by Marta Donayre, New America Media, Jun 08, 2006
EDITOR'S NOTE: A green card, even U.S. citizenship, is no guarantee from harassment by immigration authorities, because the current controversy isn’t really about immigration but about race.
OAKLAND -- I've developed a pet peeve lately. I get antsy with statements like "I have no problem with legal immigrants, it’s the illegals that I have a problem with."
Phrases like this raise the hair on the back of my neck. How can someone on the street tell the difference between an undocumented alien and me, a legal resident?
Is it through my English-language skills? I don't think so. I've met undocumented immigrants with far better English than mine.
Could it be the way I look? But I've known way too many blond, blue-eyed Latinos and non-Latinos who are undocumented.
Maybe it's because I act more "American" than recent immigrants? Nope. There are undocumented immigrants who seem like they were born and raised here. They've absorbed American fashion and ways much better than I have.
There's really no accurate way to tell the difference just by looking at us or listening to the way we speak.
To really figure it out, an inquisitor would have to open my wallet to see my green card, which I'm required to carry with me at all times. It looks pretty much like a driver's license, but with a much thicker magnetic strip. If I were to lose it, I'd be in very serious trouble. The thought of losing my wallet terrifies me.
The mere thought that this piece of plastic differentiates me from someone so many deem unwanted, exploitable and deportable lets me know how vulnerable I am. At times I imagine what it must've been like for a freed slave to lose his or her freedom papers, or to have someone take them away.
Deportation is nothing like being sent to a plantation to be whipped and exploited, but I can't help but imagine an empathy across time for those freed slaves. I too need to carry my "free to live in the U.S." card with me all the time. I also risk losing it, having it stolen, or snatched out my hands.
Ironically, my green card provides little protection in an anti-immigrant environment, because people and authorities DO judge your legal status often by your looks and accent, no matter how inaccurate these standards are.
At a Mother's Day event in San Francisco, I heard a woman tell her story. She was a naturalized American citizen, in her 60s, married to an American, and she was nearly deported to Mexico. She wasn't even Mexican. Her near-deportation was caused solely by the fact that she was a Latina. As a full-blown citizen she wasn't protected from deportation. She's not alone.
A decorated war veteran told me that when he was 12 years old, immigration authorities came out of nowhere and seized a friend he was playing with and speedily deported him to Mexico. Unable to speak Spanish, with no money and no family in Tijuana, the American-born Latino child had a really hard time contacting his family and returning home. He was lucky his experience didn't end tragically.
These stories were a rude wake-up call for me. If U.S. citizenship didn't protect these people, having a green card won't protect me either. Which brings me back to the question, how do they know by looking at me if I'm here legally or illegally?
Should I wear a green rectangle on my clothing? During World War II Jews, Czechs, Polish people, political enemies, criminals, gays and lesbians, men and women who "defiled" their race and religious minorities had to wear identifiable badges in concentration camps.
Should I now visibly identify myself as "legal" in order to protect myself from our current state of immigration fascism? How else would they know not to deport me?
In reality, the green badge will protect me just as much as citizenship has protected my friends. The reason is that this hot debate is not really about immigration status but about race relations. If one is brown, one is unwanted. This is why there is a well-documented history of the deportation of Americans to Mexico.
This is why I shudder when I hear people say that it is not "legal immigrants" that they have a problem with. From where I am standing, the "problem" is with all of us.
It moves me to hear anti-immigration advocates arguing that it's unfair to me, a legal immigrant, that lawbreakers cut in line. I appreciate your indignation on my behalf, but if I weren't able to see right through this "divide and conquer" tactic I would be inclined to believe that you're really concerned about me when you're not.
Sorry guys, your tactics won't work. You're not pitting this immigrant against any other. After all, it's not really about immigration, is it?
Marta Donayre, a co-founder of Love Sees No Borders and member of the Leadership Council of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition. She can be reached at www.martadonayre.com or www.loveseesnoborders.org.