2/27/2005 - Rural areas and small towns are increasingly becoming the destination for illegal immigrants...
- The Columbia Missourian
>http://columbiamissourian.com/news/story.php?ID=12373the destination for illegal immigrants.
>Pursuing the American Dream
>Rural areas and small towns such as Columbia are increasingly becoming
>By Michelle Dammon Loyalkause
>February 27, 2005
>To our readers: The Missourian has a stringent policy prohibiting the
>of anonymous sources. For this story, however, the risks to some ofour
>sources were too high. Xu Liping, Yang Lei and Lian Weihua are notreal
>names. Read more about the reporting of this story. [native
>When Yang Lei paid black market smugglers to take him from his
>village in China's Fujian province to America in 1992, he wasn'tlooking
>for fame or fortune. He was just looking to be left alone.young
>As part owner in a brick-making cooperative and the father of two
>sons in a country that only allowed one, Yang felt harassed byfinancial
>pressures, social pressures and political pressures.and
>He'd watched as friends and fellow villagers began trickling off to
>America, and he couldn't help but notice the steady stream of money
>success stories that had started flowing back from them. Yang's motherpeasant
>began pressing him to follow suit, but he knew that, as a Chinese
>who'd only finished middle school, he lacked the education, Englishmonetary
>language ability and marketable skills required to make it to America
>But, as money got tighter and the demands of local officials for
>"gifts" grew more frequent, Yang began to reconsider. He resentedhaving to
>line people's pockets in order to overlook his second son and keep hispay
>factory properly licensed.
>"It was too much, always having to use the back door, always having to
>to get things done," Yang said. And so he began to consider going toand she
>America the way most peasants did - illegally.
>Yang's wife, Xu Liping, dug in her heels. With two small children, the
>price was too high and the trip too dangerous for the whole family,
>didn't want Yang to go alone.I
>"I had many fights with him," Xu said. "I would never have let him go.
>didn't want to be separated."bribery
>But in the end, Yang craved a life in which hard work rather than
>would bring success. He wanted something better than a subsistencelife for
>his family. That fulfilling thesedesires meant purchasing his way out
>China from a local "snakehead," or smuggler, for $30,000, is an ironythat
>seems to escape him.salary
>To come up with the snakehead's fee, which exceeded his lifetime
>several times over, Yang borrowed the cash from his wealthybrother-in-law.
>In return he received a complete set of falsified documents that gothim on
>an airplane and through U.S. customs.buffet
>In the spring of 1992, he arrived alone in New York City. Eight years
>later, his wife and children joined him, and they now own their own
>restaurant in the Columbia area.City's
>A better life?
>A story like Yang's might be expected on the streets of New York
>Chinatown, but it's increasingly common in the cities and small townsof
>mid-Missouri, too. In the decade from 1990 to 2000, Missouri'sunauthorized
>residentpopulation grew from an estimated 8,000 to 22,000 people, and
>experts speculate that the actual figure is substantially higher.of
>The INS estimates that there are currently about nine million illegal
>immigrants in the country, and the number is growing by up to a half
>million each year.
>The majority come from Mexico and Latin America, but a growing number
>Chinese, Indians and Koreans are joining their ranks. Together, Latinpursue
>America and Asia account for 80 percent of all illegal immigration.
>Yang said no matter whether they come to seek political refuge or
>the American Dream, most of the Chinese who come illegally hope for aright
>better life with more opportunities.
>However, many do not find what they're looking for - at least not
>away. For example, a study funded by the MacArthur Foundation in 2000found
>that in Chicago70 percent of those working without green cards were
>employed in sweatshop conditions, in which two or more wage, overtime,Colorado,
>environmental or safety rules were being violated.
>For Yang, life in America wasn't easy.
>A friend recommended him to the owner of a Chinese restaurant in
>and he had soon moved there and was working in the kitchen up to 14hours a
>day, six days a week. Overtime pay did not exist. Instead, hisemployer
>provided him room, board and transportation to and from therestaurant.
>Lian Weihua, a business manager in the Boone County area who has
>Chinese firms around the country, said that long hours and low pay inChinese
>exchange for room and board is very common here and back on the
>mainland. Although difficult to accept by American standards, she saidit
>works because it is mutually beneficial to bothparties - restaurants
>cheap labor, and illegal newcomers need total support.a
>But the biggest pressure for undocumented workers comes from living as
>"black market" citizen with no identity and no idea when or how legalfor
>status will come - and in constant fear of being caught, Yang said.
>"In general, people like this are struggling, and every day's a risk
>them because at any moment they could lose it all and they could besent
>back," said Stephen Blower, a Columbia immigration attorney.member,
>Because smugglers demand full payment as soon as the immigrant is
>"delivered" in America, those, like Yang, who have a rich family
>face somewhat less pressure because they are able to borrow the moneyto
>pay the smugglers and then gradually pay back their relative.time,
>Those who do not have a backer usually borrow the money from private,
>loan-shark type investors who charge high interest and may, at any
>suddenly demand full payment from family members still living inChina. For
>these migrants, getting discovered and sent back to China would bewould
>devastating, because the loan sharks would still need to be paid. It
>be nearly impossible for the debtor to pay back such a large sum ofmoney
>with normal Chinese earnings.who
>"It's a life of constant risk," Blower said. "It's sad."
>Liu Qian is an epidemiologist with the Missouri Department of Health
>did doctoral work at MU in rural sociology. He said that althoughChinese
>immigrants in the United States can make far more money than they didback
>home, their lives are often worse than before. People come willing tonot
>suffer and knowing that there will be dangers, but Liu said most do
>fullyunderstand the extent of the difficulties they will face.
>"Many underestimate the hardship because the information coming back
>the U.S. is always the good news," he said. Chinese immigrants oftenhide
>their sufferings from friends and family back home because they do notwant
>them to worry, he said.of
>Although the plight of undocumented workers has received a fair amount
>attention in the United States in recent years, Blower said Americanstend
>to overestimate the life led by immigrants, and worry that they aretaking
>jobs away from U.S. citizens who want them and living well on illegalwork
>and federal benefits.for
>"They can't show up and get benefits," he said. "They're not eligible
>them, and they'd get deported if they got found out."exploiting
>"It's a myth to suggest that everyone's living on easy street by
>weaknesses in the law, because that's not true," he said. "Most of thethe
>people I'm aware of are oppressed by these situations."
>Yang said that without language skills, migrants have no contact with
>outside world and are completely dependent on their employer toprovide for
>every aspect of their lives.life do
>"It's true you can make more money than in China, but what kind of
>you have?" Lian said. "I would say it's like a prison. You can't speakthe
>language, you can't drive, so where can you go and what can you do?"human
>A failing system
>In recent years, increased attention has been drawn to the issue of
>smuggling by several international incidents in which groups ofillegal
>immigrants died on the way to their destination. In 2000,them
>58 Chinese died during a sweltering trip in the back of a truck taking
>intoEngland. In Texas in 2003, 19 people died in a tractor-trailer
>with more than 70 illegal immigrants.have
>On top of concerns raised by Sept. 11, U.S. border controls are under
>greater scrutiny than ever. Xu says snakehead fees for illegal entry
>correspondingly risen in recent years, but the new $70,000 price taghasn't
>seemed to deter people. In the last six months alone, she said, threethen
>members of her family have paid to come through Mexico where they were
>smuggled across the border and deposited in New York City.the
>Yang said once undocumented workers are safely in New York, it is
>relatively easy for them to make their way to smaller cities across
>nation since some businesses hire their employees directly from NewYork
>City agencies. In such cases, it is up to the business owner tospecify
>that the workers must be legal, hesaid.
>Blower said he doesn't find the local increase in undocumented workers
>surprising because the state's immigrant population as a whole has
>recent years. Nationally, immigrants are moving away from traditionalbut how
>hotspots, such as Texas, California and New York, and coming to the
>The real crisis is not how to stem the tide of illegal immigration,
>to revamp the nation's immigration system, which, he says, isaccess to
>"fundamentally flawed and broken." The goal ought to be to allow
>foreign workers who want to contribute to the economy and are willingto
>perform jobs that are not being filled by American workers, he said.law or
>"If somebody comes here not in order to exploit the law or break the
>continue to perpetrate crimes in our society, but they want to workof the
>legitimately, contribute to society and become part
>government we have, then those people ought to be encouraged," hesaid.
>Today many industries rely heavily on the low-paid undocumented
>to supply its labor. In a U.S. Department of Labor NationalAgricultural
>Worker Survey taken in 1999, for example, 52 percent of all seasonalthe
>agricultural workers identified themselves as unauthorized to work in
>United States. Undocumented workers make up a growing portion oflaborers
>in industries such as construction, meat packing, child care andjanitorial
>services as well.process is
>Right now, Blower said, for those who wish to become legal, the
>long and arduous, with no guarantee of success. Those who have nomeans by
>which to change their status often stay in the shadows for decades,without
>access to health care, insurance and other social services orsupport.
>Last fall, legislation was introduced in Congress that would
>grant amnesty to all illegal immigrants who have been living andworking in
>the United States for more than five years. Similar legislation waspassed
>in 1986, allowing more than a million immigrants without documentationto
>become legal green card holders.illegal
>While President Bush opposes measures that would automatically put
>immigrants on a fast-track to citizenship, he has called for a "morestatus as
>compassionate" system that would give undocumented workers legal
>temporary workers, and provide legal channels for immigrants who cometo
>fill jobs that Americans do not want.however,
>Immigration issues remain hotly contested and largely emotional,
>and legislation calling for stricter immigration control is also inthe
>works. Bill H.R.418, which is designed to stem the flow of illegal
>was approved by the House earlier this month, and now moves to theSenate
>where it faces tougher opposition.heart
>According to Ken Troske, associate professor of economics at MU, the
>of the debate centers on whether or not the influx of immigrants hurtslow-paid
>In his opinion, rather than taking away jobs from U.S. citizens,
>immigrants - both legal and illegal - increase productivity by makingwould
>services such as lawn care and repair work affordable to people who
>otherwise do it themselves and by doing jobs that would otherwise bedone
>In other cases, he said, the country has two choices: to bring in
>from places like Mexico and China to do the work here, or move thecountries.
>industries and the jobs to those
>"Missouri is better off if the production is done here," he said. That
>he said, the workers get paid and spend in our local economy.unlawful
>Although entering the country without inspection is a criminal act,
>remaining here once in the country is only a civil violation for
>presence. Blower says that most who enter without inspection are notmoral
>criminals; they go to such lengths because the current system does not
>allow them to get a visa legally.
>He argues that illegally crossing a border is a political rather than
>"It's like deciding to drive on the right rather than the left," he
>"There's no inherent moral value of doing one over the other - it'sjust
>that we happen to have a law that for the sake of order we insistpeople
>drive on the right. The same thing can be argued forimmigration."
>Is it worth it?
>In the end, it took eight years for Yang to get a green card that
>him to leave the country with the assurance that he could return.going
>His commitment to helping his family rise out of poverty kept him
>during those long, hard years alone in America, he said. Although histranslated
>starting salary of $800 a month was low by U.S. standards, it
>into years of income in his village back home. The restaurant providedroom
>and board and he had few other expenses, Yang said, so he was able tosend
>almost all his money back to his family for eight years. The $30,000loan
>he'd taken from his brother-in-law was paid off within five years.children
>When he finally was able to go back for a visit in 2000, the small
>he'd left behind were teenagers going to expensive private schools inthe
>city, and hiswife and parents had built a large stand-alone home in
>Soon after Yang began sending money back to the village, Xu stopped
>and began to spend most of her time playing mahjong with the manyother
>villagers whose spouses were working abroad.Yang
>"We had a very comfortable life," Xu said. If she had known how hard
>was working in America, she would have spent her time and money morecards and
>wisely, she said. But Yang kept his hardships hidden from her.
>It was only in 2001, when she and her two sons were granted green
>the whole family was finally together in the United States, that Xuof
>realized life in America was not the dream she had imagined. Her taste
>reality began when she started working as a cashier at a Chineserestaurant
>in Kansas City. Two years later she and Yang were able to quit theirjobs
>andopen their own restaurant.
>Although a legal green card holder and a business owner, Xu still
>many of the same difficulties undocumented workers face. She cannotspeak
>English or drive, so she is dependent on Yang and their sons to takeher
>places and to translate for her. She spends almost all her time at theentertainment is
>restaurant. She says she is terribly lonely, and her only
>a weekly trip to a nearby casino. She doesn't gamble, she said, butshe
>likes to get away from the restaurant for a change, to watch thedancing
>and listen to the music.had no
>"In the past three years I've aged at least six years," she said. "I
>idea it would be so hard."illegal
>In many villages in Fujian province - where the majority of Chinese
>immigrants are from - going to America has become a sort of culturalnorm.
>In their village, Xusaid, almost every family has at least one member
>living in the United States. Yang, the oldest of three brothers andtwo
>sisters, said that all his siblings are now in America, and most ofXu's
>nieces and nephews are here, too.think."
>Nowadays, Lian said, some students don't even finish middle school but
>instead drop out and await the opportunity to come to America.
>Yang said now he is careful never to encourage people to leave China.
>"It's not that America's bad," he said, "but it's not what they
>What he does tell them is that it's a place where you have to rely on
>own ability. There is no back door, no special relationships withtells
>government officials and no shortcuts to count on. If you come, he
>them, be ready to work.return
>As soon as the family can save enough money, Xu said she'd like to
>to China forever.But after 11 years of sticking it out in America and
>finally owning his own place, Yang is not sure he wants to leave.exam
>Regardless of where the family ends up, Yang is scheduled to take the
>for U.S. citizenship within the next few months. What he's lookingmost
>forward to now is the security that citizenship will provide.
>"As a U.S. citizen," he said, "I don't have to be afraid anymore."
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