Where Is Home? by Mia Styant-Browne
There was a lot of discussion about immigrants in the lead-up to the presidential election. About the scourge they are on this nation. About illegal immigrants in particular. About queue jumpers.
I am an immigrant. And I don't mean in the sense that we're all immigrants except Native Americans. I'm first generation immigrant. I’m a foreigner. America is not my place of birth, but it is my home. It is the place where my younger brother was born. It is the place where my younger sister was buried.
My family received our visas on September 10, 2001. Yes, the day before 9/11. We counted ourselves lucky then. Who knows how our lives would have changed had bureaucracy delayed our applications a mere 24 hours.
My dad was the recipient of an H1-B visa. The rest of my family was able to come here as his dependents. In the wake of the terrorist attack, the number of H1-B visas granted annually shrunk significantly.
The recipient of an H1-B visa is able to work only at the place of employment that sponsored their visa application. Their dependents are legally unable to work. My dad was the only member of our family entitled to a social security number.
We had no identity in this country, except as it related to my dad.
Our initial visas were for three years. We applied for a renewal, which was granted. Two years into that second visa we were granted permanent residency. We went from being legal aliens to permanent resident aliens, a status which I hold to this day.
As a condition of being granted permanent residency, applicants are required to undergo a medical examination. This involves a physical examination, TB test, and blood test, which looks for HIV and syphilis. The blood test is required for applicants 15 years and older. I was 16 at the time of my own examination. A positive HIV finding potentially excludes you from obtaining permanent resident status.
Following this, a biometrics appointment is scheduled. You are fingerprinted and photographed. This information is then databased.
My own green card expires next year. To undertake a renewal I will be subject to a background check and further round of biometrics.
Immigration law is largely arbitrary and subject to swift and sudden change. A single conversation with an immigration attorney will teach you this.
When my family first came to America, dual citizenship between Australia and America was not allowed, except when your parents were born in the other country. Dual citizenship is now allowed between the countries. It is impossible to say for how long.
As someone who stood in that long, expensive queue I have thought about whether I should be angry with those who do not follow the same process. After all, if these people are queue jumpers as they are positioned, shouldn't I be mad that they made me wait longer in line? Why is it that the people who never stood in line, never had to wait for a clean STD panel to confirm their immigration status, are so concerned by the possibility of people not waiting their turn? I, and the thousands of others like me, should be angry, if anyone. But I'm not.
I'm not because I recognize my own privilege. I am white. I come from Australia, a predominantly Christian country. English is my native language. I come from an upper middle-class family. I have significant formal education. My dad is a lawyer. I arrived here by plane. I didn't have to cross a border in the night or brave a long sea voyage. I repeat. I am privileged.
So then, recognizing my own privilege, where does that lead?
I think about how hard this process is for the privileged and begin to imagine how impossible it must be for those who aren't. For me, even if I were to be deported it would be to Australia. There are worse places in the world. For others, deportation may mean death or persecution. The stakes are so much higher. Yet the obstacles so much more difficult to surmount.
When pundits, politicians, etc. talk about immigrants they're not talking about me and my family. I'm the "good" kind of foreigner.
Immigrant has instead morphed into a catch-all euphemism designed to ensnare the brown and the poor.
I believe in a path to citizenship. I believe in the right of all people regardless of birthplace to better their own life. I feel great empathy for those with a conditional or unrecognized status in this country.
I think about the struggles they go through every day.
About how America represented this utopian dream. I think about how the American dream is in many ways more manifest to them than it is to Americans. So many Americans are disillusioned by this country. The people that continue to come aren't. I think about all that they sacrifice to stay. I think about all that I and millions of others take for granted.
Fear, or more specifically fear-mongering, is what motivated so many people across this country to vote the way they did on November 8. Fear of immigrants. Fear of minorities. Fear of women. And also inferiority. Inferiority in the face of an “elite” class.
But what about real fear? The fear that someone could knock on your door one night and send you back? Or the fear that comes before you make it to America. The fear of war. The fear of imminent death. For many in the world these are real and tangible fears. In America they're made to seem real.
Trump doesn't mention the things we should be afraid of: growing social stratification, gun violence, the failed war on drugs, the number of uninsured Americans, climate change, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, bigotry in any form. Instead, immigrants and the poor have become the scapegoats for all of our ills.
They're taking our jobs. They're cheating our welfare system. If you're in Australia they would be referred to as dole bludgers.
Never mind that the numbers don't pan out. Never mind that immigrants are the ones that feed this country. Never mind that without their labor many project prices of food would skyrocket and the agricultural industry would collapse. Never mind that immigrants open a disproportionately large number of small businesses. You can't mythologise small business owners and simultaneously vilify large swaths of this group. Never mind immigrants contribute more in taxes than they receive in social benefits. Never mind.
The truth is the truth no matter how it is twisted.
So I am scared. Scared as a woman. Scared as a foreigner. But mostly I'm scared for others. I'm scared for the vulnerable. I'm scared that a Trump presidency will legitimize and validate bigotry. I'm scared that cases could be brought to the Supreme Court that could nullify earlier progressive decisions. I'm scared that we're taking a back step. I'm scared that women in this country think that it is ok for men to brag about sexually assaulting them. That this has been construed as appropriate locker room talk. I don't associate with men who speak that way. I think it is a disservice to good men to characterize this behavior as the norm.
But I am not alone in this fear. The protests that erupted across the country on November 9 speak to that. Trump is our President-elect. Fuck, it’s nauseating to even type the sentence.
The way I see it we now have two choices. We can get angry or we can mobilize. I will not shy away from the label of feminist. I will not let liberal, socialist, or progressive become dirty words whispered in the dead of night for fear of reprisal. I will not abide bigotry. I will not let fear win.
I say all this knowing that as a foreigner any critique I have of this country is often met by a swift, “go back to where you came from”. But I will not go back. I will not retreat. I will not cower. And I am not alone.
Hate is a powerful motivator, but so is hope. And I remain hopeful.