For several years throughout my secondary school days, I often shared in passing with friends and colleagues that I am a “legal” immigrant. In light of recent discussions and debates on campus, this is a misnomer, as this defines itself as opposed to “illegal.” Also, saying “a legal immigrant” caused confusion as it seemed like though I said “illegal immigrant.” But again, the nomenclature is now moot. Why did I come to this conclusion years ago? It perhaps had much to do with the circumstances with which I arrived here.
I arrived here in January of 2005 after the equivalent of spending a day’s worth of time in transit from Manila, Philippines, to Dulles International Airport in Virginia. Besides seeing snow and experiencing intense cold for the first time, I was excited and nervous. It also was the first time I’d seen my parents in a year and a half. This was because my mother had arrived here in 2003, finding work as an elementary education teacher through a hiring agency, and my father followed him soon after. In the care of my grandmother and her family, I waited for that red and blue stamp in our green passports, the visa, the ticket to reunion and the prospect of a new life.
Catching up with the new culture I lived in, I remember often watching the news before going to elementary school, and watching more when I came home. It was then that I was made aware of what was portrayed as a national problem with “illegal immigration.” I don’t remember too well my news sources at the time, although I remember my father for a very brief time actually watching Bill O’Reilly until he realized his politics weren’t those of the commentator’s. Regardless, I ended up internalizing this question: “Why didn’t they go through what I did?”
In retrospect, I had no idea how more complicated my question really was. Indeed, a sense of unfairness overtook me, as I often looked to my parents. There were notes on their desk of the debts left to family members and friends back in Manila – financing immigration fees and the like. I even once remember going with my parents in the long line of some strange building that may have been the U. S. Embassy. I felt we had done all the right things to earn the right of living in America. So why couldn’t others? It seemed then that the undocumented subverted the legal means, which my parents followed, which millions others followed too. We’ve returned to the Philippine embassy many times and other agencies with regards to extending our legality here. My mother paid taxes…but what about those who didn’t?
It was this lingering burn, a sense of fairness, that I brought with me to last week’s Convocation with Bay Buchanan. As contrary to the general atmosphere rejecting her politics on the issue, I did feel sympathy. To clarify, I understand her position being one of a legalist perspective. Yes, indeed she is restrictive in her views for who and what to address in this debate (read: “Americans”) and even the restrictiveness is vexing. (Discussion of why is not what I will address here). Yet I see that there is an issue of fairness that is truly valid. Think: what kind of economic ramifications can occur with the naturalization of undocumented residents? We are often told much about their inclusion as providing a new tax base and more innovators and entrepreneurs, yet not much is told about the greater competition for work among those with Social Security numbers.
Now, let’s face it: we know some of her ideas are ludicrous. There are better things to address than the deportation of millions on the basis of not having the right documents. And our campus has already taken issue with the nomenclature I brought up earlier. But we cannot discount that we are concerned for people, and for the nation at large. I’m afraid that our knee-jerk reactions against some of her language and politics may have overshadowed some of the economic points that must be considered.
Our disagreements stem from our more universal perspective and sense of justice for a greater set of people (read: “everyone”!), and from how Ms. Buchanan’s convocation was received, we will not be converging in opinion anytime soon. Yet as of late, I am finding that my own question “Why didn’t they go through what I did?” has become more clear to me. Other immigrants couldn’t have – our current system has allowed it, and not just our immigration system here. Economic conditions in home countries, hiring practices here, government policies, law enforcement: so many things have led to our current situation today and to the development of a “second class” population, entitled to living in the metaphoric light of day as humans. Not everyone has the relative “luxury” I have had in having legal auspices residing here. As cliché as it is, it’s by chance that I have the ability to write to the ‘Tonian here as a Carl.
There is so much to address in this issue, and by saying this, we are behooved to pay heed to even Ms. Buchanan’s concerns. The economics involved with our current proposals, though well-intentioned and inspired, could unleash consequences down the road that we may not understand now – there are simply factors that may not be so quantifiable. If we are to do right, we could conduct careful research and exploration to consider every factor to come up with solutions to ensure justice for all that benefits everyone, from the citizen to the undocumented.
Of course, what good will it do right now? We cannot accept waiting, especially with so much at stake for all. I will leave the policy squabbles to the knowledgeable, yet I cannot help but ask, as an immigrant striving to be a part of this nation, if we can find a solution to address everyone, to ensure an American society that truly lives up to its egalitarianism. We will need every voice we can hear.