Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Immigrant



Illegal Immigrant

I have been an illegal immigrant. If you are picturing me struggling across the Rio Grande or jumping on top of a train to cross from Mexico, you're wrong.

I also did not risk my life in an overcrowded boat.

I'm not hiding on the underside of a truck crossing the Channel.

I was not forced off my land by my northern neighbor dumping produce so I could no longer sell what I grew and I had to find an alternate way to feed my family.


My home was never bombed.
None of that matters.

Because of my appearance I was not likely to be harassed. In those pre-computer days, It was easy to walk through customs at Charles de Gaulle.

I am a highly educated, white privileged woman, but when I overstayed in France where I wanted to live I was illegal and always afraid I would be deported from my dream.

My job search was not productive. Because the companies needed to get working permission, few bothered to even look at me. I came close to an Assistant VP for a major multi-national but was beaten out by an internal candidate...fair. A direct mail company wanted to hire me, but my French was too poor to handle part of the job and I could not guarantee fluency fast enough.

It all came to nothing when my mother developed cancer and I returned to the states.

You might ask why I wanted to leave the States: even in the 80s: it was health care, education, infrastructure, vacation time, culture, violence although it is much, much worse now.

Legal Immigrant

When my mother died, I started sending CVs (resumes). With no internet, I flew to France for want ads. I mailed CVs to companies found in a directory. I used European addresses for members of two professional associations I belonged to. Over 800 went out within a few weeks. I was like a machine.

I became friends with the man at the post office as I dropped off my stack of job hopes daily.

Then a response to an ad that said: "Sales person, knowledge of Digital Equipment Corporation, French, German, English. We'll get working papers." It was in Switzerland, where I hadn't tried being told it was impossible.

My German was rusty, my French below basic,  That I disliked sales wasn't important. They said they would get working papers.

I answered.

Two months later I was at my desk in Peseux, Switzerland, a Permis A in hand until my Permis B could be processed. I was legal. It was probably the worse job I have ever had, but they held my permit. And it would be cruel to compare it to a laborer picking tomatoes in the blazing sun. The permit was not transferable to another company and it took almost three years before I found a company that would sponsor me (I should add with the help of my first boss--no one is all bad).

The company that hired me had to interview local candidates first. In my case, I had a unique combination of skills that would have been almost impossible to find along with the writing ability. I feel sorry for those that didn't get the job that they wasted their time. And if I took a job away from a national, I brought something to the company that they couldn't have found locally. I paid my taxes and spent my money locally. I participated and contributed to the Swiss society even although I had been born 3000 miles away.

At that time to get a Permis C, the equivalent of a full green card it took 10 years for an American, Africans and most Asians. However, it was reduced to five. 

Citizenship

On the 12th anniversary of my arrival to the day, I applied for citizenship. I took another three years, three months and five days to be processed. I had been rejected once, but was accepted on appeal.

I say the day I stood in the Hotel de Ville, raised my hand and took the oath was the third happiest of my life: (my daughter's birth and my marriage are the other two).

Immigrants, legal and illegal

My heart goes out to immigrants, legal and illegal. I did not suffer even a nano-fraction what a majority of them suffer because an accident of birth put me in a place where I could maximize my natural abilities. The color of my skin lets me meld in with the crowd as long as I don't open my mouth and they hear the accent. I have been able to marshal resources to risk changing countries, cultures and languages while always having a roof over my head and enough to eat. I am well aware that others are not so lucky. Yet, we immigrants are the same--we want a better life.






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