If you need further evidence that a petty, paranoid, police-state mentality pervades American attitudes and actions toward immigration, you needn’t look to Arizona’s new law or the Pew Research Center poll suggesting Americans support it by a large majority.
No. Exhibit A instead can be found buried deep in the Sunday New York Times in the unlikely location of Wells, Maine. That’s where Dean and Laura Franks, a British couple, opened a restaurant, Laura’s Kitchen, a decade ago. It exists no longer.
Writes The Times:
The Franks are among thousands of people who enter the United States each year on E-2 visas, which allow citizens from countries with which the United States has certain trade treaties to invest in businesses and work here. The visas generally are renewed every two years, but there is no limit on how many times they can be renewed.
Only the last time around, immigration officials decided to deny the Franks’ renewal, one example of what appears to be a growing number of such renewals being turned down, immigration advocates told The Times. Here’s what one lawyer told the paper:
“This is the forgotten story of immigration,” said Angelo Paparelli, a prominent immigration lawyer in California. “The headlines deal with Arizona and border crossings, but these are real people too. This is what happens when you play by the rules.”
The Franks entered the United States legally. They owned their own home and their own restaurant. In case you’re convinced they were stealing American jobs, they actually hired three or four waiters, their lawyer told the paper, which means they were adding jobs to the economy. They paid their taxes. They broke no laws.
So why was their visa renewal suddenly declined, their lives thrown into turmoil?
In deciding to deny their application for renewal last year, immigration officials determined the Franks were running a “marginal business,” The Times reports, though no specific dollar standard exists for making such a determination. This decision was made despite the fact the couple declared a gross annual profit of $38,800 in the heart of a recession in 2008. That was down from $50,700 in 2007 but enough, the Franks assured The Times, for them to live on (Wells, Maine, after all, is not Manhattan’s Upper East Side.)
Dean Franks told The Times: ““We pay all our bills, we don’t have car payments, we pay our credit cards off every month, and that seems to count against us.”
The Franks, in short, played by the rule of “pay as you go,” the rule millions of Americans ignored in the funny-money times preceding the economic meltdown of 2008. Though they weren’t actually citizens, the Franks acted like the “good citizens” we all admire, people who work hard to achieve their American Dream, who scrimp and save to live within their means, who contribute to their community.
Their reward today, writes The Times, is that “they find themselves without work, without an income and without a country.”
The Franks, of course, are but one couple. But to me they exemplify the problems a slew of would-be immigrants face today in trying to settle in the United States, a country that throughout its history has been built by immigrants’ hard work and innovation. Today, however, instead of welcoming newcomers who might make us a stronger, more vibrant country, we seem intent on diminishing them. In Arizona, immigrants — legal or not — face the threat of arrest by state and local police if they aren’t carrying identify cards (it’s called Driving While Hispanic). In that state, those who followed the rules, who came legally and who today are citizens or who carry green cards, will nonetheless be treated with distain, profiled because of their skin color or accent.
The Franks represent something else. In their case, playing by the rules has meant seemingly arbitrarily being thrown out of the country, a heartless and bitter response by a government that these days seems to be running as scared as many of its citizens.
“I can honestly see why people come into the country illegally, because to do it legally is almost impossible,” Mr. Franks (told The Times) from Nova Scotia. “They have tossed us aside like a used tissue ….”
America can’t build walls high enough to keep out immigrants or terrorists. Nor are they the same; the vast majority of immigrants simply wants to work. That is why even illegal immigrants usually fill jobs native-born Americans won’t take. And if we are to rely solely on those in this country who were born and raised here, our competitiveness in a global economy will only continue to decline.
That’s very little solace to Dean and Laura Franks, but it should serve as a warning to the rest of us.