The table.

In light of yesterday's post and this being MLK day, I want to think about, discuss, share on immigration. Feel free to agree or disagree.

On my google homepage, I have a box set-up to display recent immigration news and this is how I keep myself educated and updated. I often read the stories and then do my best to not read through the comments. Yesterday, I slipped up. I read those awful comments. And then I wondered where are all the intelligent people, who would like to search for real solutions to this problem? I know where they are not. Writing comments about the article I read. (Sidenote: why must ignorance and hatred always present itself in the form of CAPS LOCK?)

The article discusses the ways in which Obama is working to woo the ever illusive Latino Vote. If you don't pay particularly close attention to immigration news, you might not know that in the last week or so, the Obama administration put out a proposal. This proposal would bring about a change in the immigration process, not in the immigration laws. Currently, if an undocumented man entered the U.S. without a visa, lived here for over one year, and then married a U.S. citizen, he would be eligible for residency.

Thank you, Hollywood, for making this seem like the end of the story. They get married. He gets papers. Happily ever after.

But that's not really how it works. Once they got married, they could begin a process to go about obtaining papers, yes that is true. Unfortunately, the process dictates that that undocumented man (or woman) return to his country to obtain his Visa. However, as soon as he leaves the U.S., he is automatically subject to a law which states that he must live outside of the U.S. for ten years. We like to call this "Time Out." You know, "Go back to your country, and think about what you've done and don't come back until you feel sorry about it. And don't ask when you can get out!" So therein lies the catch-22. He is eligible for a Visa but he cannot have it until he is sufficiently sorry.

There is, however, a waiver available. This waiver would allow him to return to the US if he can prove that a US citizen would suffer extreme hardship without him in the US. (For more information on this, please read this). Often this waiver process can take years, during which time you, the US citizen, have the choice to tough it out alone here in the US, barely making financial ends meet, or tough it out together and pray hard for your safety in Mexico. Given those choices, many eligible families opt to continue living under the radar in the US, hoping for someone to pass some sort of immigration reform.

The proposed change in process would allow for these families to file their waivers when they begin the process. This means that aforementioned undocumented man (and husband and potentially father) would remain in the US (without protection from deportation and without a work permit) while waiting for his paperwork to go through. If he were approved, he would then leave for his native country, knowing that he would be able to return to his family in a matter of days or weeks at most. Criminals and repeat immigration offenders would not be eligible for this change in process. And there is also a pretty rigorous, and often humiliating, verification process to determine that you are indeed married...right down to asking what kind of underwear your wife prefers (true story, happened to a friend.)

Granted I may be biased given my community and the work that I do, but this just seems humane to me (except the underwear part). To spare a man or woman, who actually is eligible for residency, the suffering of living apart from their family for months or years seems like the right thing to do.

And yet the commenters don't think so. They quickly shout out "AMNESTY!" with their guns blazing.  But this is actually simply streamlining the process for those who are already eligible for residency. No amnesty there.

In a country so proud of its freedom, it's a wonder that we feel the need to hoard it so much. There seems to be this prevailing idea that our own freedom is in indirect correlation with the freedom of others. That were we to extend the same principles that guarantee our freedom at birth to others, somehow we would be less free ourselves.

And I find it appropriate to spend some time thinking on this because of this day and because of the man it commemorates.

In the time that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke, there were laws in place to ensure that people did not mix. To keep people in their places. To prevent people from really knowing each other.

I originally came to Chicago through a program called Mission Year. A mainstay of the program is that you relocate yourself to an underprivileged, under-served area. You live there. You work there. You commune there. You place yourself among people who are different than you. You do those things that those laws once tried to prevent you from doing.

Then you sit and you listen. You hear their stories. You eat in their homes. You play with their children. You sit with them through their struggles.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. That "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to together at the table of brotherhood." Because he knew that at that table, one would begin to understand the other. To share and to understand.

I have always said that I believe the national immigration discussion would be greatly different if those who spoke the loudest might take the time to join us here in this neighborhood and listen. If they would sit at this table and actually meet the people they speak so often of. Because my students and my neighbors, they are good people. With amazing stories of self-sacrifice and determination. And with even more amazing culinary skills.

To those who comment in all CAPS, I invite you to turn your caps lock off, join us at the table and put yourself in a place where you might confront your greatest fear of all: that these people that you condemn are actually quite worthy. Of your time. Of your gratitude. And of your freedom. And that there is indeed enough freedom to go around.

And to those who aren't quite sure how they feel about the whole debate, join us, too. Stay for the friendship and the best Carne Asada you've ever had.

Enjoy your three day weekend, my friends.
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