My Turn: Immigration can be done legally
April 4, 2006
I visited America legally in 1979 for a summer. I felt dumbstruck and overwhelmed. What the heck was a hamburger?In 1982 I came again, legally, and decided to stay. I felt privileged to experience and become part of the incredible American culture the mystical United States of America. When I decided to emigrate, I was 16 and thought of it as one grand adventure. I thought Id just eat hamburgers until I was sick to my stomach. Little did I know, emigrating from ones country of birth is an extremely difficult decision that most immigrants underestimate. Many cannot weather that storm and return; some for costs that are too high. I left Czechoslovakia in 1982 and knew I would never see my family and friends I left behind and the place I called home ever again.If I returned I wouldve been imprisoned, since not returning was a crime against the state punishable by a prison sentence. When I went back years later to see my family and friends, I had nightmares of being stopped at the border and jailed. I clutched my U.S. passport with all my might against my chest.I have no childhood mementos. If searched, my suitcase had to look like I was going on a vacation. It wasnt until years later that my grandmother was able to bring some irreplaceable childhood photos.When I said goodbye to my mother she was the only one that knew I wasnt returning. That way we could spare every one else the police interrogations she knew would come. But my mother was used to them after my father left for the U.S., my aunt for England, my uncle for Canada, and my other relatives for Western Europe.As all of the legal immigrants before me and those wholl come after me, I also came here for a better life. I came for better education opportunities. With so many relatives in the West, my family was blacklisted; choices of schools were limited.I came for the freedom of speech one can only appreciate after one sits alone, in the dark, with a Radio Free Europe turned down low to make sure no one can hear in case the neighbors might turn you in.While my mother and I started to plan my trip to the U.S. to see my father, we didnt write or call him because we knew the letters were read and the phones tapped. It was only after I got off the plane in the U.S. that my father and I were able to discuss my possible future in the U.S.I know what it is like to want to come to another country for a better life. However, I know that this country will not crumble without me. It is me that is privileged by being here.What I dont understand is how some think that coming into the country illegally and breaking the law should afford them leniency.Should we just talk to drunk drivers and send them on down the road? Where does the illegal activity end and where does it begin?Im a legal immigrant; proud to be a naturalized American citizen. Im proud that it took me years to learn English just enough to be able to read the paper, go to school and speak to others. When I went to high school I failed typing and math because I did not speak the language. Its taken me years to learn the American culture and become a productive member of society.When I was naturalized I wept as I sung the national anthem and waved the American flag; while I never forget where I come from and cherish a small pin of the Czech flag.Im proud to have always paid my taxes, never to have been a burden on the American tax payer and never to have broken the law. If I could do it legally and without being a burden on the American tax payer and the American system, why cant other immigrants?Why do they demand pardons for breaking its laws? Why do they demand we learn their languages? How would you all like to learn Czech, print the voting ballots in Czech, print the drivers tests in Czech, etc, just because I decided not to learn English? Why should they be forgiven for breaking the law? Why should we pay their bills?We shouldnt, because if I could do it legally theres no reason why they cant. Who am I? Im an immigrant. Im just another immigrant looking for a better life in a country that welcomed me in.I didnt dishonor the U.S. by breaking its laws, sucking its taxes dry and taking advantage of its systems. If I can do it, there is no reason others cant.Illegal immigration is against the law and as such should be punishable. All people wanting to live in the U.S. should come here legally and honor that privilege by learning the language, paying taxes and being productive members of the society.Sabina Voboril Strauss is a resident of Tahoe City.