This Memorial Day weekend, like most American families, my family spent quality time at the lake. My mom, my siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, the whole family was there, legal U.S. residents, American citizens and undocumented immigrants alike, keeping alive the grand American tradition of barbecuing to celebrate America’s greatness. A tradition that everyone in my family follows every year, almost religiously, but for the last three years it has been very different. My uncle Jorge and my little cousin Ivan have been left out of the picture every year since my uncle was deported. Ironically my uncle Jorge was deported on January 20, 2009, the same day that president Obama gave his inauguration speech.
That day was a bittersweet day for my family. We were very hopeful about the promise of change that President Obama had promised to bring, but we were also very worried about my uncle’s whereabouts. He had been working out of state for a while due to the economic recession. That day, he was traveling to Texas, where he would work for several weeks, when the company’s van was pulled over by Border Patrol near Dallas, Texas. He was the only Mexican in the van, and was immediately arrested because they were suspicious of his legal status. One of his coworkers called us to inform us that he had been arrested by Border Patrol. When we tried to find him neither Border Patrol nor the local authorities could give us any information of his whereabouts since he was transferred several times from one detention center to another over the same day. It was not until the next day, when he called us from Juarez, that we felt some relief.
This is the same story that we hear over and over again about undocumented immigrants being deported, except that my uncle did not come to the U.S. illegally. My grandma, a legal U.S. resident, sponsored his visa to come to the U.S. After years of waiting for his visa, my uncle finally received it in 2002, and rushed to Detroit eager to reunite with his mother. Unfortunately, the immigration process can get very complicated and visas like my uncle’s expire and must be renewed constantly. Uncle Jorge had missed the deadline to renew it on time and the only valid document that he had near the border was his Michigan Drivers Licence. He was not aware that he had the right to renew his expired visa until the day he was arrested and by then it was too late. Now that he has been deported, processing his documents has been delayed for several years, and he must wait in Mexico meanwhile.
His wife did not want their American son to grow up without a father, so she packed up and moved to Mexico to be with her husband. My uncle and my cousin missed our Memorial Day celebration this year. As a matter of fact, my cousin is being denied his right as an American, to grow up in America. He is four years old now, and does not speak English, a language, that most Mexican-American children learn in kindergarten. This same story is repeated thousands of times. Many Americans are denied their right to grow up in America, to learn English, and when they come to the U.S. as adults, they struggle to assimilate into the American culture, a culture that was supposed to be their own.
My cousin is not able to grow up in the U.S. because of a broken immigration system, which Congress and the President have failed to fix. During his speech at the border last month, President Obama, called on Republicans to join him in a by-partisan effort to reform the broken immigration system. He addressed the senators and representatives that in the past had opposed to the idea of comprehensive immigration reform. The majority of these congressmen argued that the border must be secured first before immigration reform could be considered. The President responded to their argument by pointing out that their calls for border security have been answered. The government has focused its attention on the border security for the last four years. The number of border patrol agents on the border has more than doubled, funding for border security has drastically increased, deportations have skyrocketed, and thousands of miles of fence have been built along the U.S.-Mexico border. It appeared that the president was pointing his fingers to Republicans and blaming them for their inaction on the matter, but the truth is that Democrats and the President could have done much more.
Ironically, Americans along the border appear to dislike these changes. When Obama mentioned the fence and the deportations, the crowd booed and yelled, “knock it down.” On the other hand, when he said that it was time to provide a path that would allow these immigrants to legalize their status, to pay fines and “backed-up” taxes, the crowd cheered and applauded. It appears that Americans living on the border are not as worried about undocumented immigrants crossing the border. Then who are these congressmen representing, if the people along the border do not want a fence and do not want more deportations, and what kind of security are people along the border asking for?
It appears that communities along the border care more about security from the violence caused by the drug wars, and are not worried so much about immigrant workers. To me, border towns are upset because they want Border Patrol to focus on protecting them from drug cartels, not from their friendly neighbor Jose, who works in landscaping. They know that a comprehensive immigration reform would allow border security to focus on drug cartels and other violent criminals by allowing seasonal workers to travel back and forth legally across border checkpoints. Republicans and Democrats, however, continue to play politics with this situation, and innocent people continue to suffer the consequences, including American citizens, like my four year old cousin Ivan.