A Personal Look at the Immigration Debate

Weedsport’s Alexandra Lajo-Leonardi Lived Through the Process That Has Become a National Debate

1000s of Immigrants Are Currently Trying to Enter the U.S. from Central America, Creating a National Debate on Immigration Policy.

1000s of Immigrants Are Currently Trying to Enter the U.S. from Central America, Creating a National Debate on Immigration Policy.

Alexandra Lajo Leonardi, Staff Member

If you have been watching the news you know that every day there are headlines about what we now call the “caravan crisis.” Immigration has been a huge part of the news as President Trump is very involved with immigration policies and building the wall on the border of Mexico, we all know that he has strong opinions about immigration, of which he has openly and continually shared with the public throughout his candidacy and into his presidency.

The caravan started in Honduras and as news spread Guatemalan and Salvadoran migrants joined it too, there are approximately 7,000 migrants traveling with the caravan and half of which are women and children. While most people know that the caravans are made up of Central American immigrants that are hoping to enter the United States. Some people don’t know or understand why migrants are willing to risking everything to enter the United States and faced many hardships as they travel months at a time, fighting illness and hunger.

Migrants from Honduras are desperately trying to escape their homeland because Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America and it suffers from “unequal distribution of income and underemployment” and it has become unsafe for families to live there as gang violence worsens, another reason is that there is persecution of transgender people in Honduras. El Salvador has the world’s highest homicide rates and criminal gangs. People are fleeing because if they don’t, they will most likely be killed, other contributing factors are poor economic conditions and natural disasters. Guatemala has the world’s highest malnutrition rates and the people are fleeing because of a lack of economic opportunity, political instability, and natural disasters, the country also suffers from extreme poverty. Each immigrant has different or specific reasons for why they joined the caravan and why they are seeking asylum in the United States but they all have one reason in common that is shared by every immigrant that has come to the United States since the late 1800s, which is that they are coming in hoping for a better life for themselves and their families, and to live the American dream.

Here in the United States, we have so many privileges and opportunities available to us that we sometimes don’t realize how lucky we are. I can’t imagine how much the people of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are suffering living in their unsafe homelands.
While it is sad to see and hear about their struggles, on the other hand, how would it be possible to help so many people? Some people think that the government should let everyone come in while others think that the government should not let them in, both will cause problems. There’s no way to win this never-ending social battle. Everyone wishes that there was an easy solution or answer to this problem but there is not. This leads to people choosing a “side” they are either for or against letting the Central American immigrants enter the United States. But there are grey spots too it isn’t a just a left or right subject.

Being an immigrant myself, I feel compassion towards all the mothers coming with children in the caravan. I believe everyone would like to come to the United States the legal way like me and my mom did but are unable to, as they can’t afford the high prices of the process. My mom and I had a supportive family that helped us so we were able to take these financial risks while most of these families that are coming through the caravan are very poor.

I came to the US with my mom when I was six years old. From my perspective, the whole year that it took to just get a visa went by fast as I was busy with school but for my mom, it was a year of hardship and stress. I asked her about the process that we took to get here and about her opinions on the caravan.

The process of even trying to visit is a hard one but to stay in permanent residence is an even harder challenge because you are in constant evaluation, in the words of my mother, “The process is a long one and it involves a lot of financial risks as you could easily get rejected and lose all of your money. Even honest and good people get rejected without getting a proper explanation why. I got rejected the first time I tried to get a Tourist Visa to visit my now husband. I thought it would be easy for me to obtain since all you had to prove is that you have a motive to come back to your homeland and not overstay your visit. For me, I did have strong ties with my country, from that day forward I have been asking myself what I did wrong, I had a permanent job, I owned property, and I had a saving account. The fees to apply to a visa plus travel expenses to the capital are very high, I lost it all when I was rejected.”

The process of just applying for a Tourist Visa is evidently easier than applying for permanent residence, but it is still a long and risky process. My mother described the process, “I had to travel to Lima, Peru, which is the capital. Which is a 13-hour bus ride from my home, I had an interview in the American embassy. The interview lasted about 3 minutes and after that, I was handed a piece of paper that said ‘you don’t have enough ties with your country’, no any further explanation. Now that I live in America I understand that the procedure to obtain a visa was based on a presumption that most young people will overstay their visa and become illegals.¨

After a year of long emails, skype calls, and phone calls to my dad, my mom decided to apply for permanent residence through the Fiancé Visa. My mother described the process,
“After a year, my husband started the application for a Fiancé Visa from America, this process took about 9 months, for the process I had to go again in for an interview, this time with my daughter. The embassy sent me a list of requirements that I had to hand in: original and current policy and judicial records, notarized birth certificates, medical record, not from my doctor but for the doctor they have on their list. I had to travel to Lima and pay expensive medical appointments for my daughter and after all the physical examination, X-ray, labs, vaccines, the doctor was not allowed to tell me if something was wrong with my health or my daughter’s health, instead they sent all this information to the American embassy until the day of my interview. The day of my interview, the consular officer opened my medical records read them, enter information in the computer, and I showed pictures of when my husband came to visit us. He then explained to me that everything looked good and that they will send me my visa and all my medical records and closed the envelope that I was not allowed to open. I had to give it to the immigration officer at my first stop in America. If the envelope has any sign of attempt of opening, I won’t be able to go further. Also, she said that the visa is valid for 90 days and if I don’t marry during the period of time I have to come back to my country. When I went to pick up the envelope I was already stressed and the letter that came with my visa stated ‘This visa doesn’t guarantee your entrance into the United States of America, the immigration officer will ultimately decide if you enter the country or not’. The stress that this process caused me was deep and unforgettable. I had a very stressful flight to America but I tried to be strong, for my daughter who was peacefully sleeping. As I looked at her I felt that all this stress and sacrifice is worth it because we were going to a country that will give her more opportunities that our country could, where her life will change more than mine. When we arrived in the airport in Atlanta, we waited for about 2 hours to see the immigration officer who was not friendly, she spoke in Spanish and said with an unfriendly voice ‘You have to be married before 90 days if you don’t do it you have to go back to your country, do you understand?’ I said yes. The process did not finish there, after marrying, came evaluations, letters in the mail and interviews to verify that our marriage is legitimate. In our first interview, we had to travel to Buffalo, the officer told us that my daughter’s medical records were lost by his office and she has to go to a doctor on his list to be issued a visa. She had to get the vaccines that she had already received in Peru again. I felt so disappointed and sad as I had to explain to my six year old daughter that she had to get another four shots.”

Unlike the people coming through the caravan, we were not running from anything, but we were still coming to have a better life and more opportunities. I asked my mother about her viewpoints on the caravan. ¨Immigration has been a problem for a long time in the United States, it has become worse as the number of illegal immigrants increased dramatically. It is a difficult subject, I have mixed feelings because I’m an immigrant myself and I feel very bad as a human because their country is in terrible condition and they have no other option but I think immigrants should follow the rules to come into this country legally for the safety of everybody. When I see the children suffering I feel very bad but I tend to think I would never put my child through that kind of suffering but I can’t blame the mothers either, they are simply trying their best with what little they have.”