by Staci Fonner, Op-Ed Contest Participant
“America is the land of dreams. Everyone knows that.”
These were the words of several illegal Chinese immigrants on board the Golden Venture, a ship that ran aground in New York City in 1993. The ship carried 286 desperate immigrants, many attempting to escape China’s one-child birth control policy.
Documented in the film Golden Venture, these immigrants gave up almost everything in the hope of working in America to send money back to their families.
“I had no choice but to go to America,” one immigrant said. “My wife was pregnant with our second daughter, and they burned our house to the ground.”
As a student of immigration law, I have seen stories most Americans wouldn’t believe. While I hope they never experience anything like these stories, I wish they knew these tales of horror so they could thank their lucky stars that they were born in the land of dreams.
On the ship, which was piloted by professional smugglers called “snakeheads,” the immigrants only had enough room to stand in. The few women aboard were raped, and many passengers were beaten. They knew it would be a grueling trip. Each immigrant paid at least $30,000 and spent months at sea. But what did they get in return?
Ten died in the New York harbor. The rest were detained and given two options: stay in jail, or go back to China.
After being fed lies that China had improved, 99 immigrants went back, where they were detained, beaten, forcibly sterilized, and now carry a name of disgrace. Those who stayed were imprisoned a total of four years before being paroled by President Bill Clinton. This didn’t give them a legal status, so they still live with the fear of being deported.
This story is mild compared to others I have seen. The world of immigration is full of tragedy: wives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents are beaten and abused, children grow up not knowing they are “illegal,” people see their families killed right in front of their eyes. No, Americans have not seen the truly horrible.
So why do they try to come here? To take our jobs?
Most of them work jobs that no one else will take, work harder than anyone else, and earn much less than anyone else.
To steal our resources?
It is difficult even for immigrants with a legal status to obtain government benefits: Immigrants must be a Lawful Permanent Resident (the highest on the rung of immigration statuses, except naturalization) for at least five years before being eligible for these benefits, including food stamps, cash assistance and medical assistance.
To ruin our economy?
The IRS doesn’t care if you are here legally or not—even illegal immigrants pay taxes.
No, they come here because they have dreams. Dreams of a better life, of a safe life, a free life. They come here to pursue the desires of their hearts because in their countries, those desires are stamped out like the remnants of a smoldering fire.
So, to the American who complains about work, to the one who thinks life is over at 50, to the one who sits on the couch just waiting for life to happen to him: shame on you. This is America, where 100-year-olds graduate college and people can have as many children as they want. This is the country where help is available and everyone gets a vote. This is the country where you can say anything you want to say, believe anything you want to believe, go anywhere you want to go, and do anything you want to do.
This is the land of dreams. And you don’t know how lucky you are to be here.