High Hopes: Immigrating to America

For so many of us, our families first came to the United States long ago, on a cramped boat from somewhere in Europe. Nearly everyone had the same dream: sail to America to start a better life. One with more opportunities and more freedoms.

Most of our families were, at one point or another, immigrants. America was known as the “melting pot,” because people from different cultures were coming here all at once.

Today, the stories about coming to the United States are considerably different. The country currently struggles with immigration issues, especially illegal immigration. People still come to America in search of a better life, but over the years there have been other reasons, as well.

“I came here for love,” Dr. Eduardo Cabrera, a foreign language professor at Millikin, said. “I came to Los Angeles to get married.”

Cabrera came to the U.S. in the 1980’s on a tourist visa to follow the love of his life, Liz Cabrera, to Los Angeles, California.

“I don’t want to tell too much of her story, because it’s hers, but she had to come here, and I wanted to be with the woman I loved,” Cabrera said.

Liz Cabrera came to the U.S. from El Salvador through the 1986 immigration law that gave amnesty to immigrants fleeing from war-ridden countries. Liz Cabrera, a Kindergarten teacher in El Salvador, was also an actress.

“There was a civil war for ten years,” Cabrera explained, “and everyone was in danger of dying.”

As a teacher, Liz Cabrera was in a bad position, because people on both sides of the civil war saw education as a dangerous thing – even for someone who taught children who were just five years old.

The amnesty law gave Mrs. Cabrera legal residency in the United States.

“My wife almost died when they killed Archbishop Romero. They were moving the casket from one place to the cathedral, and my wife was there. She saw many people dying, being crushed by people. There were millions of people there. She wasn’t involved with politics; she was an actress and a kindergarten teacher,” said Cabrera.

For many foreigners of war-ridden countries, the United States is like a safe haven. Liz Cabrera immigrated to California through the amnesty law, because it was dangerous in El Salvador. Even now, many years after fleeing her country and becoming a citizen of the United States, the Cabrera’s rarely visit El Salvador, as it is still not safe there.

“As much as they love each other,” Mrs. Cabrera’s mother said “you are better off out of the country.”

Cabrera said, “That’s an extreme, when a mother says to the daughter she is so close with, ‘You are better off out of the country.’”

Liz and her sister were also separated. Her sister now resides in Canada, where Liz feels it might be even better than here in some ways. “In Canada, they respect all kinds of people if they are hard working. They share the money. Here, that is not always the case,” said Mrs. Cabrera.

But leaving her family was one of the hardest things she has ever had to do. It was not safe in her country and still isn’t safe. Mrs. Cabrera said, “My country did not have to go to war. We needed to look for peace. I blame the government, because they care more about money than people. I think they were looking for peace, but while trying to find peace they made war instead.”

Once they were married, Dr. Cabrera was also given legal residency, and together they went through the process of becoming United States citizens.

The Cabrera’s had a much easier immigration process than most immigrants now.

“It’s much harder now than ever. First of all, when the amnesty in 1986 happened, immigrants were completely free. Now they are talking about the possibility to citizenship, but paying fines,” Dr. Cabrera said.

An immigrant hoping to legally immigrate to the U.S. is required to obtain a green card, or authorization of permanent residence. These can range between $985 and $1,070, and can be acquired through sponsorship from a family member, employer, or refugee assistance program. Next, the immigrant is asked to pay an immigration fee, priced at $165. The application to become a naturalized citizen ranges from $595 to $680. Once granted citizenship, the new citizen is required to apply for a certificate of citizenship, which costs another $600, on average.

To become a legal resident and owner of a green card, an immigrant must pay somewhere between $1,150 and $1,235 and pass all of the requirements to live in the U.S. If the immigrant, now legal resident, wants to become a permanent citizen of the U.S., they will have to pay between $2,330 and $2,485.

From 2006 to 2010, 1,119,823 green cards were issued to immigrants in the United States.

Historically, immigrants of all countries have been treated poorly when first coming to the United States. The Italians, the Irish, and the Germans are all groups that have suffered greatly when fleeing to the U.S. for their livelihood. But Cabrera sees a change in attitude that may not have affected the others.

“I think situations are getting worse and worse. In 1986, Ronald Reagan, a republican president, passed an immigration law giving amnesty to immigrants seeking refuge from their war ridden countries,” Dr. Cabrera said.

“No one wants to vote for immigration law. Now they think that if someone wants to become a legal resident or a citizen than they have to pay so much money. If they are poor, it’s impossible,” Dr. Cabrera stated.

Not only are immigrants seeking citizenship required to study for the naturalization tests, but they are also required to pay a large sum of money after taking the test to apply for citizenship.

“Most immigrants are very poor,” Dr. Cabrera said. “The more you ask them to pay several thousands of dollars, the more you discourage them to go through the process.”

Cabrera believes that the immigration argument is a big ethical problem in the U.S.

“First of all, I believe that immigrants are all the same,” he said. “We are all human beings; there isn’t a difference between documented and undocumented.

“For educated immigrants, the journey through immigration and citizenship is much easier. For the immigrants who need much more help, those with little to no education or support, it is almost impossible for them to legally immigrate into this country.”

With the recent discovery of thousands of illegally immigrated children in the U.S., many people are in an uproar about the decisions made on their behalf.

Department of Homeland Security is not allowed to send them back right away. Most of the minors have no one to return to in their “home country.” This has not stopped U.S. citizens from taking sides, some to keep, educate, and house the minors, and some to deport them as quickly as possible.

Dr. Cabrera stands firm by his belief that “all immigrants should be treated equally, with dignity and respect.”

“I find very selfish the position of some people whose parents or grandparents are or were immigrants and treat other immigrants without any compassion,” Dr. Cabrera said.

It is easy for U.S. citizens to call for immediate deportation. Our country lacks the degree of poverty and violence that many Latin America cities deal with every day. To deport these children, despite the fact that they are illegal immigrants, would be almost inhumane, Dr. Cabrera says.

“Deportation would mean dying from the violence that predominates in some Latin American countries, as a result of drugs or because of the consequences of the globalization of the economy. For others, it would mean suffering from starvation,” Dr. Cabrera said.

In his opinion, minors should be given special treatment, regardless of being in their home country or a new country. The state has a moral obligation to protect them.

President Obama has a bad reputation among undocumented immigrants, and has become known among many as the “deportator and chief” for deporting more undocumented immigrants in his administration than any other president in the history of the United States. Because of the amount of deportations of undocumented immigrants, Obama has now even lost the support of La Raza, the largest Latino rights organization in the country, and one of the last ones to continue their support of the Obama administration. Though Obama is trying to do right by the undocumented children, he is still forcing public schools around the nation to enroll them in their schools. Schools that may not have the option for students to transition to English. Schools that are not willing to or do not have the money to create an English as a Second Language Program.

“The best environment for a child who came from another country,” Dr. Cabrera said, “is a school with bilingual education. The first experience of such a child at school should be one that combines effectively both English and Spanish.”

“Children learn very fast and, with the support of Spanish, they can successfully make the transition to classes in English in a very short period of time,” Dr. Cabrera stated.

“The president needs to open doors for them to legalize their status and help provide programs for their basic needs to help them go forward in education, jobs, and opportunities to help this country succeed economically,” Mrs. Cabrera said.

Liz Cabrera is worried about the future for these children. She said, “I would tell them that they will never be the same. Their hearts will continue to break, but I believe that things will get better. They have to have faith and work hard and to keep looking for ways to stay close to their families. If they have faith and try their hardest they can do anything, but they will always remember.”