By Peter Makori
THE future of Kenyan immigrants working in various sectors of United States without work permit hangs on the balance as the State Department of Homeland Security and immigration has embarked on a system of flushing out illegal or undocumented immigrants for deportation.Several States, especially in the Midwest and the West Coast have reported a large number of arrests of illegal immigrants working in food stores and meat processing factories. Their employers are not spared either if they are found to have knowingly employed the immigrants in their illegal status. Those arrested face huge fines and are later on deported for contravening US immigration rules.
The Congress of United States remains divided on a proposal by President George Bush to provide what he calls ‘guest work permits’ for the large immigrants who are working in the country illegally. Under the ‘guest worker program’, all immigrants who have been living and working in the country illegally for the last five years and above will be granted temporary work authorization for a period of 5 to 10 years.
But Bush is facing opposition from conservative hardliners in his own Republican Party. A number of Republican Senators and Congressmen claim that the program if adopted would lead to the undocumented immigrants getting green cards and become legitimate for work in the US. Equally opposed to this idea is a number of ordinary Americans who feel illegal immigrants should be kicked out as they had become a menace in the country.
The issue of illegal immigration has become emotive and highly political in America. Congress is divided down the middle on what to do with the large number of immigrants in the country. There are about 12 million undocumented immigrants coming from all over the world. American citizens, especially those at the border of Mexico along the expansive Texas boarder have created communal ‘vigilantes’ who have resorted to armed patrol of the boarder to check on the large number of Mexicans sneaking into the country in search of jobs.
There is a growing worry among low class Americans that should the government not control the influx of immigrants into the country, the job market will experience serious strains leading to shortage of jobs for the American youth.
It is against this growing concern that Congress authorized the US Treasury to release millions of dollars for the construction of a fence along the Mexican boarder but this effort has‘ still proved ineffective. America is an expansive country. Due to its huge and porous boarders, Mexicans from the South either swim through the Pacific Ocean into mainland. Some also scale the long wall fence and find their way into various food stores where they access menial jobs for survival.
Apart from Mexicans, various nationals from Latin America where the economies and politics are unstable such as Honduras, Cuba, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvaldor, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Columbia, Costa Rica, Peru, Uruguay, Bolivia, Panama, Haiti and many others stream to America in search of jobs.
The immigrants who took to the streets last year to demand citizenship claim that they only engage in dirty jobs which Americans don’t do under any circumstances and therefore the issue of straining the employment sector does not arise.
But the country is dealing with all sorts of problems brought in by the immigrants. For instance, Nigerians have been accused of all manner of fraud to be found in America while the Latin Americans are notorious drag peddlers. Banking institutions, especially bank of America have bone the blunt of the Nigerian scams. Indeed, Nigeria presents the darkest image of Africa in the United States today.
Impatient with the federal government’s speed to implement tough immigration rules, various States have embarked on the formulation of new immigration rules that empower State police to arrest and deport illegal aliens. States such as Missouri, Kansas, Chicago and California have already formulated tough immigration rules which have enabled local police to zero in on the illegal immigrants working in various sectors. The rules also empower the immigration to prefer tough penalties on employers who are found to have employed the immigrants knowing that they were illegally in the country.
Those affected by this new trend are Kenyans who visited the States under student visa but fell out of status sooner as they were unable to sustain themselves in colleges due to hardships in paying school fees. Paying school fees in America is one of the most challenging problems that Kenyan students face as their parents hardly send them fees. Instead, the students are the ones pressured to send money back home and spare some for their fees and food.
Recently, a Kenyan student whose parents sent him without fees or cash for food found himself in the streets of Arizona as he could not report to school or afford the most basic fundamentals of life. Many Kenyan students are facing harshest realities in America today. Since the September 11 terrorist attack in that changed US, life for immigrants has been terrible. With political temperatures rising ahead of America’s presidential elections, candidates are routinely questioned by their prospective voters to state specific immigration policies they will pursue should they be elected.
Republicans appear to score high on this. Democrats are rather liberal and tend to pursue policies that promote the good of all. Either way, immigrants are facing uncertain future. Education in America remains highly expensive. Unless one is on government scholarship, life can be full of frustration.
Many Kenyan students have found themselves between remaining in college but risk failing to meet various domestic obligations especially paying rent, electricity and other essential bills and abandoning school altogether to chase menial jobs to remain relevant in America. Some of them split the time of their studies from the previously intended say four year degree course and ends up taking as many as 15 years and even more.
The better option is always to drop out of school to work in retire homes or ‘nursing homes where they take care of old age men and women. Here they are paid between $ 7 and 10 dollars an hour depending on the period one has worked the State. This money is subject to compulsory taxation. Other challenges facing immigrants in America include systemic isolation from all sides. While the American Whites are accused of racial segregation, Africans who have acquired status either through marriage or green cards isolate their fellow Africans who have not acquired residence status.
Recently, a group of misguided racial proponents descended the State of Missouri where they carried placards calling for the chasing away of black and coloured people. The hooligans accused University of Missouri in Columbia City of being a haven of ‘illegal races’ in America. These neo-Nazis embrace the Nazi culture of racial hatred and segregation. Tension was high and some African and Asian students felt highly intimidated. Due to traditionally held perception that America is full of money, many students are forced to drop out of school to work for at least 16 hours a day in order to raise funds for domestic use and also send more home. Going to school becomes a luxury that one cannot afford.
With the immigration tightening its noose and Americans becoming more and more aware of the situation ahead, immigrants from poor countries will have to think twice before coming to America, the land of stress.
The author lives in Columbia, USA.
Posted to APN by Karuga wa Njuguna
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