The Untold Story of Citizens Betrayed
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride, from every mountainside let freedom ring." Tiny hands are placed across their hearts. "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America..." My stomach flutters and my heart aches as I look through the rearview mirror of my van and see the pride, innocence and conviction with which my children utter these words. Aaron who's 5, and Hanna who's 3, are born citizens of the United States of America. I am an Ethiopian citizen and my husband is Korean. But for my children, they know of no country or home other than the United States.
I look at my children and I see the faces of millions of United States citizen children of immigrant parents. Innocent children who are forced to be separated or exiled from their country everyday due to the consequences of the harsh Immigration laws of the US. This article is dedicated to those American children betrayed by their own country. Their country to whose flag they pledge allegiance and "...the republic for which it stands. One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Being an Immigration Law Practitioner, almost every day I see families that are torn apart by harsh Immigration laws. Currently, these Laws have very draconian and severe consequences for family structures.
The idea of family unity seems to be one of mere lip service with no true meaning. Under current laws a United States Citizen child under 21 years of age has no power to petition for parents to allow them to remain in the United States with the child. However, once the child reaches 21, Immigration states that, under its regulatory provision that is founded upon a policy of family unity or family reunification, the child may petition for a parent. It really makes one wonder at what age family unity is really important in a child's life: early childhood when the child is absolutely dependent on the parent? or once the child is an adult and could survive without the parent? Of course there is a plausible argument that allowing every immigrant that comes to the United States and gives birth to a child to remain in the country would open doors to quite a bit of abuse of the system. However, by the same token, if we force a child to give up its inherent right to be raised in his/her country of birth and be able to have full advantage of his/her country's benefits, isn't this also an abuse of the system? My position is that we need to have a middle ground somewhere.
Another recently passed provision in U.S. Immigration Law also requires family members of even United States citizens to have to leave the U.S. and apply for adjustment of status (for Permanent Residency Status) in their own countries of origin. This requirement at times makes that person ineligible to re-enter the U.S. for either 3 or 10 years depending on how long that person has been out of status in the U.S. This obviously results in the long-term separation of individuals from their families.
U.S. Immigration Law is a complex area of law, one which I cannot even begin to cover in this short article. I am only attempting to simply make people aware of the harsh consequences of the current law and, hopefully, encourage people to become involved in the lobbying efforts for changes in these laws.
The most touching and emotional situations are seen when a parent is placed under deportation for simply overstaying the allowed time period of a visa. For example, I have clients that are arrested and placed under deportation (currently termed "removal") proceedings for no crime other than to not have left the country when the time period for their visitor's visa has expired. These people are placed in detention in the same rooms as other people who have committed such serious crimes as murder, child molestation, rape, armed robbery ... and the list goes on. When these people are brought into immigration court, they are handcuffed, in jail attire and guarded. Their children and family members see them in this condition. They are not allowed to have any physical contact with family members. I see very young children screaming out to their fathers and wanting to touch them, but being told by officers that they cannot touch them. Can one even begin to imagine the impact this image of a parent will have in a child's life?
Another seriously unfair consequence of the law is when I have a client who is placed in removal proceedings after having been a Permanent Resident of the United States for almost his/her entire life. Currently, almost any minor infraction in the law could place one in deportation proceedings. U.S. Immigration Laws have such vague terms and charges such as "crime of moral turpitude", which at times is a catchall phrase for almost any violation. For example, picture a guy who has had a little bit too much to drink in a bar, staggers out the door and suddenly realizes he needs to urinate. He stumbles to a corner around the building and urinates. If caught, this could result in a conviction of "indecent exposure". If he accumulates a couple of those, he could face detention and deportation as having committed two crimes of moral turpitude. Two crimes of moral turpitude would even make him ineligible for bond. This means he will remain detained while the immigration judge is adjudicating his case and even through the whole appeal process. I do not want to be misunderstood; I am not stating that it is okay to break any law. Of course we should always abide by the law. But what I am saying is that a penalty as harsh as deportation should only be used against criminals commiting crimes that deserve such punishment, not for those that should only result in fines.
Think about this. Every one of you reading this article who is not a United States citizen, no matter how long you have lived in the U.S., no matter what kind of property you have in the U.S., no matter how many United States citizen children you have, is at risk for deportation. This is not meant to scare people, but to make you aware of how harsh Immigration Laws are and to advise everyone who intends to live permanently in the U.S. to become a United States citizen as soon as you are eligible to apply. This should be part of everyone's plan in maintaining his or her family unity. Do not depend on the government to protect that right for you.
Currently, there are several issues in front of Congress regarding Immigration Law. However, as much as this issue of Seleda is dedicated to "Family", I would urge each and every one of you reading this article to at least contact your local representatives regarding a provision that would help reduce the risk of family separation. Push your representatives to restore Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This would allow for family members of United States citizens and permanent residents to adjust in the United States by paying a penalty fee but without having to leave the country.
Muluemebet Alemayehu, Esq.