Column: I'm caught in the chasm of schizophrenic immigration system

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 24, 2006

By Michele Dyck

Salisbury Post

I am an alien. As a Canadian citizen, I am classified by the American government as a temporary resident. I have been legally working in the United States for 10 years. I renew my work permit every year since I do not have a green card.

My experience with immigration policy has been confusing, frustrating and distorted by a blurry line between fact and fiction. What is official today may not be tomorrow. The immigration officer I speak to today will tell me something entirely different than the officer I spoke to yesterday.

English is my native language. And yet, I have read the requirements of an I-495 application more than a hundred times and I still have no idea exactly what I need or if I even need it. Yesterday, I did. Today, I don’t. Tomorrow, I may need the I-496.

I have accumulated over $15,000 in bills paying for lawyers to help me understand and assist me in keeping my job. And even this very minute, they can’t guarantee I will be able to stay past February 2007, when my temporary work permit runs out. Obviously, I am not paying for a guarantee; I am playing the lottery. It’s an expensive ticket.

The job I currently hold was not stolen from a deserving American. Despite my immigration handicap, I was chosen because of my education, experience and skill.

I pay taxes. I pay into Medicare and Social Security though I will never reap the benefits. I pay for the education of American children. I have health insurance though I rarely use it. I spend every cent I make in the U.S.

This is my home. I have made great American friends that are closer to me than my Canadian family. I have created a life here.

Yet, I am not a citizen. And with shifts of new, crushing immigration policies, I may never be. I pay my money, I take my chances.

According to many opinions I have been reading in a variety of news sources, I am only here to exploit “your” American dream.

I am lumped into a group of people that are migrating north from all points south, the catch-all term of “Hispanics” or “Mexicans” though many new immigrants aren’t from Mexico.

Most of the time, these new immigrants are called “illegals” regardless of their immigration status. Unfortunately, a lot are illegal.

After what I have experienced, it doesn’t surprise me why there are so many illegals. I have often wondered why I have paid so dearly in money, time and energy just to legally hold a job so that I can pay American taxes.

I am one of the lucky ones. I am from a first-world country. I am an educated, skilled worker. I can go back to Canada, get another good job, buy a house and live well.

Many can’t. The places where these people come from are so unbearably poor that they have nothing to lose. The little they get here is more than their whole family can make there. So why not?

I have played with the idea of just not renewing my work permit, to just disappear “under the table.” No more lawyer fees, no more terrifying immigration encounters where I develop ulcers waiting for a random border officer to validate my existence. Wondering every time I leave whether I should sell everything in case I don’t get to come back home.

And believe me, “under-the-table” jobs are available everywhere. The lure of hiring cheap labor is as seductive as using an expensive dinner as a tax writeoff. And why not?

The American public demands it. They are outraged at the cost of living, even with millions of illegals keeping costs low.

Imagine filling those positions with tax-paying citizens demanding health benefits and fair wages.

Without the network of illegals holding up the American economy, who will pay $10 for an apple or a chicken breast?

And yet, I hear of outright aggression against these very same illegals. They are treated worse than second-class citizens because they are not citizens. They have no rights, no protection. In a way, it seems to be open season on illegals.

A woman told me how she never gives those “dirty illegal Mexicans” the right change and keeps the difference. Stories like these are not uncommon.

Imagine being so desperate to come here and be treated like a cancer. To be vilified and marginalized.

From my perspective, it’s as though Americans have a type of schizophrenia, an incomprehensible “splitting of the mind.”

The very same woman that steals from illegals moans about how there are no jobs because of all these “Mexicans” and laughs about the cheap deal she got on groceries in the same breath.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cheap groceries, but I know the price I pay for that luxury.

Immigration policy is like a chasm. On one side, the American economy needs cheap labor. On the other side are the workers willing to take a lower wage. Between them is a barely passable bridge with long lines, expensive fees, impossible requirements and a shifting labyrinth of paperwork to cross. For many, the only way across is to risk severe punishment and swim.

Since the immigration issues have become hot topics, green card waiting times have only gotten longer. Currently, in my category of skilled labor, they are processing applications submitted May 2001.

My application is at the bottom of a very tall pile in a warehouse somewhere in Pennsylvania.

In this harsh climate, I can’t even hope to be welcomed as a citizen in this decade or ever.

It’s like a badly timed date. I really like America, but she is so jaded that I may not get a chance to see what kind of relationship might have blossomed.

I just wonder how long I’ll get to hang around before the next shift in immigration policy.

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Michele Dyck is a graphic designer and copy editor for the Salisbury Post.