Beyond the financial cost of American citizenship, the most irreversible damage comes from the immigration system’s ability to break down families and communities.
By Priyanka Bansal
The American immigration system is the mass commodification of bodies. It views us as investments, rather than humans. It leaves us vying for our own individual rights to security and safety living on this stolen piece of land. It baits us to spend overwhelming resources to feed into its capitalistic scheme. American Exceptionalism makes us feel as though this is one of the best places to live, and you have to “earn” your spot here. But how much is it worth?
When I first heard that Trump was paying $750 in taxes, I texted my dad. He calculated the total amount we paid in immigration costs alone over our 18 years of getting citizenship (not including taxes). It was over $30,000.
That’s more than $30,000 that could’ve gone towards education, housing, therapy and medical bills, and other necessities. That’s 18 years of our lives feeling uniquely and frighteningly unAmerican, bribing this country with thousands of dollars to let us be part of its legacy. And those 18 years came with many terrifying moments and ordeals. We avoided mundane activities most other people can do without much thought, like post political opinions on social media, or drink, or smoke because we lived in constant fear of deportation, and participating in these things might have affected our status as immigrants. We were constantly under stress — stress about our visas, stress about our forms getting denied, and when I grew older, stress about our in-state college tuition being counted as out-of-state. The list goes on.
During those 18 years, an undeniable amount of generational trauma was manifested. One of the most irreversible damages is the immigration system’s ability to break down families and communities.
I talked to Anagha Velamakanni, who immigrated to America from India at three years old. Her 15-year path to citizenship brought numerous barriers to her mental well-being. “I didn’t feel very close to my parents for a long time, because I just couldn’t see them, I couldn’t talk to them,” she said. “Not that they didn’t love me, but they were just always busy with this.”
The whole process, from regularly renewing visas to various formalities (the i-140, earning permission to even go outside the country, the Employment Authorization Document, the i-140) to finally getting our green cards, was dizzying. Following this, was the waiting period of 5 years to apply for citizenship, alongside losing out on massive amounts of money, relationships, and stability. Finally, there was an elementary school level civics test, examining our ability to assimilate fully—as someone with a degree in journalism from an American university, being made to take a test proving I could write in English was truly demeaning. This all culminated in a video message from President Trump, welcoming me to the country I had grown up in.
Of course, each family’s citizenship process is different. Based on arbitrary, inhumane decisions, some might “earn” their spot in five years, some in 20 years, some not at all. But no one should have to pay for it with this obscene amount of time, money, or trauma, in exchange for the feeling of security.
“A lot of MAGAts and Trump supporters are like ‘if you want to come in, come in legally,’ but they don’t talk about the financial implications of coming in legally,” Velamakanni said. “It’s always really annoyed me that they think immigration is just signing a few papers, paying a couple hundred dollars here and there, and then just you get your citizenship — that’s not the case.”
And she’s right. The price tag to finally settle down here is beyond imaginable for most. And being labeled as “alien” by the government, constantly tested, and repeatedly asked to prove ourselves to white authority also carries a heavy psychological price tag.
But as we are called “alien,” we also take on massive responsibility, and are heavily depended on, the way an abuser is codependent on its victim. As Velamakanni emphasized, without its rich immigrant culture, “America would collapse more than it’s already collapsing.”
It makes my blood boil that Trump only paid $750 in taxes. It makes my blood boil that he was allowed to feel like the most American person on the planet, while my family and I were denied any sense of comfort or identity here, while paying significantly more to be here — financially and emotionally. It makes my blood boil that there are those far less privileged than I was who aren’t afforded the opportunities to even make the trip here based on their caste, religion, socioeconomic standing, or ability to speak English.
I know for a fact that voting Trump out will not solve any of these problems, because the systems that engender them were alive long before he took office. Joe Biden will not abolish the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In their piece, “Civic Engagement Does Not Begin And End With Voting”, Da’Shaun Harrison writes, “If the goal is to change the structure of our government, it only comes through revolution. And revolution—true revolution—is led by the People, not elected government officials. The longer we put our faith in these elections, the further away we move from abolition and revolution.” Electoral politics will not fix the lawless nature of the American immigration system. Voting Biden into office won’t erase the capitalistic structure that allows the country to commodify human beings. To truly fix this corrupt system, we need to listen to abolitionists, BIPOC leaders who work toward tearing the current systems down and building equitable and just communities in their place.
Priyanka Bansal is a South Asian American journalist, working to learn and write more about mental health, climate change, and anti-capitalism. Her work has been published on NBC, The Juggernaut, The New Twenties, and more. She can be found on Twitter at @priyanka_65.
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