Immigration Up Close and Personal


February 9, 2017 by John Crapper

Immigration Man

Crosby & Nash

There I was at the immigration scene
Shining and feeling clean
Could it be a sin?
I got stopped by the immigration man
He says he doesn’t know if he can.
Let me in,
Let me in, immigration man,
Can I cross the line and pray
I can stay another day
Let me in, immigration man
I won’t toe your line today
I can’t see it anyway. Hey hey
There he was with his immigration face
Giving me a paper chase
But the son was coming
Cause all at once he looked into my space
And stamped a number over my face
And it sent me running
Won’t you let me in, immigration man
Can I cross the line and pray
I can stay another day
Won’t you let me in, immigration man
I won’t toe your line today
I can’t see it anyway.
Here I am with my immigration form
It’s big enough to keep me warm
When a cold wind’s coming
So go where you will
As long as you think you can
You’d better watch out, watch out for the man
Anywhere you’re going.
Come on and let me in, immigration man,
Can I cross the line and pray
Take your fingers from the tray.
Let me in, irritation man,
I won’t toe your line today
I can’t see it anyway.

Songwriters: Graham Nash


I usually restrict my writing efforts to issues connected with climate change but today I want to make an exception and write about immigrants and refugees. Their plight is up close and personal for me.  That’s because for the past 10 years I’ve been teaching them English as a Second Language (ESL).   In many instances I’m the first American citizen they get to know.  They rely on me for help and guidance.

I love my job.  I get to know people from all over the world.  I help them learn English which is key for them to have a better life in the United States.

In any given quarter it’s not uncommon to have sitting in my classroom students from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Afghanistan among others.  It is my honor and privilege to be their teacher.

Each student comes with their unique personal history. Most did not come to the United States because they wanted to leave their home country and live here.  Most fled due to war, poverty, persecution or discrimination they suffered while in their home country.

Each night when they arrive to class they almost always greet me with a smile on their faces.  I know they are tired but they never fall asleep, work hard and appreciate all I do for them.  They humble me in their outlook on life.  Their problems, which I know are many, seem to not phase their positive outlook.  I know this comes from bearing and surviving their past unimaginable hardships.

But life in the US for them is anything but easy.  They work in mostly menial low paying jobs right at and sometimes below the minimum wage and more often than not they feel obligated to take part of their meager earnings to send money home to their relatives.

I try hard to maintain a cordial and comforting atmosphere in my classroom.  I find the more cordial the atmosphere the more open and sharing my students become.  At times they feel sufficiently comfortable to share some pretty poignant memories with the class.

I recall a few years ago one particularly harrowing tale told by a student from Rwanda. He was Tutsi.  He told a tale of of his family hearing shooting going on all around their home one night. There was silence in one direction so they made the decision to head that way only to discover to their horror why it was so quiet.  All the inhabitants had been shot to death.  It was a tale of ethnic cleansing up close and personal.

Ahmed, one of my current students recently opened up to me about his past.  He’s from Somalia and has only been in the country a little over two months which is just about the same amount of time he’s been in my class.  Amed was a nurse in Somalia working for two years with Doctors Without Borders.  Al Shabob threatened his family. Amed’s brother was shot by them and as a result is now paralyzed from the waste down.  Amed now cares for him.

Ahmed can’t work in this country as a nurse but I’ve explained to him our school can assist in helping him work as a nurse again in this country but to do that he needs to produce his certificates and diplomas.  His family in Somalia is looking for them but he fears they have been lost in his many moves he had to make to remain safe.

Sometimes I’m fortunate to be able to help my students in areas other than learning English. For instance last week Ahmed came in holding a pair of reading glasses with one of the lenses out.  He was trying to put the lens back in the frame.  I looked at it and quickly realized the small screw had come lose.  I explained he could go to any ophthalmologist  and get it fixed for free. He then went on to explain to me the ophthalmologist had given him a stronger prescription for new glasses but he didn’t have the $300 to buy them.  He looked up at me dismayed saying, “The doctor told me Obamacare doesn’t pay for this.”  I then explained he should go to a drugstore and try the over-the-counter reading glasses.  They would be much less expensive.  The next day he was sporting his new pair and thanking me profusely.  It’s these little things I’m able to do that make my job extra special.

Another woman from Somalia came into class thanking me.  She had had to rush her daughter to the emergency room for treatment of a breathing disorder.  She told me in her broken English that the health vocabulary I’d taught her helped save her daughter’s life.  Apparently, the medical staff were on the verge of administering the wrong medication to her daughter.

I recall, last year, when I took my class to a job fair specifically designed for second language learners.  Prior to attending I’d taught for weeks all the basic words connected with looking for a job and employment.  After the fair six students secured employment.  It decimated my class attendance but I didn’t care.

I realize every day just how fortunate I am to be teaching these people.  They are truly the stuff making America great.  Donald Trump wouldn’t know about such people.  His only exposure has been when they serve him food in his tower or make his beds in one of his fancy hotels.

Many of my students are undocumented.  I know because they tell me.  Our school has a policy to never ask though.

During the course of my 10 years doing this I’ve had two students get in trouble with immigration and be deported.  One was departed because her husband got pulled over for bad driving and was found to be under the influence.  The other had a spouse that was caught in a raid at the workplace.

Now my undocumented students are  fearful they will be deported as a result of the election of Donald Trump and his recent executive order.

One student was so upset she had a bout of atrial fibrillation and ended up receiving urgent care.  Another student from Afghanistan was concerned  members of his family would not be able to join him.  Still another was in tears worried she would no longer get help purchasing her diabetics medicine and food stamps.

We talked about it some.  It was hard to explain my thoughts revolving around the election results in part because I don’t truly understand them myself but also because of their limited command of the English language. Usually this lack of knowledge frustrates me a little but this time I found it strangely comforting. They wanted me to reassure them everything is going to be OK. I really, in good conscious, couldn’t do that.

The trouble is I’m not sure everything is going to be OK.  These classes are free for our students. Will funding be cut for our program removing the chance for these new arrivals to learn English?   Will they have to pay going forward?   Will I be required to screen my students to insure legal status?  Will I be required to submit all my Muslim students’ names to federal authorities in order to place them on a national registry?  Will the US become an unwelcoming nation?  Will we let hate fill our hearts and succumb to bigotry and nationalism?  Will I have to watch as the INS raids my class?  Will pathways to citizenship be closed down for them?

Their vulnerability to the circumstances in their home countries drove most of them to seek shelter and security in our country.  It is hard to see the fear in their eyes now.  It is very up close and personal and I cannot reassure.



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Our climate is changing. I'm humorously serious about addressing it. I'm convinced my ego is the main culprit. My religion, Holy Shitters, demands I humble myself and celebrate the fact my shit stinks.
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