Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Give me your tired, your poor - but only if they have a really good lawyer

Everybody agrees - the U.S. immigration system is broken. Americans strongly disagree as to how it should be fixed. But there's one fix, desperately needed, that just about all of us can agree on. When people flee to the U.S. because staying in their home countries means almost certain torture and death, we need to help them.

Alas, we don't.

I became aware of how the U.S. treats refugees when my husband and I became friends with a lovely family who escaped their home country at night, by boat, and eventually ended up in the Chicago area. For over 20 years they have been fighting to become citizens or even permanent residents. They have fought maybe half a dozen deportation orders. They have spent vast sums on lawyers. Twice a Senate bill has been introduced for their relief (and has subsequently died in committee). They don't want to be "illegal aliens"  - they are conservative, law-abiding, tax-paying, hard-working people. But they don't dare return to their country of origin. It looks like their green cards are finally coming through. They will believe it when they see them.

For all their uncertainty, fear, and dollars spent, my friends have had it easy compared to Regina and David Bakala, refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo featured in Josephe Marie Flynn's gripping new book, Rescuing Regina (the link will take you to my brief preview; my full review will appear in a couple of months in Christian Century). A coalition of Midwesterners, whose politics ranged from Tea Party to left-wing Democrat, worked hard to get Regina out of jail and to keep her from being sent back to the warlords who had promised to kill her.

Or check out this unfinished story about Edmond Demiraj, published yesterday in the New York Times. Demiraj agreed to be a government witness against a mobster and was then virtually delivered to the mobster's doorstep in Albania. He eventually made it back to the U.S. - legally - but now his wife and son are in grave danger. He is hoping the Supreme Court will hear their case.

If you prefer happy endings, read this story about Chicagoans Tony and Janina Wasilewski in Sunday's Chicago Tribune or the more extensive New York Times account. Twenty-two years ago, Janina applied for asylum. Four years ago, she and their six-year-old son were deported. Thanks to a persistent husband, a tenacious lawyer, a documentary filmmaker, several politicians, and a Supreme Court decision, the family was reunited yesterday.

Folks, it shouldn't have to be this difficult.

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