The American Dream is Dead
For over four years, I worked in an immigration law firm helping creatives obtain visas and green cards so they could practice their craft in the U.S. to better our culture and well-being as a country. From musicians to actors to photographers to magicians to designers, from every country imaginable, they all shared the same dream. Living in the greatest country in the world, brimming with opportunity if they could just get here and make magic happen. We are lucky to have them, many of them knowing 5+ languages with incredible talent and drive and dedication and point of view. Maybe it’s not common knowledge what goes into the very bureaucratic process of not only being accepted for a visa, but then living and working on one. It’s not a simple process. Maybe that’s not known, but it’s all in the name of the American Dream.
I’ll speak to the O-1 visa process, which is for artists of “extraordinary ability.” This is not the process for every visa and green card of course, but many are similar. First, you have to qualify for said visa. You pay attorney fees, then begin gathering evidence to prove that you have curated a career that could benefit our country. Hundreds of pages of evidence. Letters of recommendation. Then, you need a sponsor company — a financially stable LLC or incorporation willing to attach itself to you for three years. They sometimes have to provide tax returns, an office floor plan, personal bank statements. They have to happily provide invasive documents for an employee they might have minimal interest in. They have to agree to pay for your plane ticket home if the employment agreement ends up not working out. Signatures. More money. More money. Did I mention money?
Once their petition is sent into the USCIS, sometimes months can go by until you receive either an approval notice, or a request for more evidence. Sometimes the request is valid, sometimes its a time buying device because of a petition pile-up. More time, more money. When finally that approval notice comes in, they can get harassed at the border because someone doesn’t understand what kind of visa they have, or just because. They endure…because living in the United States is their dream. They want to be here, no matter what.
Once here, they can’t work under anything but what the visa is for. If you’re a jazz musician, you have to make a living in NYC work on sometimes $20,000 a year, sometimes less. Want to freelance? They can’t. Want to change jobs? They’ll have to go through the entire process again because their sponsor company needs to change, taking months once again. Flash forward three years, lather, rinse, repeat. Some people will never qualify for a Green Card, and will do this over and over. Thousands upon thousands of dollars. Years without seeing family. Stress. Poverty. Harassment. All for the American Dream.
My mother works for Catholic Charities at the Syracuse Refugee Center, which has already been affected by Trump’s executive order to halt all incoming refugees to sanctuary cities. For years, I have heard the stories of good, hard-working people she works with, with warm hearts and open homes, accepting help due to torture and oppression for years. They bring their children to learn English, they live in tiny sometimes bedbug-ridden homes, they give you your mocha lattes at Dunkin Donuts for minimum wage, and they are proud. They live in freezing cold cities where winter previously seemed like a myth, learning about winter coats and scarves and snow. They call my mom to see how she’s doing. They are good people, just trying to escape a horrible past. We offered warmth and compassion. They are grateful. Trump, you don’t deserve them.
I write this because immigrants want to be here more than we do. We take our privilege for granted, and in many ways they deserve to be here more than we do because they’ve worked for it. To make it even harder, to halt the entrance of refugees who have been tortured and oppressed, all in the name of potential terrorism, is pure misplaced hatred, confusion, and idiocy.
The American Dream for Trump and people like him is money. It’s power. It’s the feeling of winning, of stomping the little guy to feel taller. It’s a loud voice for the sake of having a loud voice. It’s taking what you want without asking. It’s seeing numbers and faceless bodies and not hearts and tears and struggle. That is not what I stand for, which is what “not my president” means. I am not about those things.
I ask immigrants to not look at the White House now and think it represents how we all feel. We want you here. We need you here. We are better with you here. There is now a severe lack of humanizing humans, of connecting policies to people and children and dreams. We will fight for you. We owe you that. It’s time for a new dream. I’m just not sure what that is.