Monday, July 04, 2011

Immigrant Young Maids of America, Watch Out!

This is addressed to immigrant women generally but in fact Rita and I know a number of them, and their stories are so similar to that of the Guinean maid who is about to lose her case against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn that it occurs to me to address a note to them generally.

What I know about you is that you left your home country out of desperation. You had good reasons to flee, but they were too complicated to make sense to Americans who have scarcely any sense of what it’s like out there, and certainly your problems were far different from anything the American legal system would recognize. So you had to lie. And you had to get help fabricating a story that would make sense to the American legal system. Once you figured out what might work you memorized it.

The truth was otherwise, of course; the reality was far too bizarre from the American point of view that even your friends in American now cannot understand it. In fact, many of the judges that have to decide on your story, whether to allow you to immigrate, have becomes so jaded, so frustrated by the ways they have been deceived that they can be scornful of anything you tell them. So you have to make your story really good.

But anyway the story you invented got you here. And then once on the ground, you discovered how hard life is here, especially for someone who comes with essentially no skills. And of course you had no money. And no language. Whatever English you thought you knew was little help. Everyone talked so fast and used so many colloquial idioms that you were overwhelmed from the beginning.

So you were lost and helpless, with hardly a friend, and virtually no one with means to help. Desperate, you had to do whatever to survive. You had children, and you needed to escape from the dive the immigration authorities put you in when you arrived. So what you were reduced to, you will never want to admit.

Thank God, somehow you survived. You lived through those horrible days, and now you are at least more or less ensconced in this country. Eventually you came to know – it’s among the various schemes that get passed around among the immigrant populations of this country -- that if you claimed to have more children than you actually had your taxes would be lower and maybe you could even get more financial aid from the government. So you claimed your neighbor’s children on your taxes as well as your own.

All of this seems to have paid off. You at least have been able to survive. At least you are holding on. What you have not realized is that the lies are now your history, and they have left you vulnerable. With this kind of history you have little chance of making any claim in a dispute over any issue without your history being brought up against you in court. So without knowing it you have placed yourself in a far more vulnerable position than you know. Besides being limited in your English and your skills and still desperately poor you are un-savvy, and in this country that can be a tragic weakness. You are exceedingly vulnerable, and more so if you are young and pretty.

We all know the platitudes: In the end it doesn’t pay to lie. But the consequences in this country can be devastating if you have to make a case in court. If by some miracle you should inherit a billion dollars, there is maybe a chance for you. At least we surmise so from what we read in the newspapers.

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