In the early nineties, I worked illegally for almost two years as an english teacher in Taiwan. Yes, I was one of those illegal aliens you hear about: there on a visitor’s visa, which meant I had to leave the country every so often, get a new stamp in my passport from some other country (Hong Kong), then fly back to work after a weekend of bar hopping, shopping, and exploring. A companion and I were such fiendish english-teaching criminals that we tried to break into a HK theme park so we could swim with the dolphins late one night. Real Damien evil.
While I was living in Taipei, I paid taxes. Once every year I had to go to the tax office, submit my paystubs and fill out paperwork – all for a little slip of paper which I then had to show to an officer in the immigration office clear across town. The paper basically said that if I had worked any jobs while I was living in Taiwan, I have complied with the law. It was a nerve-wracking experience, since as an illegal, I was completely subject to the whims of any official with whom I had dealings.
I dreaded that future day when these two grey bureaucratic government offices would merge their databases.
Having a murky illegal status can be rough, and there were always stories about expats who had gotten kicked out of the country for some stupid mistake when negotiating the bureaucratic process. I once had to bribe an Indian official in Luknow in order to get a visa extension, but that’s the nearest brush with an immigration official I have had while traveling. I consider myself very lucky, especially when I see the hate spewed by some of these so-called patriotic groups masquerading as a vigilante border patrol in this country.
Despite these few experiences, being in a foreign country was always amazing, and everywhere I went people were very friendly and generous. I once got turned around at a train station, and I sheepishly asked someone in very broken Chinese which side of the platform I should be on, only to have him escort me all the way to my destination. He played host the entire journey, asking me about which of the scenic sites in Taiwan I’d already seen, and making recommendations about places that I really should visit in the future.
I had the owner of a hotel in rural Nepal take me to a medical clinic and insist on paying for my treatment when I became ill with dysentery, all based on my friend of a friend of a friend status (and nothing to do with culpability).
I experienced many other examples of simple human kindness while traveling, and I’d like to believe that visitors to the U.S. are treated the same way here that I was treated there. Unfortunately, with all scapegoating of illegal aliens and foreign workers by Republicans desperately trying to whip up a xenophobic wave that they can ride into the next presidency, I’m not very optimistic.
So I present this as another facet of the immigration debate, since there are many Americans living abroad who benefit from a more generous attitude towards immigration than we have in the US, and maybe some of you will listen out of self-interest…
With regard to the way that we treat visitors to this country, the GOP is simply amplifying concerns about immigration to a fever pitch as a way of stirring up racial animosity and divisiveness, and I can’t help but think back to my experiences and how differently I was treated. What price do we pay for a closed border if it makes us suspicious, hostile bigots in the process?
PS. Welcome X-Men!