This week's story is my own mother's... We have lived thousands and thousands of miles away from each other for many years, but now all live together in sunny California.
I am an immigrant. I have been an immigrant, and an émigré, for much of my adult life: not because of dire need, or suffering, but from a desire to travel, to experience the world, and to provide a good life for my family. I’d always dreamed of travelling; as a child it was to Canada and France, or exploring the South Pole, as a teen I wanted to work on a kibbutz or travel the desert on the back of a camel; as an adult, to visit the ancient sites of Greece and Turkey and Jerusalem and Egypt and Japan. (I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do all of those, except Greece the South Pole, and while a visit to the Galapagos is still on the bucket list, I’m a little more wary of the cold these days.)
It all began when I was offered a short-term contract in the Netherlands when I was looking for full-time employment in Thatcher’s UK. The idea of spending a few months outside of what had become a depressed and gloomy Britain under Thatcher’s iron rule, in the country of windmills and clogs and Edam, was exciting and liberating. We packed a very few belongings into a mini-bus and took the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland, and never looked back. The children went to Dutch schools and my daughters were fluent in the language within a very few months. The short-term contract became three years, we experienced life as Europeans, and then a new job offer came along, from an American multinational with a large site in France.
Nine years in France, a country full of culture and life and history and strong friendships, and then, once again, I’m offered another job—with the same company, but this time, in the mothership—in the USA. Moving between European countries, pre-Brexit, was one thing. Across the world was another. It was a major decision: three children, divorced parents, oldest child already in university in France… but it was another adventure, it felt right, and it was an opportunity to experience yet-another way of life.
I entered the USA on an L-1 visa. That’s a visa specifically for “management transfers”: companies can bring in their managerial staff and workers with specialized knowledge, transferring them from overseas locations to a (new) location in the USA.
My employer provided help with the visa. They also provided legal help to make sure that the green card I applied for, for myself and children, were expedited, because my second child would celebrate their twenty-first birthday a few months after our arrival in the USA. Wait. Why is that important??? Because after 21, a child is considered “just another relative”, and you have to petition for them to join you, and wait years. But what about my eldest child, who is already over 21, yet still in full-time education and supported by me? Oh tough. They’ve “aged out”. No green card. You have to petition for them to join you, once you have a green card yourself, and then wait. And wait. And wait. At least seven or ten or more years.
My eldest was denied a visa to visit the USA for a few months, on the grounds that, “All your family is in the USA and you might be tempted stay.” Well duh… yes, all close family was in the USA. So you deny a child the right to stay with their only surviving parent???”
We found a work-around. My eldest was able to claim Canadian citizenship due to her father’s own citizenship, and then work in the USA on an annual TN visa, which wasn’t without stress. We waited and waited for her green card to be approved. We paid all the fees. Eventually, after several years, the green card was approved… but there would be another seven or more years before “the number would come up”, and the card would be issued. I learned that if I became a US citizen—by this time I was eligible, having held a green card for five years—then the wait for my daughter’s green card would be cut to just a few months.
So I paid all the fees, studied for the exam, and became a US Citizen. I now hold two passports, British and USA. My daughter has a green card, issued a few months after I became a citizen, and can live and work in the USA. The family is together. But am I a proud US citizen? Do I feel this glowing patriotism, and the need to put hand-on-heart when the Stars and Stripes are played? The belief in the right to bear arms? Not for one second… Do I feel somewhat compromised, and coerced into embracing a nationality, just to enable my family to be together? Some days, indeed I do. Resentful? No… I’m happy with the life we have, though I miss the history, the discussions, the cultural richness that is outside the USA. I don’t understand the American money-based mentality that drives everything and blinds people to the fact that there are better ways to manage health care and social welfare and ensure that everyone – EVERYONE – is taken care of. I don’t understand the shoot first mentality. And I really, really don’t want to live in the USA that Trump is proposing. I’m disturbed by the way the world is turning, whether it’s insulting click-bait political lies here in the USA, Brexit votes in the UK that will deny future generations the freedom of movement we enjoyed, and the rise in fear and hatred and intolerance around the globe… Maybe once you’ve seen more of different cultures and languages, you ask more questions, and are more frustrated by a brick wall of ignorance. I don’t know.
Those people who talk about immigration “done the right way”, obviously have no clue about how broken the “right way” is, how it can divide families, how much stress and anguish it can cause, how many years of wondering if your child will be allowed safely through the airport “this time”, or if they will be deported, or worse… and yes, that’s doing immigration “the right way”.
#iamanimmigrant. But I’m one of the lucky ones who had a choice, and tried to make the right decision. Was it? Ask my kids. I think you’ll get mixed answers.
In addition to being a wonderful parent and all-around great person, my mother (Alison Toon) is also a fantastic photographer and you can check out her work on her website, Facebook page and Instagram.