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Post My Immigration Story
Created by John Eipper on 11/24/14 1:27 AM

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My Immigration Story (Francisco Ramirez, USA, 11/24/14 1:27 am)

I appreciate Tim Brown's effort (23 November) to identify a path that is neither amnesty or allocating greater resources to patrolling our borders. He has a particular kind of foreign worker in mind, and that foreign worker is not a Stanford-educated PhD. But that is what I was about to become in 1972 when the declaration of martial law in the Philippines derailed my plan to return and teach in my alma mater, De La Salle University (then College). What follows is my description of more than two decades of becoming a citizen.

In April of 1973 I was offered a position in the Department of Sociology at San Francisco State University. Why I was offered this position is another matter and one linked to ethnic labels, a matter for another e-mail. I told my employer that I was in the United States with a student visa. What they then did was to petition for an H-1 visa (I think) that defined me as having skills (blah blah) that no American applicant had. This was less difficult to manage then than now, but at Stanford we would still not blink at the prospect of hiring a foreign worker. So, I got a three-year work permit that required me to return to my country of origin after the completion of this term. Alas, as the term was coming to an end, I knew the situation in the Philippines had not changed. In the fall of 1973 in a conference in Singapore I met my former teacher and university vice president and asked him how my thesis on education and political development would be read. My thesis was an analytical, not a normative piece. I had no "political priors" in the Philippines. He responded that it would be seen through a political lens but that he was sure I would be prudent. I am not a prudent man.

So in the summer or fall of 1976 I saw an immigration lawyer who had previously worked for the immigration service. He noticed that I had left the country twice during this period and that my total abroad period exceeded thirty days, the product of two Christmas holidays in Madrid. What my lawyer argued meant that I had not been in the USA for three continuous years. There are more lawyers in my extended family than taxpayers in the Philippines. So, I knew we were entering into the world of legal magic. This was the beginning of two extension petitions, both of which were approved.

You might be wondering why I did not just petition for permanent residence. Because in that era I faced a Catch-22 situation. If denied I get deported. If approved, I am ordered to go back to my country of residence and wait for my "number." This would not be a big deal if I had been born in Spain or some other similar country. But there was a long line of Filipinos with approved petitions for permanent residence and I would have to take my place in the line (the line now is about 15 years; it was shorter then but still measured in years). The university would not simply keep my position until my return. I was never illegal during this extended period but I sure was not forthcoming. In the realm of legal magic, one never is. (As Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs I once again inhabit this realm, but that is another story.)

One of my many experiences with immigration service was observing how well I was treated in comparison to some others. I had a job, a house, wife, two kids, and a collie. Oh, and a lawyer. No immigration official ever shook a finger at my face and accused me of lying. That was the fate of the guy in the adjacent table who alleged he had left his passport in Texas. No lawyer and no middle-class profile will get you accused of being a liar (He probably was lying, but bear in mind that I was not being forthright because by the late '70s/early '80s I knew I wanted to stay here permanently. I was by then tenured at SF State.) Another experience was hearing my lawyer say that he hoped we got Jones instead of White as the immigration officer. There were rules but there was also attitude and he had worked with these folks.

Then came the change I needed. If one applied for permanent residency and got approved one could stay here and no longer wait for a number in one's home country. This was not a general rule but applied to a category of persons already in the USA for a given period of time. (I leave to our lawyers the precise details. I think this happened in 1980.) So, back to immigration service in San Francisco I head with my wife and the lawyer (actually a different lawyer who had earlier worked for the first lawyer and handled my case at some point before going out on her own.) This was my all-time favorite experience: the immigration person looks up and says "OK, you have been approved for ninety days." I look at my lawyer, wondering whether I should have stayed with the old lawyer! She coolly responded, "No, I guess you did not received the new instructions. He has been approved to stay indefinitely." The immigration person responded "Oh?" and then left the room. She returned shortly thereafter and said you are right.

So, in reality, Tim Brown proposes a middle path for those who lack the right profile or cannot afford lawyers. I know that is not his intent. Illegal agricultural and professional workers will face the same six-month grace period and then be required to head to their countries of origin. That category may have increased since the early 1970s. My journey through legal magic would be much more difficulty today. I probably would be in Canada. No one worries about those borders, though I now have to show a passport and not so in earlier times.

In the early 1990s, long after I was eligible to apply for US citizenship, I did. By then I was a tenured professor at Stanford. As I faced my oral examiner in my citizenship interview, he looked at me and said "You do not remember me, Professor Ramírez. I was a student in your sociology class at State." Lord have Mercy, I thought to myself. I passed. I guess I did not ruin his life.

I do not have a counter plan to that offered by Tim Brown. My experiences with immigration spanning decades is that there is more arbitrariness in the system than one might expect. This has also been my experience dealing with American consulates. In San Francisco I felt they were understaffed and not adequately trained.

I view immigration debates through my own experiences. Many a professional foreign worker assumes they were treated better because they are better. I do not. I had better training. There is a difference.

JE comments:  Francisco Ramírez's personal narrative is a great way to start the WAIS week.  I've had only a few tangential encounters with the INS over the years, but I'll agree it's an arbitrary system.  The best way to ensure a successful outcome is to not be poor.

"There are more lawyers in my extended family than taxpayers in the Philippines."  I shall remember that brilliant turn of phrase.

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