June 1994, and I hiked 12 hours in a day, climbing out exhausted and crusted with the salt of my evaporated sweat.

English: view into Grand Canyon from South Rim...

English: view into Grand Canyon from South Rim, Arizona, USA Deutsch: Blick in den Grand Canyon vom Südrand, Arizona, USA Français : vue dans le Grand Canyon du bord sud, Arizona, États-Unis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I wanted to return for another reason, to make that 90-minute drive back to Flagstaff knowing I was coming home to a loving spouse; when I returned from my previous trip, my then-husband walked out for good.

For decades, I’d associated one of the best journeys of my life with one of its most unexpectedly painful moments.

In May 2008, Jose and I traveled to Mexico, back to Cuernavaca, to the apartment building where my mother and I lived when I was 14. I used to walk up the hill to my school, where two tall, narrow windows offered an extraordinary view — one of Popocatapetl, the other Iztaccihuatl, two volcanoes far in the distance.

I used to look out my second-floor window into a field, and assumed it was long since built up and paved over. But it was still a field and our building, at the corner of Copales and Naranjos, appeared unchanged as well.

I wanted to wave to my 14-year-old self, with her waist-length blond hair, listening to Creedence on her record player, and say: “It’s going to be OK. Really.”

My mother suffered a breakdown while we were there; the details too arcane for this blog, but it abruptly and permanently ended my time in her custody, making that apartment and the field and the hill the last place that I lived in her care.

Down the road is a small waterfall, its cul-de-sac filled with plant nurseries. I bought three small pottery palomitas there — unglazed doves — that hang on our balcony in the summer, small, happy memories re-created.

20130905123318

And, when Jose and I went to visit his hometown, Santa Fe, New Mexico, we visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. It has a small courtyard with an apricot tree — the one his late mother used to make jam from.

The museum now stands on the land where his late father’s Baptist church, and their home, once stood.

“This used to be my bedroom,” he said, standing before some exquisite and priceless canvas.

I didn’t know quite what to say.

How sad to never be able see your old haunts.

English: A Areal map of Santa Fe, New Mexico d...

English: A Areal map of Santa Fe, New Mexico during the Railroad era in 1882. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s blogger Dara Clear, eloquent as always — who traded his native Ireland for Australia:

Each one of of us is Homer’s Odysseus, journeying, probing, questing but perhaps ultimately compelled to return to Penelope, to that place of safety, familiarity and love. I am not being literal here, I am not saying we are all the male hero archetype who dutifully returns home to the stoic wife after his manly adventures. My suggestion is that on a profound, primal, ancient level, we are all borne on the same unstated dynamic that is best described as the journey and the return.

We set out on our voyages understanding, or maybe just suspecting, that the journey and its concomitant adventures and challenges, will not be indefinite. There will be an end. There will be a settling. And there will be a return. The return becomes whatever the traveler determines to be home. And home is the place of belonging.

Home can also be the opposite of that, highlighting the sense of not belonging, the sense of otherness. Home then, embodies a strange paradox in that it can be understood as both happy assimilation into place and tribe as well as being one’s concept of defiance, individuality and difference.

From this interpretation we can see how identity is closely connected to home. Are we a product of, or a reaction to where we are from? And what happens if you are dispossessed of a birthright as indelible as belonging? How do you keep your identity if you have no place to which you can return?

And here is Chris Colin’s story from Afar, (a terrific American travel magazine), about going back to West Texas:

There is—I don’t think this would offend anyone—nothing here. The main drag runs past the county courthouse, the old jail, Silverton’s two eateries, and the gas station, which holds a freezer that doubles as the town’s grocery store. The rest of Silverton is shuttered businesses and silent residential streets. The edges of town bleed into the farms and wastelands of Briscoe County…

Silverton may be thimble-size, but the thimble contains multitudes. Nearly every human is kin, for starters. On Main Street one afternoon, Tom waved to an old lady sitting on a front porch, then decided to circle back around and park. It was his mother. We stood on the porch and discussed the tornado that ripped down the street years ago, 21 people killed…

During my week in Texas, my days were spent roaming 21st-century Silverton with my great-uncles. By night I lost myself in its late 19th- and early 20th-century history. I grew up hearing of this microscopic town as a mythically happy and industrious place. My great-grandmother Bethel lived to 98 and told us stories about weekend-long dances, epic horseback rides to school, and the joy of putting on her Sunday best just to stroll Main Street.

Do you ever re-visit places from your childhood or past?

How does it feel when you go back?

Did I choose the wrong country?

In aging, behavior, business, cities, Crime, culture, immigration, life, news, urban life, US, work, world on July 26, 2012 at 12:05 am
Globe

Globe (Photo credit: stevecadman)

How interesting to see that Canada — where I was born, raised and lived until 1988 — now has a higher per-capita wealth than the United States; $363,202 in assets to the average American’s total of $319,970.

From the website Daily Finance:

Indeed, the crash in U.S. home prices means that Canadians own real estate that is on average worth $140,000 more than that held by Americans. They also own twice as much property and have nearly four times as much equity in it after mortgages are taken into account.

One small bright spot for residents of the beleaguered U.S.: Americans still have greater liquid assets than Canadians. But even this statistic serves mainly to underscore the magnitude of the housing market catastrophe.

Public policy may be in part to blame: As The Globe and Mail points out, “Canadian leaders rejected mortgage interest deductibility,” making it somewhat harder for citizens to get so deep into mortgage debt. Moreover, subprime mortgages — those ignes fatui of the American economy — did not catch on in Canada the way they did here.

All of which leaves our “thrifty, socialist neighbors to the north” — who have long eschewed both the dynamism and the risk of the American system in favor of higher taxes, greater regulation and a sturdier social safety net — looking pretty clever right now.

Having survived three (so far) recessions in the U.S. since moving here, I’ve often questioned my decision. But I’ve also met some of my professional goals here, and more easily in a nation whose population is 10 times larger, than would have been possible at home, where about ten people in my industry got the best jobs and clung to them for decades.

I’ve married two Americans, one wretched, one not. I’ve survived being a crime victim here twice and the subject of a $1 million lawsuit from a minor car accident. Instructive!

Canadians are generally much more risk-averse, which I find boring and annoying (if, yes, more fiscally prudent.) Americans, for better or worse, are generally excited to try new things and less freaked out by failure. I like this a lot, and it’s one reason I came and stuck around. But it also assumes — which isn’t true for so many people here now – you can actually afford to fail.

Without a toxic mortgage I kept my home and built equity; the U.S. mortgage interest tax deduction (thank heaven) was a real help to me as a single freelancer.

The “American dream” of home ownership is typical of a major difference between the two nations — because it has long been such a powerful part of how Americans view their lives, no politician (even if it would have been wise to do so) dared mess with it.

And so bankers made out, literally, like bandits, selling the most appallingly toxic mortgages to people with no clue what they were getting into.

Canadians don’t have a “Canadian dream”, at least none I’ve ever heard as part of the standard cultural conversation.

The CDO crisis, fueled by greed on both sides and fed by the oxygen of enormous profits on one side and the illicit thrill of actually buying a house with 0% down, almost left the financial system here DOA. If you want to watch a real thriller, which really explains it, rent the terrific films Too Big to Fail and Inside Job.

While Americans, once more, are this week mourning the latest massacre of civilians attending a film near Denver by a deranged shooter armed with four guns, urban Canadians in Toronto are also confronting a shocking level of gun violence; ironically, Jessica Ghawi, a young sports reporter, had just escaped a shooting in June at Toronto’s Eaton Centre, a huge downtown mall, when she was killed in Aurora.

I wrote my first book about American women and guns, which one critic called “groundbreaking and invaluable”, my goal to understand, and explain, why Americans are so deeply attached to private firearms ownership.

But another recent shooting in Toronto claimed the lives of two people and when I went to check that story, yet another shooting had occurred since then.

So — which country is the better choice?

It’s an ongoing question for ex-patriates like myself, some of whom have husbands or wives or partners and children and jobs they value in the United States (or vice versa.) After the horror of 9/11, many of my Canadian friends urged me to “come home”, even though I’d already lived in the U.S. since January 1988.

While he loves Canada and would be happy to live there, my husband has a great job in New York City, which offers a pension we will both need. As an author and freelance writer, I can, theoretically, work from anywhere.

Both my countries have strengths and weaknesses.

The reasons we each choose to move, or stay, are multi-factorial: friends, work, climate, proximity to (or blessed distance from) family, excellent medical care and insurance, history, geography, a spiritual community, a landscape we love, a sense of history or shared culture…

Here’s a recent radio interview with Paul Martin, former Canadian Prime Minister, with Brian Lehrer, one of my favorite interviewers, on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. He does a great job explaining the differences in public policy-making between the two countries.

If you’ve left your native country to try another, how’s it working out for you?

If you’ve moved to the U.S., do you (ever) regret it?

Do you plan to move elsewhere?

Why?

Five ways I’ve become American — and five Canadian holdovers

In aging, behavior, culture, life, politics, travel, urban life, US, war on June 20, 2012 at 12:22 am
A typical Baseball diamond as seen from the st...

A typical Baseball diamond as seen from the stadium. Traditionally the game is played for nine innings but can be prolonged if there is a tie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the 24 years (!) since I left Canada, where I was born and raised, for the United States, it’s inevitable I’d take on some of the characteristics of my new home. Although I was always mistaken in Toronto for someone south of the 49th. parallel — I talked and walked too quickly, laughed too loudly, was far too ambitious and direct in my speech.

“You’re American, aren’t you?” is not a compliment there. (My New York City-born mother married my Vancouver-born father and moved north. She has since become a Canadian citizen. Both my husbands have been American, one from New Jersey [divorced 1995] and one from New Mexico, [married 2011.])

And yes, I realize, these are generalizations — there are Canucks who enjoy baseball and Americans who love to travel and desperately want some form of government health care.

Here are five ways I’ve begun to feel more American:

1) I enjoy watching baseball. Sitting in the stands for hours, inning after inning, watching the sky grow dark and the lights grow brilliant. Popcorn and a chili dog for dinner. Overpriced souvenirs. Hokey games on-field like the race between the hot dog, the ketchup and the mustard. I play second base and can hit to the outfield, (and did not grow up playing), so I now appreciate it more as a player.

2) I love how Americans do business. They just get on with it! I’m amazed and grateful for the chances I’ve been given to succeed and thrive, by people who don’t know me from childhood or my family or with whom I attended college or grad school. That takes guts and decisiveness, both of which I value deeply.

3) I fight like a demon over healthcare, bills and any form of my rights. The single biggest change an immigrant to the U.S. must make, and quickly, is realizing no one is looking out for our interests but you (and possibly your lawyer.) Coming from a nation that’s much more of a nanny state, Canadians tend to look to the government for their solutions. Not Americans! I think this is not a bad thing, but I do not envy those with little education, poor English skills or a shy personality.

4) I’m optimistic. This is huge. I didn’t used to be. But if you’re not, you’re toast. The United States, for all its many problems — a completely useless and fucked-up Congress, growing income inequality, outrageous costs for post-secondary education, racism, the war on women — rewards those who see the glass as half-full. Whiners do poorly here. I hate whiners.

5) I generally think people create their circumstances and success. Within limits. I can’t vote, so I’m not a Republican. But barring severe mental, physical or emotional disability, I think people can achieve much without endless hand-wringing or government intervention. I was a Big Sister, a volunteer mentor to a 13-year-old girl, about 14 years ago. It was a shocking eye-opener. I had long been a default liberal, but saw within minutes that her toughest challenges were being created by her own family, whose emotional abuse, manipulation of taxpayer-funded benefits and habitual behaviors left me stunned. (Yes, I was very naive.) I absolutely believe in giving help to those in real need, but have no patience with those who abuse it or take it for granted.

And yet…

1) I believe, strongly, that excellent health care is a right, not a privilege accorded only to those with jobs, or whose employers choose to be generous. Free-market health care is an obscenity and stupidly expensive.

2) Unions matter. Barely seven percent of private sector workers in the U.S. belong to a union. Workers are too often treated like crap; they can be fired any time, for any reason, with no penalty or severance. It still shocks me how weak labor is and how powerful the wealthy.

3) I revere nature. I feel more at home in a canoe than in an SUV. I completely fail to understand kids who refuse to play outdoors and parents who allow this. If you don’t feel a passionate, deep-rooted (pun intended) attachment to the natural world, why would you fight to nurture and protect the environment?

4) I know, and have always known, that I’m a global citizen. I’ve carried my own passport since early childhood and it’s my most treasured possession, in addition to my green card. Every nation is intimately linked to the others, and Canadians travel widely. We know it, we value it. (Only 30 percent of Americans own a passport — 60 percent of Canadians did, according to government stats, in 2009-2010. If you’ve never left your borders, how can you possibly understand, and care about, how others think?)

5) War stinks. It’s a terrible waste of lives, money and taxpayer income better applied to a whole host of issues — education, health care, infrastructure. It’s appalling to watch billions spent on two wars at once in the U.S. I never understood why I didn’t know more about Canada’s essential role in D-Day until my American husband took me to Normandy to the beaches and cemeteries there. For Canadians, going to war is seen as a nasty, last-ditch necessity, not a matter of national pride and economic interest.

bonus: Skepticism!

Canadians are generally much slower to warm up socially and professionally. We’re not (as many Americans have been taught to be) “real friendly.” Why bother? Until we know, like, trust and respect you, what’s the upside? In my time in the U.S., I’ve been scammed, cheated and lied to with breathtaking impunity — as my Mom warned me would likely happen. It’s left me weary and wary of glad-handers. I also now know, and have hired, a private detective and multiple lawyers. I get it.

This worldview also complicates trade and diplomacy between two countries, as their underlying principles are often quite different — American risk-taking versus Canadian caution; American in-your-face-ness versus a more European reserve.

Whether because I’m a journalist whose life has been spent questioning and challenging authority, or it’s cultural or I just like being a curmudgeon, this is one Canadian-ism I’m hanging on to for life.

What cultural differences matter most to you in your daily life?

Back again, 24 years later

In aging, behavior, books, business, culture, domestic life, immigration, journalism, life, urban life, US, women, work on June 18, 2012 at 12:06 am

The women are still lean, in Tevas and cargo pants. The men wear beards and drive pick-up trucks. The kids are plentiful.

I used to live up here, far from a big city. Muddy Subarus everywhere. Ads at the local cinema for a tattoo parlor. I knew Route 89 like the back of my hand.

I came to live in New Hampshire, in a small town, in the summer of 1988, with no prior experience of rural or small town life. I’d always lived in large cities: London, Paris, Montreal, Toronto. The absolute silence of our street was astonishing.

I followed the American man I would marry in 1992 — and who would walk out of our apartment, and our marriage, barely two years later.

The woman who lived here 24 years ago was terrified.

She — I — had left behind her country, friends, family, a thriving career. My whole identity. Anyone who moves to a new country “for love” better have a Teflon soul, a full bank account of her own and the stamina for re-invention.

I remember exactly how I felt as I crossed the border into the U.S. from Canada to move here — like a raindrop falling into an ocean. The United States has a population 10 times that of Canada. Surely I would simply disappear, never to be heard from, or of, again.

How would I ever re-build my career? New friendships? A sense of belonging? Who would I be(c0me)?

And so I used to look at all the women here — almost every one of them mothers or pregnant — apparently so secure in their identity and their marriages, roaming in packs.

I didn’t want children, and everyone here did, eagerly. I’ve never, anywhere — not even far, far away in foreign countries — felt so alien, isolated and disconnected. There were no jobs for which I was qualified. I knew not a soul. My boyfriend, then a medical resident, was always gone, returning home exhausted and grouchy.

That we were unmarried, even then un-affianced, seemed to make everyone deeply nervous. What was it, 1933?

It was the loneliest I’ve ever been.

I did love our apartment, the entire ground floor of a big old house. I did a lot of sailing. I spent every Friday at the local auction house and learned a lot about antiques.  Eager for more, I drove 90 minutes each way to Massachusetts to take a class in it there. For amusement, alone, I drove the back roads of Vermont and New Hampshire. I drew. I even drove every Monday back to Montreal to teach journalism.

But, after 18 months of my best efforts, I was desperate to flee, to re-claim a life that made some sense to me, socially, professionally and intellectually. So we moved to New York, just in time for the (then) worst recession in journalism in decades. After six relentless months of job-hunting and with no contacts to help me, I found a magazine editing job that required my French and Spanish skills. I’d never edited a magazine before.

Coming back now, I sat in the sunshine at the farmer’s market, listening to a band play bluegrass and eating a slice of wood-fired- oven-made pizza. I stared at all those mothers with their babies and their swollen bellies — and felt at ease.

I’d gone to New York. I’d achieved my dreams, surviving three recessions; in 2008, 24,000 fellow journalists lost their jobs nationwide.

Achieving my dreams would have been impossible here, then. There was, in practical terms, no Internet or cellphones. Social media barely existed. And no one had ever heard of me or read my by-line.

Nor had I yet paid my American dues — attending all those meetings and panels and conferences, getting to know editors, serving on volunteer boards, showing up, landing a few good jobs, getting fired, getting other jobs, getting laid off. Finding an agent, and then another one, and then another. Selling two well-reviewed books. Mentoring other writers.

It felt sweet to sit in the sunshine here, now, content in having done what I’d hoped to and which looked impossible, here, nestled deep within these green hills.

I no longer have to prove myself to anyone here.

Especially myself.

What's His Favorite Food? Her Mom's Maiden Name? Government Cracks Down On 'Green Card Marriages'

In behavior, immigration on June 14, 2010 at 9:21 am
Wedding cake

Image via Wikipedia

As I type this, I’m looking at one of my most precious possessions — my green card. As some of you know, they’re not green but a creamy beige, with multiple hologram images embedded in it, including a statue of Liberty.

It has my fingerprint on it, my photo (showing my unadorned right ear) and my alien registration number. It cost me $370 to renew it recently, as we do every 10 years.

Many people, desperate for a green card they can’t get any other way, marry a U.S. citizen — and some draw the attention of the Stokes unit, which interviews couples in detail to determine whether their is a real marriage or a sham, reports The New York Times:

Having flunked their first interviews with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, they had entered the mysterious world of the “Stokes unit,” a uniquely New York variation on the marriage interviews conducted nationwide whenever a citizen seeks a green card for a foreign spouse. Named for a 1976 federal court settlement that gave couples, among other protections, the right to bring a lawyer to a second, recorded interview if their first one raised suspicions of fraud, the Stokes unit recently doubled its staff to 22 officers.

It is a story line familiar from pop culture: “The Proposal” last year, “Green Card” in 1990. And while the authorities do not question the validity of the marriage of Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, his arrest last month did renew questions about the process of scrutinizing spousal green-card petitions. Nationwide, the number of such petitions denied for fraud is tiny: 506 of the 241,154 filed by citizens in the last fiscal year, or two-tenths of 1 percent (an additional 7 percent were denied on other grounds, like failing to show up for an interview).

Some critics contend that the low numbers simply show the system is easily fooled, while others say that exaggerated estimates of marriage fraud over the years have created a bureaucratic monster, thwarting legitimate, if unconventional, couples and spurring unconstitutional intrusion into their lives.

In some parts of the country, the authorities stage dawn bed checks. “Someone shows up at your house with a badge and a gun, unannounced,” said Laura Lichter, an immigration lawyer in Denver. “ ‘Hi, we’re here from immigration. Do you mind if we come in to look and see if two towels are wet?’ ”

Today’s paper profiles a couple together 17 years:

“They’ve been married 8, 10 years, and they don’t know a thing about each other?” asked Barbara Felska, a veteran in the Stokes unit, the New York office that quizzes spouses separately, then compares their answers to determine whether their relationship is real. “You don’t know his medical conditions, or that he has high blood pressure?”

The predicament of Ms. Feldman and Mr. Singh reflects what legal scholars see as a growing tension in national values between the protection of marriage from government intrusion, and the regulation of marriage through immigration laws.

I got my green card because I was then the unmarried child of a U.S. citizen; some of us get them through visas and lotteries, not just snagging the first American with a pulse that we see.

These two stories raise interesting questions about what is “normal” for any couple to know about one another, and their families, and their health. My sweetie and I know one another’s PIN numbers, but after a decade continue to handle our shared bills separately with separate bank accounts. (That would look suspicious.) If I were pressed to offer details of his relatives, some would be hazy — as some of them are virtual strangers to us both, with no Christmas cards or birthday wishes, ever.

I know that he takes two daily medications and what for, but could only name one of them if asked. I know his middle names and those of his (long-dead) parents, where was born and raised. He still sometimes confuses some of my Canadian details. Privately, it doesn’t matter, but what if the harsh light of a government inspector — and possible deportation — were in the mix?

Every married couple is different. I am a deeply private person, as is my partner — I don’t rummage through his chest of drawers or closet or other storage spaces. They’re his. Nor do I poke into his wallet, or vice versa. We retain a variety of boundaries, mostly out of respect for our privacy and individuality. If married, this would likely change little.  How would that look to someone seeking to determine if we had a Normal Marriage?

Define “normal.”

Some people find such boundaries abhorrent. I knew one young couple who happily flossed their teeth in front of one another as they sat on the sofa watching TV; my partner and I had one of our worst first fights when I asked him to wait outside a small hotel room while I flossed; in my world, some activities (still) are not meant to be shared.

My two recent visits to USCIS offices were benign and, thankfully, easy. I read these articles and wonder what I’d do or say if we were called in.

How Pancho Villa Brought Me A Boyfriend

In History, immigration on April 15, 2010 at 10:22 pm
Ahi viene Pancho Villa!

Image by OliverAlex via Flickr

His grandfather, Pedro Aguilar, was not a Pancho Villa supporter. After the Mexican revolution — and three assassination attempts — he left the northern Mexico city of Torreon and moved in 1907 to Topeka, Kansas where he went to work on the railroad. Worried someone might track him down, he changed his surname to Lopez. There he founded the Lopez Chile Powder Company and had nine children; my sweetie’s Dad, Miguel, was the second oldest.

Pedro helped to establish Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish on November 4, 1914, a still-thriving church created to serve the Mexican community in Topeka.

My partner’s Dad, a Baptist minister, raised his family in New Mexico, and my partner eventually moved to New York City, to work in journalism, as did I, moving from my native Canada first to rural New Hampshire then to a suburb of New York. He and I met, of course, when I was writing a story about on-line dating and I had to post my profile on a site I didn’t know or use, where he found me — two workaholic journos, lovers of French food and skiing and travel.

On April 16, 1945, Pedro became a U.S. citizen. His chile company, which also made taco sauce, chorizo, Mexican chocolate and peppers in brine, was long ago sold, but we have, and cherish, some of his gold and red and turquoise food labels and a photo of him.

Gracias, Pedro!

Here’s a funny story about Pancho Villa’s trigger finger — for sale — from this week’s Wall Street Journal.

In New York, (And Elsewhere) Scammers And Killers Hunt Immigrants; Some 6,000 Children A Year Arrive Alone

In Crime, immigration on March 22, 2010 at 8:07 am
A picture of Mexico as seen from outer space.

Image via Wikipedia

Dodgy iPhone out-of-plane-window shot of one u...

Long Island....look out.Image via Wikipedia

This got lost in the shuffle yesterday — a huge march for immigration reform yesterday in D.C. — overshadowed by the health care reform bill.

Reported The Los Angeles Times:

Determined to push a major overhaul of the immigration system to the top of the nation’s political agenda, tens of thousands of people rallied Sunday on the National Mall, challenging Congress to fix laws that they say separate families and hurt the country’s economic and social vitality.

Organizers and supporters of the “March for America” campaign — who demonstrated as House members cast a historic vote on healthcare — want to make an immigration overhaul the next big undertaking in Washington.

“The reality is that immigrants keep jobs in America, they help businesses move forward,” said Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, one of hundreds of community, labor and faith-based groups nationwide that joined the march.

The organizing group, Reform Immigration for America, said Sunday’s rally was larger than the massive Washington demonstration in April 2006, when thousands protested around the country over immigrant rights and enforcement practices. On Sunday, the crowd stretched nearly five blocks on the mall.

Here’s one reason this feels urgent — the “sport” of hunting Latinos for sport on Long Island.

From The New York Times:

In a packed Long Island courtroom, a prosecutor laid out in chilling detail the “sport” that she said the defendant and his friends had made out of attacking Hispanic men.

“On Nov. 8, 2008, the hunt was on,” Megan O’Donnell, the prosecutor, told 12 jurors and 4 alternates in State Supreme Court on Thursday.

The defendant, Jeffrey Conroy, 19, was one of seven Patchogue-Medford High School students who the police and prosecutors said attacked an Ecuadorean immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, in November 2008. The fatal stabbing of Mr. Lucero shocked many on Long Island and focused new attention on assaults and harassment.

The same day’s paper carried this story:

Three members of a family in Richmond Hill, Queens, have been indicted on charges that they stole $1.75 million from 19 fellow West Indian immigrants by falsely promising to help them obtain green cards and bargain deals on federally seized property in New York City and Florida, the Queens district attorney announced on Thursday.

Shantal Ramsundar, her mother, Gomatee Ramsundar, background, arriving in court Thursday, and her father, Shane Ramsundar, have been charged with victimizing 19 fellow West Indians.

As part of the scheme, the authorities said, one defendant, Shane Ramsundar, 50, masqueraded as an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on loan to the F.B.I., carrying an air gun, a phony badge and a false ID card.

“Our immigrant community here in Queens can be especially vulnerable to deception and fraud,” the district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said in a statement. “In this particular case, many of their immigrant victims are alleged to have implicitly trusted the defendants, who were West Indian like themselves.”

I ate dinner last week with a young, very successful Canadian woman who plans to move to Boston this summer, able to do so legally because she has, and can prove it, a thriving business. I just sent in $370 and a copy of my green card, which I received quickly and easily in 1988 as the unmarried child of an American citizen, because it’s time to renew it.

The legal right to work and live in the U.S., even in a terrible recession and appalling income inequality, remains alluring. American workers making $10 an hour, desperate to make more, already take home a day’s wage in Mexico. I’ve lived in Mexico and traveled there many times. If you have never visited a developing nation and seen these conditions firsthand, it’s difficult to imagine the poverty in other nations that annually compels so many across our borders.

As I wrote in the Daily News in 2005, children are also involved:

Of the 6,000 children a year placed in “removal proceedings” by the DHS, the more than 1,000 sheltered nationwide in group homes float in legal limbo. They can be deported at any time.

The number of such kids changes every day, says Maureen Dunn, director of the division of unaccompanied children’s services of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“Our load has doubled in two years,” Dunn says. “We don’t really know why. It might be increased apprehensions or perhaps because immigration authorities are releasing these children faster.”

“We’re getting slammed,” agrees Adriana Yserna, program director for the five-month-old nonprofit National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children. Yserna, an immigration lawyer, matches needy children with the more than 100 lawyers around the country willing to represent them without charge.

From a white paper on this issue:

The United States clearly cannot ignore the moral and ethical dilemma presented by a five-year-old being tossed across the border with a note to call a relative. But rather than respond simply by creating a new social-welfare bureaucracy, this phenomenon should point to the need for an examination of the policy decisions which forced the dilemma upon us in the first place by creating an anarchic situation where immigration laws are unenforced…

It requires a paradigm shift to think of the U.S. government as an active participant in human smuggling operations. And yet, looking at our response to the problem of unaccompanied minor children, smugglers themselves could hardly conclude otherwise.

The Ex-Pat's Dilemma: Where Exactly Are You From?

In Uncategorized on December 27, 2009 at 8:26 pm
The national flag of Canada.

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Home again in New York after Christmas in Toronto, back in my native Canada. It was fascinating at the border — we drove — watching all the homesick Canucks about to cross the line stocking up on exotica like liquorice allsorts and shortbread (recently put on the markdown rack — why? — at my local Stop ‘n Shop) and all things maple. The sweetie, always in some vague military mode, bought a pile of teeny tiny maple leaf decals to stick along the side of the vehicle, like some battered WWII bomber, to mark every trip north.

License plates around us, two on two Virginia plates, read “CDN MADE” and “CDN QT.” Clearly, I’m not the only ex-pat Canadian living in the U.S. who is as proud of where I come from as grateful, mostly, for the legal chance to live and work in the U.S.

Then the border guard, uncharacteristically said “Caitlin!”

“Um, yes sir?”

“Are you still Canadian?”

“Yeah!” I answered, with a vehemence that shocked my partner. Sort of like asking. “So, are you breathing?”

What on earth prompted the question? And phrased so oddly? Not “a Canadian?” Meaning…?

Did he really mean to ask, which isn’t pertinent legally: “Why aren’t you a U.S. citizen yet?” He could see my green card.

It’s every ex-patriate’s dilemma. When are you no longer an ex-pat and when are you, officially, an immigrant? When you assume the citizenship of your adopted land? Does it matter? To whom and why?

I carry a Canadian passport, have the legal right to apply for an American one, after “naturalizing” but can also, I believe, still claim an Irish passport as well, thanks to my Irish-born great-grandfather. How James Bond-ian it would be to have three, legally; Canadians do not have to give up their citizenship if they become American citizens. As someone who loves to travel and hopes to retire, at least part-time, in France, all this would be helpful.

For all of you who now live somewhere you were not born, nor have not (yet?) assumed a second (or third) citizenship, where does your loyalty lie? What, if anything, would change it?

Over the Niagara River, Suspended Between Two Countries

In culture on August 23, 2009 at 6:22 am
Description: Photograph of an Amtrak train. Ph...

Image via Wikipedia

Today I’m heading north by train, arriving in Toronto 12 hours later. And the day began, at 6:20, with an enormous rainbow over the Hudson River.

There are few journeys, certainly planned that way in North America, that still take 12 hours — usually what you expect in developing nations in small, crowded rattling buses filled with chickens. I’ll settle in with a huge stack of unread magazines, some music, a book. I love traveling by train, even unloved Amtrak. I like watching the landscape change, feeling all those miles.

We always lose at least one hour, and sometimes more, waiting at the border, where uniformed guards with sniffer dogs and latex gloves board the train, deadly serious in their pursuit — on whatever side of the border it is — of those they deem sufficiently suspicious, or insufficiently documented, to interrogate and possibly toss off. I once saw a young-ish woman with her small child removed from the seat right in front of me.

There’s a point in this journey, one I’ve made many times, that always leaves me a little torn, suspended between my two countries, as the train crosses the bridge spanning the Niagara River, its spray visible off to one side. I can see Canada beckoning, the red and white maple leaf flag and the bilingual signs, and the Stars and Stripes receding. Or vice versa. Which one is home? To which do I owe my deepest allegiance? Canadians who leave the country lose the right to vote there and, unlike Americans, don’t pay taxes when non-resident citizens. Once you’re gone, you’re gone.

Having lived in the U.S. since January 1988, where I’ve had many jobs, published a book, married and divorced and own property, it’s now home. But so, still, is Canada, in fundamental and blessedly unchanging ways, from boring-to-Americans shared cultural references to the comfort of my ancient history — my former homes and favorite shops, college boyfriends and camp room-mates and my high school best friend Sally who I see almost every time. I go to visit my Dad, now 80, meet some editors, wander the gorgeous downtown campus of my alma mater, the University of Toronto, catch up with friends of 20, even 30 years’ standing. I’ll re-stock the necessities like 222s (not a gun but a powerful headache remedy with codeine in it) and Canadian candy, truly the best. I’ll savor a butter tart (nope, they’re not made of butter!) and maybe indulge in a peameal bacon sandwich at the St. Lawrence Market, one of the world’s best indoor markets.

Deep sigh of pleasure.

Don’t forget: J-Day is Thursday, a powerful, emotional interview with two best-selling journalists/authors, former Los Angeles Times religion writer William Lobdell and T/S contributor, GQ writer and former Newsweek reporter Michael Hastings.

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