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2/27/2005 - Rural areas and small towns are increasingly becoming the destination for illegal immigrants...

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  • Al Soto
    The Columbia Missourian ... the destination for illegal immigrants. ... use ... our ... real ... looking ... young ... financial ... and ... peasant ...
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2005
      The Columbia Missourian
      >Pursuing the American Dream
      >Rural areas and small towns such as Columbia are increasingly becoming
      the destination for illegal immigrants.
      >By Michelle Dammon Loyalka

      >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 of
      >sources were too high. Xu Liping, Yang Lei and Lian Weihua are not
      >names. Read more about the reporting of this story. [
      >http://columbiamissourian.com/news/story.php?ID=12389 ]
      >When Yang Lei paid black market smugglers to take him from his
      >village in China's Fujian province to America in 1992, he wasn't
      >for fame or fortune. He was just looking to be left alone.
      >As part owner in a brick-making cooperative and the father of two
      >sons in a country that only allowed one, Yang felt harassed by
      >pressures, social pressures and political pressures.
      >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 mother
      >began pressing him to follow suit, but he knew that, as a Chinese
      >who'd only finished middle school, he lacked the education, English
      >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 resented
      having to
      >line people's pockets in order to overlook his second son and keep his
      >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 to
      >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,
      and she
      >didn't want Yang to go alone.
      >"I had many fights with him," Xu said. "I would never have let him go.
      >didn't want to be separated."
      >But in the end, Yang craved a life in which hard work rather than
      >would bring success. He wanted something better than a subsistence
      life for
      >his family. That fulfilling these
      desires meant purchasing his way out
      >China from a local "snakehead," or smuggler, for $30,000, is an irony
      >seems to escape him.
      >To come up with the snakehead's fee, which exceeded his lifetime
      >several times over, Yang borrowed the cash from his wealthy
      >In return he received a complete set of falsified documents that got
      him on
      >an airplane and through U.S. customs.
      >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.
      >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 towns
      >mid-Missouri, too. In the decade from 1990 to 2000, Missouri's
      population grew from an estimated 8,000 to 22,000 people, and
      >experts speculate that the actual figure is substantially higher.
      >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, Latin
      >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 a
      >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 2000
      >that in Chicago
      70 percent of those working without green cards were
      >employed in sweatshop conditions, in which two or more wage, overtime,
      >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 14
      hours a
      >day, six days a week. Overtime pay did not exist. Instead, his
      >provided him room, board and transportation to and from the
      >Lian Weihua, a business manager in the Boone County area who has
      worked in
      >Chinese firms around the country, said that long hours and low pay in
      >exchange for room and board is very common here and back on the
      >mainland. Although difficult to accept by American standards, she said
      >works because it is mutually beneficial to both
      parties - restaurants
      >cheap labor, and illegal newcomers need total support.
      >But the biggest pressure for undocumented workers comes from living as
      >"black market" citizen with no identity and no idea when or how legal
      >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 be
      >back," said Stephen Blower, a Columbia immigration attorney.
      >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 money
      >pay the smugglers and then gradually pay back their relative.
      >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 in
      China. For
      >these migrants, getting discovered and sent back to China would be
      >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 of
      >with normal Chinese earnings.
      >"It's a life of constant risk," Blower said. "It's sad."
      >Immigration blues
      >Liu Qian is an epidemiologist with the Missouri Department of Health
      >did doctoral work at MU in rural sociology. He said that although
      >immigrants in the United States can make far more money than they did
      >home, their lives are often worse than before. People come willing to
      >suffer and knowing that there will be dangers, but Liu said most do
      understand 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 often
      >their sufferings from friends and family back home because they do not
      >them to worry, he said.
      >Although the plight of undocumented workers has received a fair amount
      >attention in the United States in recent years, Blower said Americans
      >to overestimate the life led by immigrants, and worry that they are
      >jobs away from U.S. citizens who want them and living well on illegal
      >and federal benefits.
      >"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."
      >"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 the
      >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 to
      provide for
      >every aspect of their lives.
      >"It's true you can make more money than in China, but what kind of
      life do
      >you have?" Lian said. "I would say it's like a prison. You can't speak
      >language, you can't drive, so where can you go and what can you do?"
      >A failing system
      >In recent years, increased attention has been drawn to the issue of
      >smuggling by several international incidents in which groups of
      >immigrants died on the way to their destination. In 2000,
      >58 Chinese died during a sweltering trip in the back of a truck taking
      England. In Texas in 2003, 19 people died in a tractor-trailer
      >with more than 70 illegal immigrants.
      >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 tag
      >seemed to deter people. In the last six months alone, she said, three
      >members of her family have paid to come through Mexico where they were
      >smuggled across the border and deposited in New York City.
      >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 New
      >City agencies. In such cases, it is up to the business owner to
      >that the workers must be legal, he
      >Blower said he doesn't find the local increase in undocumented workers
      >surprising because the state's immigrant population as a whole has
      grown in
      >recent years. Nationally, immigrants are moving away from traditional
      >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,
      but how
      >to revamp the nation's immigration system, which, he says, is
      >"fundamentally flawed and broken." The goal ought to be to allow
      access to
      >foreign workers who want to contribute to the economy and are willing
      >perform jobs that are not being filled by American workers, he said.
      >"If somebody comes here not in order to exploit the law or break the
      law or
      >continue to perpetrate crimes in our society, but they want to work
      >legitimately, contribute to society and become part
      of the
      >government we have, then those people ought to be encouraged," he
      >Today many industries rely heavily on the low-paid undocumented
      >to supply its labor. In a U.S. Department of Labor National
      >Worker Survey taken in 1999, for example, 52 percent of all seasonal
      >agricultural workers identified themselves as unauthorized to work in
      >United States. Undocumented workers make up a growing portion of
      >in industries such as construction, meat packing, child care and
      >services as well.
      >Right now, Blower said, for those who wish to become legal, the
      process is
      >long and arduous, with no guarantee of success. Those who have no
      means by
      >which to change their status often stay in the shadows for decades,
      >access to health care, insurance and other social services or
      >Last fall, legislation was introduced in Congress that would
      >grant amnesty to all illegal immigrants who have been living and
      working in
      >the United States for more than five years. Similar legislation was
      >in 1986, allowing more than a million immigrants without documentation
      >become legal green card holders.
      >While President Bush opposes measures that would automatically put
      >immigrants on a fast-track to citizenship, he has called for a "more
      >compassionate" system that would give undocumented workers legal
      status as
      >temporary workers, and provide legal channels for immigrants who come
      >fill jobs that Americans do not want.
      >Immigration issues remain hotly contested and largely emotional,
      >and legislation calling for stricter immigration control is also in
      >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 the
      >where it faces tougher opposition.
      >According to Ken Troske, associate professor of economics at MU, the
      >of the debate centers on whether or not the influx of immigrants hurts
      >America's economy.
      >In his opinion, rather than taking away jobs from U.S. citizens,
      >immigrants - both legal and illegal - increase productivity by making
      >services such as lawn care and repair work affordable to people who
      >otherwise do it themselves and by doing jobs that would otherwise be
      >by machine.
      >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 the
      >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.
      >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 not
      >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's
      >that we happen to have a law that for the sake of order we insist
      >drive on the right. The same thing can be argued for
      >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.
      >His commitment to helping his family rise out of poverty kept him
      >during those long, hard years alone in America, he said. Although his
      >starting salary of $800 a month was low by U.S. standards, it
      >into years of income in his village back home. The restaurant provided
      >and board and he had few other expenses, Yang said, so he was able to
      >almost all his money back to his family for eight years. The $30,000
      >he'd taken from his brother-in-law was paid off within five years.
      >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 in
      >city, and his
      wife 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 many
      >villagers whose spouses were working abroad.
      >"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 more
      >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
      cards and
      >the whole family was finally together in the United States, that Xu
      >realized life in America was not the dream she had imagined. Her taste
      >reality began when she started working as a cashier at a Chinese
      >in Kansas City. Two years later she and Yang were able to quit their
      open their own restaurant.
      >Although a legal green card holder and a business owner, Xu still
      >many of the same difficulties undocumented workers face. She cannot
      >English or drive, so she is dependent on Yang and their sons to take
      >places and to translate for her. She spends almost all her time at the
      >restaurant. She says she is terribly lonely, and her only
      entertainment is
      >a weekly trip to a nearby casino. She doesn't gamble, she said, but
      >likes to get away from the restaurant for a change, to watch the
      >and listen to the music.
      >"In the past three years I've aged at least six years," she said. "I
      had no
      >idea it would be so hard."
      >In many villages in Fujian province - where the majority of Chinese
      >immigrants are from - going to America has become a sort of cultural
      >In their village, Xu
      said, almost every family has at least one member
      >living in the United States. Yang, the oldest of three brothers and
      >sisters, said that all his siblings are now in America, and most of
      >nieces and nephews are here, too.
      >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 with
      >government officials and no shortcuts to count on. If you come, he
      >them, be ready to work.
      >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.
      >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 looking
      >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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      The government and the NEWS should reflect, not determine, the desires of the people.The news is to be reported not to sway opinion. Stop the melodrama and constant trivia on news time. The founding fathers knew that government is always corrupt, that is why they gave us civil liberties.  The people must lead to survive corrupt governments. Read the constitution. (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this includes information for research and educational purposes.)  Al Soto (c) 2005

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