"How much and how long?"
"Forty thousand dollars and twelve years; plus transportation costs."
It was November, 2007. My wife and I had were concluding an interview with a Miami Beach Immigration lawyer.
The subject was Pavel Zidiyarov, my brother-in-law. He had expressed interest in immigration to the United States. We were attempting to familiarize ourselves with the process.
On paper, Pavel looked to be the ideal candidate. Twenty-seven-years old, he was my wife's "kid brother." He was married, had two small sons and was the holder of college degrees in Accounting and Mathematics.
Pavel has recently completed his second visit to the United States. In winter of 2005, he had come with his father, Viktor Zidiyarov and seen Kentucky, Florida and parts in between. I smiled, remembering their visit to the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta and the four days that we spent with my aged Aunt in Clearwater.
Pavel had returned to America, February 2007. This time, he flew into Miami, departing from Cincinnati four months later. It was noted that in both cases, arrival dates and departure dates were exactly as they had been registered by his extremely punctual sister.
Pavel's interview with Homeland Security was a rigorous, two-hour interrogation, laced with accusations and insinuations. I was amazed with how much English that he had retained from his previous visit. In the end, he was cleared.
My wife wanted to sponsor her brother and his family for immigration. We were certain that it would be a "good fit." Pavel had an ingenuity like I had never seen. He was a natural problem solver. His gardening skills suggested "a green thumb." Coupled with his business training, all signs pointed to a future as a "nursery, landscaping entrepreneur."
The attorney was telling us that it would take "twelve years and $40,000."
"Why?" my wife questioned. "My friend got her parents over in less than a year."
"Parents and children are easier." The lawyer patiently explained. "Siblings fall under a different classification."
"But my parents don't want to immigrate." My wife insisted. "They are too old, too settled, have family there, including my sister and her children. Learning a new language would be difficult."
"I know. I know." The attorney acknowledged compassionately. "And if they did want to come, how many years would they be able to participate in the work force? Ten? You need "forty quarters" to qualify for social security. Yet your brother would likely work forty years. He has a handle on the language, is well educated and eager to assimilate. I know what you're thinking! Now, you understand what they mean when they say, "our immigration system is broken!" Believe me! It is!
"Thing is, your parents would need to come first, naturalize and then one or both could sponsor your brother.We are talking minimum five years."
"Wouldn't we be required to provide them insurance?" My question was practical.
"You certainly would."
"That would be expensive, considering their ages." My wife echoed ruefully.
"Yes, it would be. Unfortunately, those working and making good money always get it socked to them. You know, it only requires an income of $13,500 per year to be a sponsor. How did you come in, by the way?" The attorney looked over his half glasses.
"On a K-1, in 1999. I have been delaying naturalization but plan to do it in the next few weeks." My wife admitted.
"I knew that it would be required if I sponsored my brother."
"Twelve years?" I still found the time sequence difficult to believe. "Pavel would be 39 years old. There is no other way?"
"Well, off the record, there might be." The lawyer's eyes hinted contempt. Looking squarely at my wife, he asked. "Does your brother look like you?"
"I guess a little bit, not much." My wife answered honestly.
"What I mean," the lawyer clarified, "does he have blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin, like you?"
"You didn't hear this from me." He warned. "But it sounds like your brother and his family would be prime candidates for the "Southern Express." I trust you've heard of the Southern Express?"
Neither me or my wife had heard of the Southern Express. "No."
"Is it against the law?" My wife's blunt question came with a hard look.
"Slightly." The lawyer admitted.
"Not interested." My wife's answer was dismissive.
"Well, I wish I could help you." The lawyer arose from his chair, signalling the end of the meeting. "Until some weak kneed politicians get off their ass and deal with it, our immigration system will remain as it is: Broken."
The next day at work, we learned from another immigration lawyer, what the Southern Express was!
"Your brother-in-law needs to apply for Mexican VISAS for himself, wife and children." The attorney smiled cynically. "It's easy for a Russian to get a Mexican Tourist VISA. Then, they need to take the bus to Reynosa. From there, they simply walk across the river at the bridge. Everyone, including border guards will look at them and assume they're American Tourists. You might send them some T-shirts with some kind of insignia such as Florida Gators, Miami Dolphins,etc.
"From there, they catch the first bus to Houston. From Houston they can go any damn place they want, although I would suggest that you meet them somewhere in between, such as Nashville." He added.
"Wouldn't that be aiding and abetting?" I asked candidly.
"Yes, it would be. Technically!" The lawyer's eyes hinted slight amusement. "You know, what the United State's unofficial immigration policy is, don't you?"
"It's easier to get forgiven than get permission."
"Forgiven?" My wife's blank look indicated that she was unable to comprehend the seemingly twisted logic on display.
"Let's put it this way, Mrs. Willis." The lawyer's eyes sharpened. "Your sister-in-law comes in, punches out a baby. Suddenly she, your brother, and your nephews are able to stay."
"Why is that?" My wife remained unconvinced.
"Because the baby has "birthright citizenship," under the 14th amendment." The lawyer shook his head. "The government's policy has been to "unite families." Therefore, in the interest of keeping the family together, your sister-in-law, the mother, your brother, the father, and your nephews are now legally able to stay. Furthermore, they will soon have access to Medicaid and other entitlements."
"That doesn't make sense." My wife's face showed a puzzled look. "We try to be honest with the government. We offer to pay. And, we are told 12 years!"
"Yet," I picked up,"if you sneak them in, my sister-in-law has a baby, they not only can stay, they can get on he government's entitlement rolls?"
"Yeah, that's about it." The attorney grinned. "Try to do it within the framework of the law and the government gives you the cold shoulder. Break the law and you're in! Or, should I say, they are in; all of them! With the ability to get everything from free health care, to free college tuition, to food stamps, to AFDC to W.I.C., to low income housing subsidies."
"I cannot understand why the politicians won't do something." My wife's eyes flashed.
"It's about getting elected and reelected."
"I am not going to break the law." My wife's voice hardened.
"And, you shouldn't." The lawyer agreed. "You have a successful business. You have come here and made a stake for yourself. You have too much to lose! But so many don't! And until the government gets it act together, our immigration system will reward crime, while discouraging actually obeying the law!"
Sadly, on that day, my brother-in-laws immigration dream died.
In watching that dream die, "how" to fix the broken immigration system became vividly clear: We must revisit the 14th amendment! In doing so, we will learn that Congress was addressing citizenship for former slaves and people of color who had no status at that time. It was 1868. These two groups were the only groups who gained protection. It might be noted that the Native American did not officially gain U.S. citizenship until 1924.
Prior to 1868,there was no such thing as "an American citizen." You were a citizen of Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania or whichever state that you resided. This "oversight," has proven costly. The remedy is to simply clarify the intent of the birthright citizenship specified in 1868.
Is it doable?
It had better be! It amounts to having the will to do it.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Constitution is what it is. It is not a "living, breathing" instrument! To protect it, you amend it. This adjustment could eliminate countless problems. Especially with family separations.
We must not reward those who cheat. We cannot turn a blind eye to those who break the law through manipulating the system! Accurately defining birthright citizenship, based on Congressional intent in 1868, can and will end this absurd and destructive practice!