Author’s Note: While I have historically let my free content live here and nowhere else, I have decided to experiment and say the following; In the event this piece meets local standards, any outlet in the city of Wausau, Wis., may run this as long as I am properly credited and informed of the use of my work for readers in the community and overall region. I cannot receive financial compensation at this time due to my status as a new immigrant previously from Canada. As well, this piece must not end up taking any paid work away from someone who is presently an American citizen. I do believe this is the best piece I have written on this topic and may not end up speaking publicly any longer about it.
There has been some recent debate in Wausau about a proposed plan to begin settling refugees in the area which is set to receive full approval or disproval in October. Some in the city have said this is a fine idea on social media, others are skeptical and as a pending American, I am struck by how little is known about moving here.
Since crossing the border to be with my now-wife in December 2020 I have always made it a point to tell people just what the process for someone like me who spent his youth in Canada is like. Whether the person has been liberal, conservative or independent in their outlook the reactions have remained the same. Supporters of President Joe Biden have said my process is “nuts”, people who love former President Donald Trump have called some of questions I have had to answer “crazy” and I will share a select few of these bits with readers right now.
When I crossed into the nation with my K1 visa it was made clear to me the document was not one with a firm foundation. I had 90 days to file for an adjustment of my status or I would face deportation. This required a further $1,225 in fees on top of the thousands I had to pay to fly to the U.S. consulate in Montreal for a five-minute interview (this was really cool to do at the height of the pandemic, BTW) and forms with questions my wife and I were baffled by and to this day I do not understand why they are included on the present I-485 sheet.
“Do you intend to engage in the sale of child pornography while in the United States?” one line reads.
“Do you intend to engage in activity whose purpose is to overthrow the federal government?” asks another.
Both of those are yes or no questions. Who in any conceivable instance would say yes to them?
Other bonkers bits have included not being able to work for almost a year while they process my paperwork, having to be fingerprinted multiple times and pay a grand for it in spite of them taking my digits and photo for free at the embassy and making sure I file another form in the right 90-day period about two years from now or they can again move to deport me. There is nothing wrong with a process and I would go through it again while blindfolded, on fire and forced to do backflips and learn Hebrew to be with my wife, but it can also be said how we welcome folks like myself to the United States can be made reasonably less expensive and far less insane.
Of course, this pales in comparison to what refugees go through.
As outlined by the Council on Foreign Relations (an independent think tank which has counted among its members veterans of the Obama and George H.W. Bush administrations) those fleeing strife go through a multi-step process before they can even dream of coming to America. They first go through a screening with the United Nations, are then referred to one of nine State Department facilities around the world if they qualify after the first round, are then scrutinized by our multiple intelligence agencies and fingerprinted and medically examined like me before coming in and being supported generally by volunteers and other non-profits while adjusting.
Contrary to belief, they do not receive any unconditional financial assistance from the federal government. While this can be easy to believe, multiple state and federal sources confirm benefits must be applied for and are only available in emergencies. This said, I do understand when critics question how people from far-flung locales can come here while social problems get ignored, but one must also remember things are handled by different groups and with just a few tweaks the animosity which often forms for good and tired people like this would end.
My former country of residence allows people to privately sponsor refugees. The United States at this time does not. Would it really be such an unreasonable thing to let churches, charities and other civic-minded people and institutions do so with a caveat about being liable if the person they invest in commits a crime? I do not think so. This would be a reasoned change which if implemented properly would make the path easier and cheaper, too.
The bottom line is we must not turn our heads away from those who are outsiders and close up our hearts and hands in concert. The United States is a place which is at its best when it takes people in from elsewhere, Wausau is undeniably better for its residents who first came here after the horrors of the Vietnam War and by making the journey less insane for all we honour the melting pot spirit of the country which too many have forgotten in 2021.
I mean, the nation literally gets its name from a random Italian guy. If this is not proof of what I say, what is?
Top image via maxpixel.net.