Des Moines Register 01-02-07 Atmosphere of fear gives rise to injustices

Des Moines Register
Atmosphere of fear gives rise to injustices
Much of the debate about immigration in the past few weeks after the raid at the
Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Marshalltown betrays misunderstanding about
conditions in the workers' home countries and U.S. immigration law.
Many immigrants come here to escape abject poverty or persecution of a type
unfathomable to most Americans. The literacy rate is low because so many
children are forced to begin working as young as 7. Their parents do not have
enough money to send them to school.
It is very difficult for most immigrants to establish legal residency. Cubans and
Sudanese can file as refugees, but most other immigrants need to have a family
member apply on their behalf. The wait can take a generation, so many come
illegally. They then lose most options for gaining legal status and often fall victim
to injustices.
Here are a few of the situations I've encountered during more than 15 years of
work with Iowa's Spanish-speaking population as a volunteer, interpreter and an
interviewer for research projects:
- While visiting participants in an Iowa State University project, I met a Mexican
man living in a small town in Iowa who showed me some documentation in
English that he wanted help in deciphering. It was a deportation order. A person
who claimed to be an attorney had gone through the town, collected fees from
several residents and filed paperwork on their behalf. The truth was that the man
had no way to become a legal resident and the papers filed by the attorney only
called attention to his presence and set wheels in motion for authorities to deport
- Another family from northern Iowa could have filed for legal residency for the
husband through family status but chose not to do so to avoid a long separation
of the family. The wife was born in Texas, so she was a citizen, as were their two
young children. But they were afraid to file for legal residency because some
friends in the same situation had done so, and the father had to wait for years in
Mexico. Eventually, he came back without permission, was caught and was
deported. A permanent bar was issued so that he will never be able to return to
the United States.
- I was called by an insurance company to interpret at a Des Moines hospital for
a construction worker whose hand was severed in an accident. He had five
children and a wife back in Mexico, but when asked for his address and Social
Security number, he couldn't seem to find that information. Because of his fears
about revealing his immigration status, he will return, permanently handicapped,
to his country of origin with no compensation for his disability. Human decency
seems to dictate that he should have some type of compensation, no matter what
name or Social Security number he was using.
It is a fearful thing when we treat people as outlaws when they wish only to
support their families. Those of us who were born in the wealthiest nation in the
world did nothing to deserve that privilege any more than those born into
countries that are underdeveloped or plagued by civil unrest deserve to be
murdered or die of starvation.
We need to remember how we are alike, have some compassion and call for
justice for those who cannot do so for themselves.
TIA HUGGINS will enter the Peace Corps with the Healthy Schools program
in Guatemala this month. She has been a faculty member in the World
Languages and Cultures Department at Iowa State University, teaching