NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I have a long-lost friend who is British. I met Constance at college. You could tell from her accent; she spoke the Queen’s English.
Yet Constance spent almost all of her life in America. Her family moved to New York when she was a 3-year-old. Her father was an executive at the Bank of England. His work visa allowed his entire family to live with him in the U.S. Later he worked with the British delegation to the United Nations, where he continued to live in New York - legally - with his wife and daughter.
Constance lived as an expatriate. She attended grade school in New York City. She attended private school in the suburbs. I met her when we were both college students. Constance had never been an undoccument alien. She was in the country legitimately – first on her father’s family visa – and then on a student visa while she was attending Syracuse University.
But while college graduation was a day of celebration for most of us, it was a day of nervousness for Constance. Once she was no longer a student her visa would expire and she’d be expected to return to Trowbridge, a place that’d visited for only four weeks a year – for Christmas and a summer vacation.
Constance hoped that her college boyfriend would marry her. It would have been a marriage of love, not for just citizenship. (The rules for green card marriages have been tightened since then; now spouses still have to return to their home counties awaiting their residency papers.) Constance decided to go to grad school. And when I last saw her all those years ago, she was wondering if her student-visa extension would be extended. I don’t know how the story ends. Constance is one of the people I’ve lost contact with over the years.
I asked her why she simply didn’t stay in the U.S. illegally. Even in the 1980s enforcement of expired student visas was lax. Deportations were unheard of as long as you stayed out of trouble. Constance wouldn’t do it that way. She explained that she wanted to build a life for herself – a career, a home, a family – and she didn’t want everything she’d achieved to suddenly be undone because of some in-the-future run-in with Immigration and Naturalization. She didn't want to pay taxes and social security and not get the tax refunds and benefits she'd otherwise be entitled to. Also, because she was from an aristocratic family, it would have been embarrassing to be caught in the country illegally.
I wonder how Constance would feel about President Obama’s executive order that took effect yesterday. She was willing to do things the right way. Today we are rewarding the children of people who did it the wrong way.