Monday, September 20, 2010

Comprehensive Immigration Reform? - Up To Date - Part 3

In my August 14, 2010 blog entry, "Impressions - Dealing with Governments", I wrote about receiving USCIS Department of Homeland Security approval of my request, Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, for an immigration visa for my wife as well as the process for obtaining a Thai Police Certificate and a Brunei Police Certificate.  After our visit to Bangkok to apply for the two Police Certificates, we received the Thai Police Certificate in two weeks just as they promised.  It has been a month, so we are in the promised 1 to 2 month time frame stated by the Brunei Embassy.

Although the intensity of our efforts to obtain an Immigrant Visa have diminished somewhat while we await the required Police certificate from Brunei, we have not stopped all of our work to assemble the other required Package #3 documents to submit eventually to the American Consulate in Bangkok.

Per the required procedure, we need to submit the following documents to the American Consulate:

     1.    Copy of Passport - Duangchan (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
     2.    Copy of Birth Certificate - Duangchan (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
     3.    Copy of Birth Certificate - Duangchan - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)
     4.    Name Change Certificate - Duangchan (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
     5.    Name Change Certificate - Duangchan - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)
     6.    Marriage Certificate - Allen/Duangchan - (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)

     7.    Marriage Certificate - Allen/Duangchan - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)

     8.    Marriage Registration - Allen/Duangchan (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
     9.    Marriage Registration - Allen/Duangchan - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)
    10.   Divorce Decree - Allen/First Wife - (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
    11.   Divorce Decree - Allen/Second Wife - (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)
    12.   Divorce Decree - Duang/First Husband - (previously submitted to Dept of Homeland Security)

    13.   Divorce Decree - Duang/ First Husband - Certified English Translation (sent to DHS before)
    14.   Application Form DS-230 "Application For Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration"
    15.   Two recent passport sized photographs
    16.   Form I-864 "Affidavit of Support"
    17.   Thai Police Certificate
    18.   Foreign Police Records
Interestingly of the 18 identified documents to be submitted to the Consular Section of the Embassy of the United States of America, 14 had been submitted to the Department of Homeland Security previously, reviewed, and approved by them.  I would have assumed that they would have made a copy of the documents for their files and sent the original package over to the Consular Section or at least notified the Consular Section that they were on file.  In this electronic age, I would have expected the DHS to electronically scan the documents and placed them in a database to be referred to by all US government agencies.  Here I go again - assuming things to be easier and more simple than they are.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform? What does it mean?   Well at least for me, when I speak or write about "Comprehensive Immigration Reform", I am in part referring to and advocating the greater sharing of information between US government agencies and a greater use of digital technology in the process.
One of the new required documents to be submitted is Form I-864 "Affidavit of Support".  "Affidavit of Support" sounds rather innocuous until you delve into the details.  Ah yes - the famous quote "The devil is in the details".  I assumed by its title "Affidavit of Support", that I would be signing a single piece of paper stating that I will support my wife and she would not have to obtain public assistance.  Hmmm - I don't remember signing anything like that for my first two wives.  OK, no matter, they were Americans and like the old saying "It's my ball, my bat, and my park.  If you want to play, you play by my rules" and  I want to play baseball.  Well once again my idealism and naivete have been demonstrated in assuming that the "Affidavit of Support" was an easy and simple document.

Instruction Package for Immigrant Visa Applicants (Packet 3) for "Evidence of Financial Support" states "Note for Petitioners who Reside Abroad:   In order to qualify as a sponsor, you must meet the domicile requirement.  This means that you must show that you have maintained a residence within the USA or taken steps to reestablish your residence in the USA. ...  "

It also requires submitting a copy of your last Federal Income Tax Return.  No problem, I can do that - all 45 pages of it.  The simple Form is rapidly becoming complicated.

Going to the Instructions for I-864, matters become more difficult and complicated.  The stated purpose of I-864, Affidavit of Support is for "... immigrants to show that they have adequate means of financial support and that they are not likely to become public charge. ... "  A sponsor of an immigrant must demonstrate that their income is at least 125% of the current Federal poverty line for their household size.  Hmm ... I have been retired for three years and do not have much "income".  However reading on further I discovered that assets can be used to qualify.  I have savings and retirement accounts accumulated from the years that I did work so it seems that we are back in business.  I will be required to submit documentation for each of the assets that I want to be considered in determining that I can support my wife in the USA.

Our yearly "income" is whatever I pull out of the bank.  Next year it will also include Social Security benefits.  I did some more research and I need 5 times the difference between my income ($0) and the 125% of the Federal poverty line for a family of two to be able to sponsor my wife.  As it turns out there is no financial problem for us.  This is great news for us, my relatives, and my friends.  I will not have to hit anyone up to help sponsor my wife to immigrate to the USA.  They would not have to agree that if she needed money to stay off of welfare that they would provide it.  Not sure that I would want to know how close my family or friends are to me regarding that type of request.  I know that I am making light of a very serious issue but I would also like to remind the readers, who have gotten this far, this financial sponsorship is required for all legal immigrants under the current process.  The uneducated legal immigrant farm worker sponsoring the legal immigration of his wife or children is subject to the same requirements and process as I am or you would be.

The instructions for Form I-864 delve deeper into the situation of an American citizen living abroad.

"15. Country of Domicile. ...If you are not currently living in the United States, you may meet the domicile requirement if you can submit evidence to establish that any of the following conditions apply:  B. You are living abroad temporarily  ...   C.  You intend in good faith to reestablish your domicile in the United States no later than the date of the intending immigrant's admission or adjustment of status. ... "  Personal circumstances should allow me to meet these additional requirements as long as I submit the required supporting additional documentation.

There are some difficulties encountered in writing a blog regarding Immigration to the United States.  The biggest difficulty is finding and understanding the truth.  Needless to say the issue of Immigration and Illegal Immigration is a complex and extremely emotional political as well as economic issue.  Both sides of the issues stake out their positions defiantly behind their mighty ramparts of alleged facts.  But as you delve into the sources and validity for these "facts" their basis is either missing or highly suspect.  I suppose there are several reasons for this.  Reasons include the desire to not let the facts or truth interfere with one's cause or argument, the illegalities involved, and the utmost need for discretion.

Why would an illegal immigrant admit that they were illegal?  Why would an illegal immigrant disclose how much they were paid for the work that they perform?  Why would an individual or company freely admit that they employ illegals?  Why would an individual or company freely or truthfully disclose how much they pay their illegal employees in wages and benefits?

Given the lack of hard and verifiable data, people fall back on antidotes, tribal knowledge and urban myths.  These are all useful in making one's point in an argument but not helpful in either identifying or quantifying the extent of a problem.

For this blog, I wanted to include some information on how much money an illegal immigrant makes in the USA today for performing farm field work. I did not find any information during my Google research that was current or that I felt was verifiable.  I have decided to use the country legal minimum wages as listed in Wikipedia.  For currency conversions I used  At least I can cite a source and the information may not necessarily reflect the truth regarding actual wages received but should provide a consistent basis for evaluating the economic motivation for immigration and more importantly illegal immigration.

Ironically, 400 Thai workers were recently discovered in the United States being victimized by a large worker recruitment company.  I have written that a farm laborer here in Isaan makes 150 baht a day ($4.87 a day). This amounts to $0.61 per hour for unskilled farm labor.  According to Wikipedia the minimum wage for Thailand is from 148 to 203 baht a day so their data is consistent with my personal knowledge.  Acordding to Wikipedia the legal minimum wage in Mexico is 57 pesos a day or an equivalent of $0.56 an hour.  According to Wikipedia the federal minimum wage in the USA is $7.25 an hour.

I read an article on the Internet, that had to do with janitors in Los Angeles. The unionized janitors were allegedly making $12 an hour with benefits and over a two year period were replaced by subcontractors paying roaming crews of Mexicans and El Salvadorian laborers making $3.35 an hour.  I don't know what years this involved.  I don't know if the Mexican and El Salvadorian laborers received benefits although I suspect that they did not.  I do not know if the subcontractors paid Social Security Old Age taxes, Social Security Medicare Taxes, with held Federal Income Taxes, State Income Taxes, and State Unemployment Insurance Taxes from the wages of the Mexican and El Salvadorian laborers but ... once again I assume that they did not.

If this occurred today, the Mexican laborers would be making 6 times the amount of money that they could earn in Mexico assuming they could find a job there.

For the Thai laborer, in the same situation, they would also be earning far more than they could back in their home country - 5.5 times more.  Benefits?  Thai minimum wage workers do not get benefits - no medical insurance, no paid holidays, no paid vacation, no retirement plan, no unemployment benefits, no profit sharing, no bonus.  I suspect the same is true for Mexican and El Salvadorian laborers. Housing?  Thai workers when they are away from home, such as a large construction site or factory site build their own housing out of packaging materials, construction debris, and low cost materials.  The same is true in Vietnam.  They need a hose with water to drink, cook, and wash and for food they need rice.  They live off the land by foraging plants, fruit and fish. Pit toilets are not a problem or an issue for them. They pool their living resources so they are able to live and to be content on a wage far below that of an American worker.  The point is that they are accustomed to a much lower standard of living.  A similar standard or living and to be able to make 6 times the amount of money that they can back home is a great motivator as well as temptation to leave their home countries.

How many of us, given the opportunity to make 6 times, and I am talking 6 times after taxes, what we make today while maintaining a very similar lifestyle would or could ignore the opportunity to work in another country?  What if you already had some family members or friends over in that country who could help you out?

How long would you have to work over there at 6 times your current wage tax free to be able to get out of debt?  Pay for your children's college education?  To be able to retire early?  Pay off your mortgage?  Buy the dream home that you always wanted but thought that you could never have?  Perhaps to be able to buy a vacation home or maybe two?  What about paying for your daughter's dream wedding? To be able to travel anywhere you like whenever you want for as long as you want without financial concerns once you stopped working?  How long would you need to work in that country to fulfill your or your family's dreams?
I don't know about your answer but I know mine.  I did.  I went and worked in other countries for 50% more rather than 600% more than I could make in the USA.  I would do it all over again too.  If I were to change one thing it would be to have started sooner in my life.

I am not, at this time, condoning or condemning anyone or their actions regarding legal or illegal immigration to the USA.  As I have stated before, I am sharing with the reader our personal experiences involving the current process for legal immigration to the USA.

In sharing our experiences I hope to educate the reader as to what the current process actually is and what is involved in that process. Given that information the reader can identify what they believe are the problems with the current system, perhaps understand why the problems exist, and hopefully be able to work with the proper authorities for solutions.  Only then will we hopefully have an understanding and definition of "Comprehensive Immigration Reform".

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