Note: My recommendation for anyone who is able to read this is, better to understand everything before making a comment... Despite of this sad accident, I had great moments there and still think that it's a greatest place to live... However, what I relate is merely true... And, sorry for grammar mistakes, I'm still on learning process! :)
I am a young lady, from a South American country, conservative and know pretty well what I am talking about. Feel free to ask anything is in your mind, or you can make any comment here, but remeber that respect is a must. Thanks...
Since long time ago, I’ve been wanting to post this entry, mainly based in a lived experience rather than such as an political issue. And it is the issue of immigration. I'll speak from both points of view, legal and illegal; I will attempt to base my opinion on specific subjects and issues, so that is something rather good and a called for reflection to all those who read it.
I had the opportunity to travel to the U.S. a few years ago in a "cultural exchange program" called Au Pair. This is about a group of young ladies from all around the world who, among other things, required a certain level of education for participation (however, some of them have college degrees or even more), that come to US simply to be the babysitters of American children. In exchange, they receive accommodation, a modest weekly payment and a small amount to enroll in a post- secundary institution(500$). The purpose of this program is to learn the language and know the country through travel tours, while providing a service, an affordable way for both parts.
Since the begining I have to admit I joined the program through an American friend who was almost a year convincing me to take it, in order to learn English. However, I did not dare until much later due to multiple reasons. Knowing a bit of American culture as I am Venezuelan, I was taught from my childhood that all foreigners must go through hard times and horrible things, that despite all the flaws of our system, we were in an economically privileged position with respect to our neighbors (latinamericans or not) and therefore, we should not leave our homeland to work "washing and cleaning" in foreign lands, much less in an illegal (my family would be shocked ...). In this land of freedom and anarchy have always had, -and will have- much of God's mercy, either due to multiple commercial and industrial opportunities gives us to be "the North the South" and the endless natural resources, mainly petroleum, which if they were properly managed, all Venezuelans, with no exception, would be rich.But this is a point to be discussed in another post...
The issue is that after a certain time and thanks to a couple of situations, I decided to accept the challenge. As a HR coordinator, after reading the terms of that contract, I came to the conclusion that being an Au Pair was a cultural exchange program just for purposes of the visa, but to my eyes, it was just a babysitting job. Therefore, from the moment I started, I made a mental reset in order to take it as it was: I forgot all about school, that I have post-secondary education, certifications, engineering, culture, my work experience except for watching kids. I told myself I was a foreigner and could expect many things from the place I was going. And, as every Venezuelan, I told myself it was on track to experience another culture and society that I should respect and that "only in VE I can do anything."
However, as the fair and consistent person I want to be, I too decided to pursue the bunch of "benefits" that this program ... There are rights and duties in the contract which should follow all participants. Also, I went to the "Land of Freedom", right? ...
I'll start by saying that my first match was in San Francisco, CA. It was a wealthy family. However, after a few phone calls and an email, I realized that would not work out for me. One request of my future host mom was "show me what you have." At this point, I felt like I was treated like a circus clown or juggler, because of the arrogance of the asking. Subsequently, she sent an email with the routine that had planned for me, where she decided to become the owner of my time to its most shameless craving (which she claimed to have done to a Thai girl.) I subtly decided to go away from that possibility.
I received so many calls from different parts of American territory. Until one day I received an email from a lady in a city so far unknown to me, called Harrisburg, PA.
This lady, unlike the above, said a lot of circumstances that would affect my stay at her home: unlike all the previous families, they were not wealthy, lived in a suburban area a bit removed from everything and would not have car immediately available, I would work full time because of her difficulties due to the illness of her father and also her husband did not agree with having another Au Pair due to no good past experience. However, her honesty and polite ways captivated me from the beginning and decided to go with her.
At this point, began the journey that bothered myself about this. Considering that I had to apply for a visa, I had to head to Caracas, VE. We do not have many embassies and consulates since our emigration rate is very low. Despite my deep disdain for bureaucracy -one of the main reasons for not showing interest in traveling to the U.S.- , I went through all of that process, which involved an exorbitant cost, for my host family and me. Only on my side, I can tell, I had to pay the company the amount nearby to $ 2000 and expenses of the proceedings would run on my own.
Only the call to the U.S. embassy has an additional charge of $ 23 for 15 minutes(besides the regular call). Yes sir, that's the cost of just calling for the appointment. Once this done, which I was awarded for a very distant date, I went to the website to fill out the form DS-156 (for those who do not know, one of the many forms to fill out), where the system will only gives 30 minutes to complete information.
After completing the form, asking me from how much my income was, thru who I am, where I come from, who is my father, mother, brothers, what they do and my level of education... I easily answered all these questions and filled out the form, as I come from a middle class family where all members have a good level of education, excellent personal references, employment and none of them ever has been involved in any kind of problem with the law. Once the form, which bears a barcode, began the search for other documents.
Here is a list of requirements for a J-1 visa:
- Background Police records.
- Form DS-156
- Form for the type of visa.
- Proof of studies.
- Proof of employment.
- A copy and original documents of property (cars, apartments, lands, jewelry, etc).
- Bank statements and credit cards.
- Copy of High School diploma and university, should possess.
- Copy of documentary evidence by the sponsoring company.
- Voucher from Embassy bank account for the interview, 160US $.
- Request by the sponsor family.
- 2 passport size photographs 2 inches.
I can not tell you, gentlemen and ladies, the enormous amount of time that this implies for a worker full-time and senior student of electronic engineering. Not wonder about the fact that our bureaucracy is inefficient and ineffective, or that we currently have very restrictive control for currency exchange. Or the fact that the embassy did not seem right that my picture not to show completely my ears and I had to take the picture again (how about all those muslims who use various costumes and turbans for photographs? Ha!) ... However, once gathered all the paperwork, scheduled the day, I went to the famous embassy.
The matter could not be more complicated: The Embassy requires to all interviewed, be presented a half hour before the scheduled time for the interview, at the risk of losing their trip to the embassy (5.5 hours in my case or the same distance from Farmville, VA to Harrisburg, PA) and the money already paid for, as well as all its documents, which must be in a legal size manila folder, in the order absolutely indicated by them and they have to leave all your belongings, such as: phones, watches, laptop, briefcase, iPhod, jewelry, outside of the Embassy's property (let me tell you guys, that the embassy is on a hill retreat of one of the most expensive neighborhoods of Caracas), which means you do not know where the hell are going to leave their belongings unless you have gone there with a partner who will bear the calamity of holding on your belongings while being outside during the time you need to stay in the embassy.
Once inside the embassy, they gives a speech about why so many security measures, based on the 09/11 issue. I do not argue at all the fear that for the U.S. represents the possibility of this occurs in some of its properties or question the inalienable right to have to take precautions to prevent any possible incident, but in other side, it seems ridiculous to ask about personal belongings and such protocol to applicants when after all the appropriate physical, legal and computer check points that applicants must go through to get there, the embassy already have full knowledge of every detail about who are those within their surroundings.. . anyway…
Again, and beyond this step, you are convinced of "the American punctuality style" you will be treated at the scheduled time ... Nothing is further from the truth. The truth is, that at the best cuban or chavez style, you will make a line that will take barely the entire day and will not know at what time you'll be attended. When at last, the consul attended me, with all those papers under my arm, asking the same things they asked in the form (in my case it required a minimum knowledge of English), all of this, gentlemen and ladies, in a long period of ... 4 minutes!
4 minutes, buddies! If I take the amount of $ 160 that costs the interview, I can say that the fees they charged me for letting me go to work legally in the U.S. is 2400US $ / hour. Definitely, it's cheaper and less painful to pay an expensive immigration lawyer being no legal ... and for a permanent residence!
Already obtained the visa, I took the fly and my first stop was at NYC's JFK. Where I was asked, once again, why I was there. I might well have answered the officer "don't you know how to read my documents?" But simply repeated the same story and thought about how many people that every day serve in cafes, bars and factories, where employers know that are illegal, residents know they are illegal, society knows are illegal, but ... no questions.
I have to admit that my knowledge of English at that time was almost nule. Except for the written word, which I learned quickly, it was quite difficult to hear the week I spent in Au Pair training school in NYC. Talking was also complicated because it was the first time in my life that I had contact with an environment totally "Anglo". Most au pairs come from Germany, Mexico and Brazil. These, from the beginning were grouped themselves according to their different nationalities and I can assure you that during most time of my stay there, I heard German, Portuguese and some kind of Mexican slang. I can not tell you how many times I was struck by asking something in Spanish though ... however, especially Germans and other nationalities ignored blatantly the few warnings that made them our hosts. Today I can assure you that I recognize a German accent in any place I stop, thanks to that week ...
But I wonder, what about those people who are there illegally for years without a shred of language learning? ... All these people, who, without making the slightest effort to fit into American society, remain for years, living within it, and prefer to benefit from it, either socially isolated due to race, creed, religion or simply because they want or are too lazy to make themselves the task of learning the language? ... Is it taken in consideration in the review of applications for naturalization, a basic knowledge of English? ... You will see more ahead from where my question comes...
I have no particular matter against the sweet American woman who hosted me for a year, or for her cute girls ... I have to admit, and I'm proud to say these words, she was full of a wonderful fighting spirit, work and generosity, loving wife, conservative Protestant Christian, from a amazing family whose ancestors are a great mix of cultures and races, and one of the noblest hearts I've ever met, whom I sweetly call mom instead of "host mom". Republican conservative (without falling into extreme paranoia), as it shows her family life, work and social reputation. Who put a touch of sweetness and happiness to my days there. However, with all this, she could not avoid me some of the vile slander that as a legal alien I faced there.
Taxes: One of the things that surprised me in my status as "cultural exchange visitor"... I understand very well that Mr. Barry wants to implement his "healthcare reform" if you allow it ... but why the heck I, who paid an exorbitant amount to be there, since I earned a bit of money just to cover my basic expenses while I was there and who had been less than a year at the country, had to pay a fee of $ 300 because of my stay for 5 months to be working 45 hr/week when my check was $ 195.75, in order to raise money for the benefit of some programs that I did not belong and where I PAY even the air I breathe !!??? And I thought: if I had been illegal in this country, I just would not be worried about it, even if I had kids, because with them being born within the country would live of others' taxes!
Education: My main intent was to really do something good for my curriculum and learn the English language. So I went to community college in order to take ESL classes as a regular student. The agency suggested me to ask the condition "in state" since I'd stay there for a long time and got a SSN. Fact: not only they denied me access to that status, but besides of that, I paid off an amount equivalent to 5-6 times what you pay for a regular student enrolled for the 6 credits, where I had to use my funds abroad ... While I was there, I asked many of my colleagues, nationalized by amnesty or fake marriages, who used money from the FAFSA and not canceling a penny for being there and yet they took no seriously the matter of grades. The other thing that caught my attention is so poor level of English that I found in people who had been living in the U.S. among 5- 22 years !!... And I thought of all those people that questioned my level of English which, at that point, it had improved a lot and allows me to write these lines ...
Language: although I made a brief reference in the previous point, well is to say how I was challenged by two locals about my pronunciation or grammar ... Sadly, one of the "impatient" with me was a guy with a master's degree in ESL and the other a foreigner, who used to make fun of my accent, when I did speak better than him. I am proud to tell to you all, that in just one year I can express myself much better than thousands born in U.S., verbally and in writing, not to mention those who have been living there for years and I was amazed by their poor knowledge of the language. However, I also note that this sociological phenomenon is mainly due to two reasons: the myth of ancestral identity preservation and the award of amnesty to everybody who crosses the borders of the country regardless of their background or level of adaptation to culture. In addition, every store or corporation in US has Spanish in their storages. (and what about those ones who speak other languages?...) So why to learn? ...
Work: this point is interesting ... an American, whether Democrat or Republican rarely has a clue about what involves obtaining a visa HB-1 or HB-2 ... We're talking of tons of papers, diplomas, certificates, work experience , documents ... must try since speaking English as an American born to make a demonstration of exceptional skills for an job that probably does not need them. However, I agree at this point that the priority should be given to nationals ... but disagree on the following: day to day, I could see how hundreds of people without any supporting document or SSN, access to jobs and take away that possibility from someone much more qualified and who went through the regular immigration process, because it suits them perfectly to employers have an employee without having to report the taxes ... Then, the employment factor is more attractive from the stand point of illegal, right?
Legislation: upon completion of my year, I decided to go for extension period. This time, with a new host family. I must say that new host parents were not American by birth, but naturalization (I guess). A Jamaican and one from Central Africa. I can tell that the house was anything but except American culture. These people had a deep hatred and contempt for the society around them and felt "discriminated" Despite of living in an upscale neighborhood, owning very expensive European cars and have lived and squeezed out even the last drop of America and still complained about the system and claming for more government benefits. From food throughout being so rude to me, most of things disliked and outraged me. Not to mention the fact that the host mom for some reason thought to be the owner of my life ( I guess she has not read American history books that slavery was over long time ago).
Seeing this, I went, first, to my agency, which is responsible to take care of us when we live a serious trouble or injustice not covered under the program of the department of state of the U.S. or our contract. I got a rebuff as an answer: my lazy coordinator told me she could not do anything and not even tried to rematch. I called the U.S. State Department to report the irregularity, Safe Work, etc ... everything was lately answered and fruitless (where the hell were the constitutional rights, protection of the right to work safety, and all the verbiage of "American Freedom"? ) ... Ah, because we entered America legally, we are additionally registered in a system called SEVIS, where any negligent may alter the information about what we are doing there and can harm our records ... Therefore, all legal immigrant can be subject to any kind of damage, exploitation or abuse for fear of being signed within that system ... not this way an illegal immigrant, that could well shoot off his boss and even the federal government could not do much about, since that person is absent from the records and for system's effect does not exist.
Guarantees: I paid for insurance when I entered the U.S. I was in a horrible car accident where one person was killed nearby in her car. That person also paid for insurance. We were 5 people in the car, all wearing our seatbelts. Medical reports show it. However, when I wanted to use the insurance because of a horrible thing that affects my legs due to a poison ivy infection when I had to crawl out of the car, insurance representative said that since I was not a family member they were not responsible (of course, knowing that I am a foreigner). Not to mention the frequent flashbacks I have of so terrible incident. I only know that because of being a full-time worker who does not have the time to file a lawsuit, it stayed that way. Now, apart from psychological trauma, the look of my legs (don't know how long is gonna take to heal) and my right toe injured, it leaves much to be desired. I will not complain much of the inefficiency of that cheat of insurance system, but it does bother me greatly is, the guarantees of legal immigrants are so many as the illegal ones have, but at least the illegal aliens do not have to pay insurance. Back in my anarchic country, with its banana dictatorship, at least I got treatment for my legs.
Despite all these things, I can tell you that my year in the U.S. was not that bad. There are still many people there who strives to do good and work hard, who want a better future (although they have no idea how). However, while most people complain of illegal aliens, certainly, the American system has the major fault in this drama, because there are many more disadvantages of staying in the country legally so they simply remain anonymous to the system.
I could have taken advantage of this situation ... Many times I was offered marriage by many gentlemen, and was called for unreported work earning much more money because of my experience and knowledge, and abetted by many other immigrants to stay there illegally ... And although the idea was tempting to stay there, I still think we must respect the "ought."
However, the next time any person in US, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, come to the issue of illegal immigration, I will answer that is much more feasible from a logistical point of view to enter their country illegally crossing the Rio Bravo, give to birth my children there and let the government raise them with the money from the assholes who come to US legally or simply prove that I have the $ 20 000 pretty much like those ones who crashed the World Trade Center and then, later, to receive as a reward amnesty and / or nationalization no matter if in my homeland I had a criminal record for murdering or drug trafficking, no matter the language or not having any education, hating americans born, consuming resources and living from America as if it were a mine ... rather than go through the long and tedious process of doing the right thing, with my bunch of degrees, certifications, paying taxes, skills, experience, TOEFL, insurance, fees, and others, and from step to be checked by a unhappy system where anyone can violate my most basic rights without me even having the right to protest ... just because I'm polite and honest and I like doing things right !!... The saddest thing is that the conditions are ripe for this to happen more and often and the children of these people are the new generation of US society, while the rights to those who may contribute to a build a better America, are increasingly curtailed.
You guys -as they say in my town- are "creating a knife for your own neck"