Ilan portrait


The week an immigrant family was brutally murdered in Arizona I got my new “green card” or Permanent Resident card. Though I have had permanent resident status since 01.09.84, I never bothered to apply for citizenship. Over the years, I tried to produce or even invent some rational explanations to questioning friends and family members. Recently, I just gave up, admitting that none of my explanations make any sense. There are obviously some deeper reasons that even I do not understand which somehow kept me a permanent resident for over 25 years, never applying for citizenship. I also realized that, apparently, there are millions like me. As I write these lines, I am holding the two cards in front of me. The old one, which is literally falling apart, shows an earnest young man of 34. It is called a RESIDENT ALIEN card, a title that always freaked out my two girls when they were young. Born and raised in NY, the idea that their dad was an “Alien” was unsettling. The new card is far more elegant, high tech, with different magnetic codes imbedded on the back and a picture of a bold, almost 59-year-old man on the front. By now I have been transformed from a “Resident Alien” to a “Permanent Resident”, a far more neutral title. I have lived in the United States for more years than I lived in my native country, Israel. Somehow, I seem to be more comfortable with a Permanent Resident status, while still traveling the world with an Israeli passport. There are several key differences between being a “permanent resident” and a citizen. For one I can not vote (though I am paying taxes) . The second big difference is that if convicted for a felony, I can be deported. I once did a film on the legal system in the Bronx, where one of the characters was indicted for possession of a few ounces of cocaine. He was sentenced to a long jail term but refused to plead guilty. If he had, he would have received a much lighter sentence but would have been deported after fulfilling his jail time. He decided to fight from jail to reverse his conviction rather than plead guilty and be deported. If deported, he would also have left behind a wife and three children and broken his family apart. I thought about all of that when reading about the Minutemen and the Arizona murders. Having been here for over 35 years, I was verbally attacked as an immigrant only once. “Go back to your country,” screamed some sound engineer on an outdoor stage being readied for a Rock Concert. Ironically, he was preparing the sound system for one of those worldwide, mega-media events raising money to fight World Hunger. The stage was set in front of the United Nations! I do not remember now what made this sound engineer lash out at me. Maybe I stepped on his cables or was bothering him with our huge video camera. I do remember that it was months after I got my “Resident Alien” card and since no one ever told me before (or ever since) to “go back to my country,” the incident stands out in my mind. I always knew that I have been privileged. I can only imagine the sense of terror and/or insecurity that non-white immigrants feel. Though hate crimes against immigrants are few and far between, every article I have read (some were published on this site) documents how the media and virulent, populist, political discourse prepare the ground for such attacks. The first Amendment protects freedom of speech in this country so any law designed to ban anti-immigrant rhetoric will be thrown out of court as unconstitutional. But a citizen boycott action rallying advertisers and sponsors for the immigrant’s cause can make this rhetoric economically very disadvantageous for a broadcaster or a media organization. However, if hate talk can be protected by freedom of speech, allowing a vigilante force like the Minutemen to “patrol” the border is entirely a different thing. In a society governed by laws, there is no place for any vigilante force. In a society of immigrants there is no place for any anti-immigrant vigilantes. I am sure the complex psychology of immigrants who live in and love this country for what it can offer is of no interest to Minutemen. Nor do they care about the subtleties between “Resident Alien” and “Permanent Resident”. If I lived near the US-Mexican border, my only protection would have been the color of my skin and this is unacceptable!

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