China Aviation Law
17Jul/10Off

Amy and Immigration

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I have a coworker who is second child, I'll call her Amy. For whatever reason, (likely lack of available contraception in rural china), her parents decided to have a second child at the height of the one child policy. The result was a government crackdown that led to a very hard life for my coworker. As punishment, the government condemned her family's property and razed it to the ground. Amy had to be smuggled out of the province and was sent to live with far away and impoverished aunt.

She lived in a small hut out in the country and cooked over an open fire for most of her childhood.

(This condition of poverty is not uncommon in China today. I found a similar hut attached to the fence at the Beijing international airport.)

However, my coworker is a lucky story. She was able to get enough education to break away from home atage 16 with fifteen dollars in her pocket. She made it south to Shenzhen and has slowly worked her way up to a slightly better life. I know before she was in this office she was working 7 days a week as a Realtor. At our company, she makes around $450 a month as a secretary.

When I asked her about her thoughts on her treatment and her past, she did not have the reaction that I expected. I would be angry at the government for treating me and my family so poorly. She, in contrast, has no real animosity toward the government. Her perspective is that her family broke the law and should have been punished. They committed a crime and she is an illegal citizen, thus, her lot in life is what should have been expected.

To an American audience this is hard to grasp. We believe that a right to decide how many children you should have is  fundamental freedom, not something that should be dictated by the government. If her parents hadn't broken the law, she would not even exist, and thus, she should be grateful that her parents made such a sacrifice.

Which is the correct reaction? What are some of the justifications for the one child policy? Unchecked, the Chinese population would grow at a rate that is unsustainable. Without enough land to sustain the population, the entire country/region could face a humanitarian crisis as people fight for control of resources. Are those justifications sufficient to support the policy?

I'm going to make a stretch of an analogy. I think Amy's reaction is one I've heard many times this summer during the immigration debate.

Sam Feinson posted an interesting link a couple of days to a opinion piece about the immigration debate. The crux of the argument attacked a middle ground position that I have taken in the debate. The position sounds something like this: I agree that the immigration laws in the US are screwed up. The are unfair, cumbersome, and a pain in the neck to try to work through. However, I don't believe that the solution is to break the law. Some people in the US are here illegally. I don't believe that should allow the leniency because they have worked around the system. We cannot that our laws should not be obeyed. As illegal residents, they ought to be deported. But, in the meantime, we should work to provide a better system of immigration into this country.

My co-worker would likely agree with this position. They are illegal. They have broken the law. It is totally within the Government's right to crackdown on them. Yet, like my gut reaction above, it seems like the question should not be so simple. To make a decision about the immigration debate, you have to look past the question of illegal/legal, but actually look at the law.

I'll leave that level of analysis to others, but I'd like to put up a couple of questions to think about and add my own anecdotal experience on the treatment of foreigners in the US and China. Maybe a strict immigration policy is necessary. One of the reasons that American's have such a high quality of life is that we have an incredible amount of resources for a small population of people. An open door would certainly decrease that ratio of resource to people. On the other hand, maybe there is fundamental right that people should be able to move between countries in search of work.

I have a friend who came to US to get an education. She is a good student, worked hard, got her degree and graduated. However, she didn't want to go back to Asia, because she had a boyfriend and a good job in Utah. Most graduate students are allowed one year of option professional training on their education visa before they must return to their home country. She decided to stay and then overstay her visa. Now, she is facing deportation back to Asia, were she will definitely have a harder life and will not be able to return to US for 10 years.

(Home being torn down by the government in Shanghai. One person is reluctant to leave.)

As for the Arizona Law...

I just started watching Battlestar Galattica, which turns out is a pretty good show. At one point, they are face with a problem with enforcing the law throughout their new armada of civilian ships. Unfortunately, the only personnel that are trained/armed are the military. The admiral believes that using the military as police should not be a problem, but the acting president says something profound. The military is trained to fight enemies. When the military starts to police the people, the people become the enemy.

This is the problem I have with the Arizona law. The Feds/Department of Homeland Security are the ones who have the job of protecting the border. That is what they are trained to do and I think it is an important job. But, it is wholly separate from the job of the police. The police need to be able to work within a community to support and protect it. They need to be able to build trust within that community. This cannot happen when the people become the enemy. By giving the police the mandate of checking people's immigration status, you've redefined their roll and undermined their ability to protect.

There are very many crimes within the immigrant community that go unpunished - domestic abuse, labor abuse, ect. That go unpunished because people are afraid to go to the police. They make a choice between continued abuse and deportation. I don't think that is a choice that should be made.

As a foreigner in China, I am treated much better than foreigners in US.

My wife is not a native of the US. She is Taiwanese with long black hair. She does not look like a white American nor does she get stopped by police at the rate of white Americans. In the whole of my driving career, I have been pulled over by the police 3 times. In the 4 years she has been driving in Provo, she has been pulled over close to 3 times as often. (Now this may be a statement on her driving, but as far as I can tell, she follows the road rules much better than I)  Only one of these stops resulted in a ticket. Most of the time, the police never had a very clear answer as to why he pulled her over. (So, is it racial profiling? I don't know. But, it bothers me that it happens.)

Hanging out with my Chinese friends in Seattle has brought some interesting experiences. I am amazed at how poorly we treat people who do not speak English very well. I went to Elysian to for happy hour with a group of international  students - (koreans, thai, chinese). Their English wasn't too bad, but if you've ever learned another language you know that you speak slowly and it takes a few more seconds to process whatever is being said. Unfortunately, the waitress would have none of this. She asked for an order. They would try to respond. She would get impatient, roll her eyes, and walk away. (Yes, only an anecdote, but unfortunately one I've seen all too many times.)

In contrast, my foreign friends get nothing but deference here in China. They don't speak a word of Chinese, but by and large, the restaurants will either go get an English speaking employee, or take their time to make work out some system of communication. In the US, I've heard plenty of people complain about someone not speaking English both to their face and behind their back. In China, while many will talk about you in Chinese while you are next to them, surprisingly, I have yet to hear a negative comment. While learning Chinese  in Taiwan, people where more than happy to help me. A pilot just told me  about how he needed to get some stamps. So, he drew a picture of stamp on an envelope and showed it to his Chinese neighbor. His neighbor was kind enough to drop what she was doing and walk him down the block to the post office to help him buy stamps.

(Of course, the cynical side of me knows that much of the special treatment we receive is because we are white, from the US, and have money. I know the Philippinos, Thais and Africans, received many more cold shoulders than I did in Taiwan. )

Regardless, I hope that  people understand how difficult it is to be stranger in a strange land.

Chinese Outhouse in Beijing