Immigration: A mile in their shoes

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A great illustration by Alex Eben Meyer

Anyone who’s watched a news channel, newscast or read a newspaper in the last few years knows that immigration is a controversial topic.

There’s a million different perspectives and opinions on this matter; this post isn’t intended to start a debate. But I have a confession to make: Although I may have been concerned and aware in a very general sense, I just never really thought about immigration in a deeper sense – or understood what it means to the people who are in the midst of doing so.

For most of us, having to even perceive this country as a place that isn’t ours – a place where your legal right to be there is in question – is almost unfathomable. And I’m definitely a product of Middle America. I grew up in a housing plan that was, as the song says, little boxes made of ticky-tack that all look the same. It was a very insulated little bubble to grow up in.

As an adult, my worldview has become far more diverse (it’s impossible not to have a sense of other cultures and other ideas in a city like Chicago). In my circle of friends, I know several people who have emigrated from other countries. My best friends grew up in Canada and have been living in the United States for the last decade or so.

Still, I rarely pondered the actual process of immigration, or the challenges that people who come to this country face. But that all changed for me recently.

I’ve been a confirmed bachelor for most of my life, but last year I met and fell in love with my partner. He’s smart, sweet, and incredibly handsome. He’s everything I’d been looking for in a partner for nearly twenty years. He’s my partner and my family and I cannot imagine my life without him.

He’s not an American citizen. He was born and lived most of his life in Germany. He’s been in the United States for several years on an H1-B visa, which allows him to be in the country legally but ties that residency to his continued employment at the company he’s working at now.

He intends to stay in the United States, and a few years ago, his company helped coordinate his application for a permanent resident card, or “green card.”  When most of us hear about these things, we assume getting a green card is like renewing your car registration or drivers’ license. You may have to stand in line for a few hours at the DMV to make that happen, and many people complain and even rage about the “inconvenience” of losing a few hours of their day.

But my partner applied for his green card in September……of 2007.

The processing center JUST got to the batch of applications from that time, and in checking on the status of his application, he discovered his application had been submitted in the wrong category. Had his application been categorized correctly, he’d probably have his green card by now.

His choices are as follows: He can continue as is, which means a wait of two to three more years, if not longer. Or he can try to change categories – which will set him back to the beginning of the process, for another three-to-five year wait.  His visa expires in 2011 – just two years from now. Though he may be able to renew that visa, there’s no guarantee.

This is a huge question mark over BOTH of our heads as far as planning for our future. We wanted to take advantage of the buyers’ market in housing and start looking for a house that we could settle down in. But until we know for certain that he won’t have to leave the country, it seems senseless to take on the risks of a huge mortgage.

We’re at a double disadvantage, of course, because we are same-sex partners. Our relationship isn’t recognized by the state of Illinois or the United States government. He may be my family, but the government doesn’t see it that way. Of course, marrying a U.S. citizen isn’t a shortcut, either – there’s a process there, as well – but there’s far less uncertainty in that process.

I have a new appreciation for how complex immigration is, and have had to start examining my own ties to America. If push comes to shove, what will take precedence – my partner, or my country? And if he returned to Germany – and I followed him – would it be any easier for me to live there?

As I said at the beginning, immigration is a complicated, emotional subject. It’s also something that every government in the world has to think about. And let me be clear: I respect that every country, including my own, wants to have time to conduct due diligence on all of its potential residents. Right now, though, that process seems to be an antiquated, bureaucratic mess that appears to be in place solely to dissuade applicants from pursuing their dreams of living in America.

And we need to realize that efore we criticize others about their stance on immigration – or demonize immigrants for the path they took to get here – we should walk a mile in their shoes.

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One comment

  1. This is a great piece and really illustrates, in a relatable way, many issues that the majority of people spend little time considering (even those same people often have very strong opinions).

    Many of us often seem to forget that other than 100% Native Americans every group here was originally from somewhere else. Much of our great country has been built on the shoulders of immigrants.

    Best of luck to you and your partner.

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