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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Americans fear immigration

I am an immigrant. Having been a leaf in the winds of the U.S. immigration system for fourteen years prior to getting my U.S. Citizenship, I would like to know why America fears us so.

Several authors who have written articles on this subject have addressed the possibility of terrorism, the strain that illegal immigrants place on the healthcare system and on the state budgets, and the general threat to the country's resources.

As far as terrorism is concerned, let us not forget that there is such a thing as an U.S.-born anti-American terrorist. In addition, while overall violent crime rates have been falling for the last 12 years and are now at their lowest since 1994, Americans are still quite good at eliminating each other without foreign assistance. This may seem harsh, but let us consider this: 7,194 violent crimes were committed in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2003, of which 66 were murders. Assuming that only one person was impacted in each of these incidents (which is unlikely), in one year - in just one American city - the number of people impacted by a violent crime was twice as many as the number that died during the World Trade Center catastrophe.

The risk of illegal immigrants "stealing" American jobs can also be viewed from more than one angle. Consider the jobs that are taken by immigrants coming across the southern border. If we figured out a way to just take all of those immigrants out of the system and send them home at once, how many Americans do you suppose would be lining up to pick crops and clean toilets at hotels?

As for American resources, I find it rather interesting that there were no protests during the "brain drain" of the socialist block scientists that began in the 1950's and continues to this day. Yes, coming from the former Soviet Union, I am fully aware that those scientists (and artists, and actors, and engineers) left for valid reasons. But where was America's concern for the well-being of other countries, that were being stripped of their cultural and intellectual resources that could have potentially accelerated those countries' progress toward a better way of life?

Not all illegal immigrants are the same. I came to this country legally, yet became illegal for a period of time because I followed the system (and isn't this the all-American cry, "Just follow the system!"). There are certain kinds of visa, that require that one applies for three months in advance before they expire, but take six months to process. So, one is bound to lose their status and become illegal by following the system - one of the many little-known "hitches" us - immigrants - have to risk in order to remain in this country legally.

I have heard Americans say that us - immigrants - have no right to complain about anything in this country, because if there is anything we don't like, we should just go home. Had any American had to go through what we have to go through - by following the legal immigration system - he or she would have understood that one has to LOVE this country in order to survive the process and maintain one's sanity. Endless paperwork, high fees, processing times that are measured in years (consider that the next time you want to complain about your phone bill arriving two days late), complete loss of privacy, the humiliation of being asked over and over again, "Are you a terrorist? Are you a Nazi? Are you an anti-Semite?" - the list goes on and on. One must love America to go through all this and still want to live here. So, perhaps, this is the reason Americans should fear immigrants - we are more patriotic by default and more likely to appreciate living in America, because we truly have to struggle for the right to live in the U.S. thus, making better Americans than Americans themselves.

Coming from a different country, we bring a different perspective to everything we do, a more solid educational background (if you do not believe me, please feel free to compare American education program with those of, say, Russia, Japan, China, India, France, Great Britain, etc., including hours spent in the classroom, subjects taught, required reading list and so on), adaptability, and knowledge of more than one language. Because of our tough native background, we are willing to do more work for less money and fewer benefits - something that any company would appreciate, especially considering that this willingness frequently comes packaged with a strong work ethic and a voracious desire to learn quickly. So, yes, perhaps Americans should be concerned - how would an average American white-collar worker compete with a fast-learning, bi-lingual, industrious, hard-working, appreciative foreigner?

My purpose is not to bash Americans; in fact, I love Americans. I spent the last fifteen years - while I was being bashed around by the immigration system - doing my best to convince my friends and family abroad that not all Americans are snooty, fat, lazy and stupid. I am married to an American. When my citizenship exam was finally schedule, I was thrilled, especially because it was just in time for me to be able to register to vote in the 2008 presendential election. I cannot tell you, how incredible that was. However, when I hear Americans bashing immigrants (legal and illegal) for every possible problem with this country, I would like for them to pause and turn the accusing finger 180 degrees.

It is not our fault that there is a handful of religious fanatics who want to kill Americans and give the rest of us a bad name. It is not our fault that American education system has degrated to being a test-taking machine, thus making it tough for American-born students to compete with foreigners in the workplace. We cannot persuade every single American to go live in one of our countries for a year, so that they could fully comprehend what it is we are running from and what it is like trying to acquire this precious gift - the right to live in the U.S., the right that Americans are lucky to have just by virtue of having been born here because their ancestors got here while the borders were still open.

It is a sad prognosis, but the way things stand right now, Americans will continue fearing us until they are willing to strive for the balance between a healthy global perspective and the willingness to address the problems from within.

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