In 1982, I was living and working at a women and children’s hospital in Pakistan. I had gone on a tourist visa with intent to stay the year. I had arrived in September with a 3-month visa. My visa had expired but I had stayed on, hoping the proper papers would come and not thinking much about it.
And then in December, just two weeks before Christmas, I received a hand-written letter from the local police office telling me that I must leave the country in 24 hours.
Was this a joke?
My mom and I pored over the letter laughing. It was my father who said “I don’t think it’s a joke, I think it’s serious” and suddenly my world changed.
It was two weeks before Christmas and I could not eat or sleep. I had come to Pakistan in a bad place. I was with my family and in my home and I was gradually healing. I intended on staying in Pakistan at least a year. Now suddenly my plans were turned upside down. I had to leave. I was no longer living in the country with proper documentation and I had been asked to leave. Mercifully I was given until after Christmas to leave. Two weeks later I was deported. And although it happened many years ago, the memory of that event is alive.
Well not technically ‘deported’ as in I wasn’t escorted to the border. I went on my own accord but it wasn’t willingly. And had I not left, I would have been escorted to the border.
Pakistan was my home. It was Pakistan I looked to when I was having a bad day in the United States. “In just a few months I’ll be going back” is what I said to myself all during the summer before I arrived. I couldn’t imagine that I would be made to leave, to pack up all my possessions and leave the place I loved most in the world; the place that raised me from breast-feeding baby through bratty adolescence to adult woman.
I think of this event a lot when I think about those who were brought to the U.S in diapers, have known nothing else, yet have only recently had a path toward legal registration. I get that we have laws and rules, that borders can’t be a free for all — anywhere. I get that this is a complicated issue and there are no easy solutions. But the United States has been negligent in not working on immigration policy with urgency and putting laws into place at a federal level.
I believe the decision to allow those brought to the United States as children a way to apply for legal status so that they can stay and work without fear of deportation is a good start. This is just one piece of what should be a multifaceted approach – beyond that should be a means for their parents and grandparents to register and have legal status. It is estimated that over 12 million people (men,women, and children) are here without the proper documents. These are people who are working and have no way of becoming citizens, of coming out of the immigrant “closet”. If a solid plan existed, a plan that experts say should include paying taxes, registering, and learning English, then I would put money on most people coming forward. They are sick of living in the shadows, but the alternative of leaving what has become home seems incomprehensible. The Opportunity Agenda, a group with a mission of “building the national will to expand opportunity in America.” gives these recommendations to Congress around immigration and a “roadmap” to citizenship.
- Provide safe, legal means for migration through points of entry.
- Eliminate the existing three and ten-year bars to admissibility.
- Increase the number of employment-based immigrant visas to reflect market demand for sought-after skills and experience.
- Allow individuals outside of the United States to meet certain criteria to submit and process their applications at the U.S. Consulate in their country of residence.
- Enact laws that create a system which allows individuals already residing in the United States, including undocumented persons, members of multi-status families, refugees, and asylees, to apply for permanent residence by registering, learning English, and continuing to pay taxes*
I am hopeful that a comprehensive new policy will be a priority – a bipartisan priority. But until then I enjoy telling my deportation story. The astonished “How could a white person be deported?” that I get every time I tell it is a point of connection, for all of those who I have told know someone who is here without authorization. In their world, it is inconceivable that a white person would not have the proper papers to stay in a place. It is brown people who get deported; brown people who are undocumented. May 2013 bring about better policy and may the United States continue with a common sense approach to the words inscribed on that statue of hope for many –Lady Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
“I saw the Statue of Liberty. And I said to myself, ‘Lady, you’re such a beautiful! You opened your arms and you get all the foreigners here. Give me a chance to prove that I am worth it, to do something, to be someone in America.’ And always that statue was on my mind.” Immigrant from Greece (Wikipedia)
I know many immigrants read Communicating Across Boundaries and I value your voice.
What are your thoughts? You may differ profoundly from what I have voiced and that’s okay. Join in the conversation through the comments.
14 thoughts on “Deported”
As one who is here legally on a work Visa but often get roadblocked on things, it is a huge craw in my jaw when simple things become so complicated. Just yesterday I went to renew my D/L. I am here with all the correct papers etc, but have to bring with me for the renewal my SSC card, a utility bill proving my address, my passport, a separate Visa with picture (which I have never been issued), a letter from my employer stating I work there – and MUST be dated within 30 days of renewal and of course the other regular documents. It took an hour for a 5 min. process. At that, I was not allowed to change my name on my D/L to my married name since the Visa in my passport only had my maiden name, despite having a marriage certificate with me. All this is designed to “weed out” the illegals in the country and hence deny them a valid D/L. This only means they will be having to drive illegally, as I doubt it will force them to leave. Another time, I was told I could not longer remain in the US and was to leave immediately or “they would take measures to remove me”. At the time I was here legally but going through a court process where I knew I would be required to leave voluntarily. This only served to cause me to be here illegally for 90 days. 180 and you are barred from reentry for 3 years. 365 days and the barrier rises to 10 years as you referenced in your article. The “immigration” issue in the US is not about “immigration”. It is solely about illegal immigration and those of us who are here legally are often made to feel we are on the cusp of being deported at any moment. It is not a good feeling. Within a few months I should receive a permanent residence card. This will allow me to live here, but even the attitude of Americans when they ask if I am a “citizen” and inform them I am not and never likely to become one, seems to indicate they wish I would go back to where I came from then and I’m not really welcome here if I am not prepared to renounce my own birth country to adopt the US as my own. These are the attitudes that turn me off from EVER wanting to become a US citizen. The only place I feel truly welcome and at home is in my country of birth. Thankfully my true citizenship is in heaven and I am only passing through this earth on my journey there. God doesn’t care what country I am born in so long as I am born again in the family of God through the acceptance of the shed blood of Christ. Now THAT gives me peace.
I really enjoyed your article today. I have long felt that the US need to modernise their immigration laws, I truely hope that this will be something we see come to fruitation soon!
So agree with you on the need to move forward with new policies. And very glad you stopped by to read and comment!
Dallas Theological Seminary puts out a non-academic magazine every month or so for graduates, family members and supporters of the school. One issue was about immigration and our biblical mandate to show kindness and justice to the alien. When I talked to the professor who wrote the article calling for compassion for all immigrants, even undocumented, he said that he was overwhelmed with the amount of criticism he received from Christian readers. He compared it to the civil rights movement in which the evangelical, white church either remained silent or openly opposed the expansion of rights to blacks. They, (and he included himself in this criticism), were blind in this area and he thinks that this is the big issues where many Christians are blind now. We may disagree with the best way to legally approach the issue of illegal immigration, but there must be compassion for those caught in this mess. Without love in all our convictions, God cannot be honored.
This is so sad. It seems like such a no brainer to me on so many levels. And I agree with you that I’m okay with disagreement as to how to approach this, but the lack of compassion in the process is what hurts.
Great new movie on this subject is A Better Life (2011) about a Mexican illegal immigrant and his teenage son. Definitely a story worth telling.
Will definitely look this up. Have you seen the satire A Day Without A Mexican? It came out a couple of years ago while we were living in Arizona. Basically the entire Latino population of California disappears. It’s a great, and sad, commentary. Is the movie you reference a documentary or no?
Good article. There is no way this country can deport 12 million illegal immigrants. In Alabama where I live; they brought in a guy from Kansas to write a harsh illegal immigration bill. And this has caused businesses to close down, a shortage of workers on farms and chicken plants, and many empty homes.
America needs to create a road map so these illegal immigrants can become legal residents. And it even might mean some hard-headed people down here in Alabama needs to get over it. These illegal people are not evil and bad people. They came to this country to make a good living.
Nathan – great comment and insight on what has happened in Alabama. I hadn’t been following as closely as I should have. And the ramifications are so far reaching! Is there a particular article that you would recommend that looks at the Alabama law?
And completely echo your last paragraph. Thank you for voicing this.
I have always felt this bill was done for political reasons. Many minority races vote for democrats and since all statewide offices are held by republicans. They want to drive out the left vote. Here is a article from the Washington Post talking in detail about what the immigration bill has done in Alabama.
The Alabama immigration bill has not created jobs for people in Alabama. Businesses have brought in people from Africa and Haiti to do the jobs instead.