I had my green card renewed this past Monday, without incident. The entire process took 15 minutes. That’s privilege at work. I’m a college-educated white woman and I was processed in Virginia by a staff who did more to promote the greatness of America during those fifteen minutes than the entire Trump administration has done during the 3 years of that nightmare presidency.
Granted, I’m not a Nobel laureate, so I might not be good enough for Stephen Miller or Donald Trump. The first thing I’m thankful for is that when I came to America, it still welcomed people who chose to live here. Unlike many people who are escaping violence, horrible government and perhaps the horrific conditions resulting from climate change denial; I arrived following a comfortable ride on an airplane. I was fortunate to have a first-rate immigration lawyer help me through the initial processes and I got my green card without incident.
If I went on my experience alone, I’d wonder what the fuss is about. But this isn’t the first time that my experience is far from typical. I still read about immigrant children in cages. I still see government reports and studies that show an under-accounting of how many immigrants’ human rights continue to be violated on a daily basis. I still keep up with Trump’s efforts to find someone sufficiently devoid of human empathy and other emotions associated with good mental health to head ICE, the Department of Homeland Security and other leadership positions within.
I’m still reading about the rise in hate crimes and participation in hate groups.
If I didn’t, I’d be under the false impression that the ease with which I’ve been an immigrant in America is the reality for everyone.
There’s no blindfold as effective as the blindfold of privilege. I can’t disown the privilege, but I can work to expose the consequences of a policy that contradicts everything America has aspired to be since its inception.
Being painfully aware of my personal privilege isn’t enough. It doesn’t absolve me of the very special responsibility that comes with being an immigrant who was given the opportunity to use their voice in defense of people who want nothing more than a chance for their children to survive childhood and become productive citizens and parents.
Some people with the same or greater privilege, such as the first lady, behave as if they were entitled to the privilege where America welcomes them with open arms, regardless of if they might have cut a few legal corners on the journey to residency and citizenship. That reality, makes it all the more important to speak out for immigrants who pay a price for their lack of privilege.
By defending the rights and dignity of most people who come here with a hope to live the American Dream, I am not defending the rare person who does break the law. Saying it now: if you are a violent criminal, you should face justice; and after completing your jail sentence, be sent to your country of origin. Coming to America is too precious an opportunity for people who are escaping dangerous circumstances to let it be ruined by the statistically rare immigrant who breaks the law.
My special responsibility is to rip the blindfold of privilege off of as many people as possible. It’s to present the reality that treating new people decently doesn’t mean that you lose. Actually, you gain as you see that acceptance is a strength. It’s the fear of everyone who doesn’t look like you that is the trait of losers. So when Donald Trump tells you horror stories about the scary immigrant, remember this is a man who bankrupted a casino, who was such a bad risk to American banks that he had to go to Deutsche Bank for money after he blew the millions of dollars he inherited.
This is the man who was shunned by the elites of New York because they knew that Donald J. Trump is an insecure fraud and a coward.
The person who leaves certainty at home for the unknown that is starting over in America has more courage in that single act than Donald Trump has shown through his entire life.
Equality in any form is not a value in the Republican Party – as demonstrated by the mockery Trump makes of equality under the law. The “president” absolves a war criminal of indiscriminately killing civilians one day and the next day deports people to certain death for daring to exercise their human rights.
While bashing many immigrants for wanting their families here and having children, a.k.a. “chain migration” and “anchor babies”, Donald and his third wife made sure Melania’s parents were brought here and fast-tracked to citizenship, while their son dealt with the harsh realities of going to a different private school than the one he went to in New York.
As eluded to earlier, we still don’t have the promised of the discrepancies in Melania’s narrative about how she arrived here. One fact that always bothered me was her admission that she flew back to Slovenia to get her passport stamped every six months.
It was during an interview with Harper’s Bazaar in 2016,
“I came here for my career, and I did so well, I moved here. It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers. That is just the person you are. You follow the rules. You follow the law. Every few months you need to fly back to Europe and stamp your visa. After a few visas, I applied for a green card and got it in 2001. After the green card, I applied for citizenship. And it was a long process.”
What she describes is consistent with arriving on a visitors’ visa, which allows you to stay for six months but does not allow you to work. The various visas that allow you to work do not require you to return to your country of origin to get your passport stamped. I know it, because I first came here for a visit on a visitors’ visa, just like the one Melania Trump had. I knew that I wasn’t allowed to work because it was explained to me on the flight over and again at the airport before I was officially admitted to the United States.
I sought and followed legal advice to take the appropriate route to legal permanent residency and yes, the process is comprehensive, very long and it’s expensive. Prohibitively so for most people who are paid less than minimum wage to provide us with affordable vegetables. Not prohibitive for someone who presents herself as the Einstein of modelling.
Instead of following the rules, as I did, the current first lady worked while going back to Slovenia every six months, to have her passport stamped. It’s the only way her story works.
Ironically, I don’t fault the people who arrive here without documents, labor at jobs Americans won’t do for wages that none of us would work for but deem acceptable for immigrants. I don’t even fault Melania Trump.
I do fault a broken system and the ignorance that keeps it broken in the name of providing purveyors of grievance politics something to whine about.
If you’re flying in from Europe, be it as a model or as a political scientist, it’s a million times easier to follow the law than if you’re running with the clothes on your back from a violent and corrupt government. That’s especially true when the system is broken beyond repair, resources for lawful entry are eliminated, and the only things left are ICE agents, concentration camps and cages.
My experience was short, simple, civilized and straight forward – as it should be for everyone.