Tag Archives: America

Dear Representative: Save the Affordable Care Act

Dear Representative Cummings,

I am a legal permanent resident of these United States, currently living in Maryland’s 7th district, represented by your voice in Congress. I am writing to you today to ask you to keep up the fight to preserve the protections contained in the Affordable Care Act, and to work hard to convince your Republican colleagues to reconsider their efforts to repeal the Act. My son’s life may depend on it.

Liam is two and a half years old. He loves to play his ukulele and harmonica, and his favorite planet is Jupiter. He insists on wearing bow ties, he likes to help me make my coffee in the morning, and he tells me every day that he loves me “really much.” He is the greatest joy of my life. Born with a genetic condition called Neurofibromatosis (NF), he has already endured five sedated MRI scans, to watch carefully for growth of the tumors that already threaten his optic nerves and other regions deep in his brain. Every three months, we bring him to the hospital and hold him as they apply the anesthesia mask to his face. He holds his beloved Elmo, and we rock him and sing to him, but he always cries. He cries because he doesn’t understand. We cry because we do.

Despite all of this, he is a thriving and joyful little boy, loving and learning and testing his limits like every other toddler. He sees an ophthalmologist and a neurologist regularly, and he goes to music class on Sundays. He sees a physical therapist and an orthotist for the low muscle tone that come with his condition, and he has soccer once a week.

His extensive medical care is just a part of our life, and we adapt. We are grateful that he hasn’t yet needed any surgeries or serious intervention that would require hospitalization. Other children with NF aren’t so lucky. A day may come when chemotherapy will be necessary to stop Liam’s tumors from taking his vision. Serious and complex surgeries may be needed in the future, to remove painful nerve tumors growing along his spine. And one day, he will grow up and grow out of his dependence on us, leaving him to find coverage for himself. This is why we can’t allow the Affordable Care Act to be repealed.

If lifetime caps on benefits are reinstated, chemotherapy or surgery could have us reaching those caps within a matter of months. If pre-existing conditions clauses are allowed, my son may not be able to find affordable health insurance for himself when he grows up, because of a spontaneous mutation that occurred before he was born. And if anything happens to us to affect our ability to work, we need better options than high-risk exchanges or bankruptcy. Yes, we hope to maintain access to employer-subsidized health insurance, but without protections in place for us and our family, we’re one layoff away from a disaster. That’s a lot of stress to carry, when we already carry so much.

I came to the United States from a country where healthcare is understood to be a basic necessity, and is available to all through the taxes that residents pay into their government. When I moved to Maryland in 2007, I was consumed by anxiety. I had a good job with good health benefits, but what if I were to get sick enough that I could no longer work? What if I lost my job and it took me several months, or years, to find another? It’s common knowledge across the globe that Americans lose their homes when they get cancer, and carry crushing medical debt if their children have special medical needs. The passing of the Affordable Care Act, and the protections it contained, made me feel much safer here. America could be humane about health care after all.

That’s why I can’t understand why so many Republicans want to erase that progress and put stress back on American families and individuals. Surely they also have families of their own. Surely their constituents include families like mine, children like Liam. Why do they want children like my son to be left without access to reasonable health insurance once he’s out on his own? Why do they want to cap how much health care any one person is entitled to? Why do they want us to live in terror of losing our jobs or getting sick? Why do they think that families with sick children need the extra strain on top of what they’re already living? Why do they ignore the voices of the people they represent, and feel that they know better?

Please, sir, bring your Republican colleagues my story. Bring them all of our stories. Please appeal to their humanity and encourage them to do what is best for the people who are depending on them. Liam is counting on you. Our family needs the ACA “really much.”

Sincerely,

Me.




This Month In Resistance And Accountability

I’m writing this today because I need to keep track of how I’m resisting the efforts of this administration to undo the hard work that’s improved health care and the economy and equal rights for so many. It’s not enough to talk about the fight: we need resistance and accountability. I need to make lists of my efforts so I’m not just telling myself that I’m fighting for equality and for access to health care and public schools and clean water and other basic human necessities. Talk is cheap. What have I done to back up my intentions?

Accountability

I have called or emailed (often both!) my Senators and my Congressman daily. They have already made their disagreement with Trump’s agenda very clear, often putting out public statements against his nominees and his hasty and bigoted Executive Orders before I’ve even had a chance to ask them to speak out. I call anyway, to thank them and to share stories about why their votes matter to me and my family.

I contacted my professional organization, asking them to make a public statement condemning the immigration ban.

I have been sharing the This Week in Autocracy spreadsheet on Facebook, hoping that others can use it to investigate news stories and find new ways they can safely protest and resist this administration.

I’ve followed more voices from minority communities on Twitter, so I can try and learn to listen, and to understand how I am helping – or hurting – with the choices I make.

I wrote a dozen letters to local Islamic centers and mosques, telling them that they have friends here who will fight for their rights and freedoms.

I signed up to volunteer for Lawyers for Good Government, who have been fighting the immigration ban and providing legal counsel to those who were detained in airports across the country when the ban was enacted. I haven’t been contacted yet, but at least I’m on their list if they need me.

I contacted my county executive, asking him to reconsider his veto of a local bill which would have made my area a “sanctuary” county where police couldn’t harass or detain people on suspicion of illegal immigration status. I also contacted my representative on the county council and thanked her for voting for the bill even though she knew it couldn’t pass the veto.

I bought Organizing for Social Change after writing to my local library asking that they purchase copies for their collection. And I’ve been reading it, and I’m examining my budget to try and make it possible for me to attend a related workshop in Baltimore next fall. It’s a longshot, especially trying to collect enough vacation time for the week-long event, but you never know.

Am I doing enough? Oh, of course not. I should be attending local meetings, doing more research into local and state politics, and planning to attend rallies and protests. I should be donating more money to groups doing the hard work. But I’m human, and there are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy in my body and money in my wallet. I sometimes need to remind myself that even little things count. I am small, and my actions are only the tiniest of ripples in this ocean. But ripples can make waves. We are many, and our actions are more powerful together.

Tell me: what are you doing to resist? How are you finding ways to fit activism into your life without completely sacrificing your mental and physical health?




I Can’t Keep Quiet

I was going to write something nice today. I wanted to write a tribute to America for the Fourth of July, just as I did for Canada on its big day earlier this week. But I’m too angry.

People ask me all the time whether I plan on becoming an American citizen. My answer has always been “when I feel that I can take the oath, and mean it.”

This is the Oath of Citizenship, which everyone must recite before being officially naturalized (bolding mine):

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

I cannot, at this time, assert that I have no mental reservations about bearing true faith and allegiance to the United States and its constitution and laws.

Why?

State after state after state after state1 is enacting laws that restrict access to abortion, “to protect women’s health.” The aim of these laws is to close clinics, cut funding, and add hoops for doctors and their patients to jump through, making abortion all but impossible for women in those states.

At the same time, these politicians work to restrict access to contraception and remove sex education from schools. And without paid maternity leave, without adequate protections against being fired for their pregnancy, without affordable childcare, how are these women, pregnant when they don’t want to be, supposed to cope?

What of the 20% of American women who are uninsured? Or those who have insurance with no maternity coverage? Do the legislators outlawing abortion want to see these women bankrupt from the emergency C-section delivery of a baby they already knew they couldn’t afford, in the most expensive health-care system in the world?

How can I love a country that is comfortable treating its women this way?

I’m mad. I’m so very very angry. I take all of this intensely personally, because I am a woman. I don’t want an abortion. I can’t imagine ever wanting one. But that should be my decision. It’s always a difficult decision to make, bringing with it lifelong emotional baggage, and most people aren’t happy about resorting to abortion. But sometimes it’s the only way out of a bad situation. And taking that option away and trapping someone in that bad situation, without offering any alternative help, is inhumane.

To make it all the more insulting, the overwhelming majority of these decisions regarding women’s bodies and reproductive rights are being made by men.

See anyone there with a uterus? I sure don’t.

Why are the anti-choice bills passing? Why does everyone keep electing people whose values and opinions are stuck in the 1950s? Why aren’t we managing to keep a grip on the rights already afforded to us in a Supreme Court decision made FORTY years ago? Why aren’t we fighting for paid parental leave, adequate and accessible health insurance, and more flexibility towards pregnant women and parents in our workplaces? Why are American women putting up with this bullshit? Why aren’t more people angry?

I bet you do, buddy.

I bet you do, buddy.

I don’t know what to do with all of my frustration. Not all of this legislation affects me personally, of course. I live in a different state with a different political climate. But I feel that I have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with all the women who are affected.  I don’t get to vote in this country unless and until I become a citizen, but I can put my money where my mouth is. I can donate to organizations that fight to keep choices open for women.

Whatever small sound my voice makes in this world, I add it to the chorus of strong and wonderful women who will not be controlled.

1. I stopped at four states because I was getting angry reading the articles and needed to back off to keep my blood pressure at a safe level. But there are plenty more, if you care to look into it.
American Flag

Here in America

“Here in America, we don’t use a maiden name as a middle name.”

Her emphasis was on “America”. Reminding me where I was and who was in charge. As though the huge flag behind her and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services badge on her arm wasn’t enough. With her declaration, she scratched out the name I’d printed on the document. The name I wanted.

“You can add it to the last name and hyphenate it,” she told me, “but you can’t replace your middle name.”

“But….” I protested, “Everyone I know did it that way after they got married. I don’t want my old middle name.”

“You can go through the court for a name change. Did you go to the court?”

Of course I hadn’t. I thought my marriage certificate was enough, as it had been for everyone else I knew. I dug through my folder to find it for her.

“That’s not good enough. You need to do it in the court. What’s your middle name?”

 She moved her hand to the top of the form and wrote my middle name where she wanted it to be. A few more quick scratches of her pen, and she added the name I wanted to the “aliases” section. I have aliases now. Like a spy. A criminal.

She sighed. Shook her head. “You’d be surprised how many people come in here and think they can just change their names like that. It doesn’t work like that. You need to go to the court.”

I couldn’t argue with her. You can’t argue with immigration officials when they have your future in their hands. You can’t risk upsetting someone on the wrong day and having your petition denied. You go along with what they say. You do as they ask. You apologize for being so ignorant, for being in the way, for doing everything so obviously backwards, even though you followed every instruction to the letter. They are right and you are wrong.

wrong way

I want to be angry. I want to be offended that I was told not just that I’d made a mistake or misread instructions, but that here in America, things are done differently. Because I know that’s ridiculous. Besides the fact that America isn’t a homogeneous mass, I can point to dozens of personal friends and professional acquaintances who have done exactly what this woman tells me is not allowed. Maybe it’s the truth; maybe there’s some fine print somewhere that says I can’t change my name with USCIS on the basis of a marriage certificate alone. But this woman dismissed me outright when I protested. She held fast to an approved script, instead of listening to me and seeing me as a person who needed help understanding the process. I am Canadian. I am white. I speak flawless English. I can only imagine how much more degrading it must be to face these people if you’re wearing a veil or struggling to find your words in your second or third language.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Civil servants aren’t known to be the most caring and understanding of individuals, and working with the public can harden and desensitize you until you see everyone as a problem instead of a person. But it is wrong for the words “here in America” to be used by a member of the agency that every single immigrant to this country will need to work with. I am already in America, contributing to America’s economy, helping save American lives with my work. Yes, I am an alien here, but I am here.

When I told this story to friends, I was reassured by some that things will improve once I become naturalized and acquire American citizenship. That thought is why I’m hurt and saddened by this experience, and not furious as perhaps I should be. To think that once I cross that line and pledge allegiance and get a tiny American flag to wave, my slate will be clean and it will be like none of this ever happened. I’ll be the exact same person before and after that ceremony, but everything will change. I don’t know if that’s what I want. Do I want to be one of them? But I’m also tired of fighting. What does my name matter, anyway? If they say my middle name has to stay, maybe I’ll just keep it.

“But it was alright, everything was alright, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.” — George Orwell, 1984

 

Linking up once again with other writers who blog and bloggers who write, over at Yeah Write. Please head over there and support some fantastic writers by reading and enjoying their work.
 




To Those Who Wait

I arrived at the office five minutes after it opened, and every seat was already taken. People who arrived too late and lost the race for a chair were leaning against the back wall, clutching document folders and little paper tickets. I said good morning to the armed security officer at the door, who surprised me by smiling and responding in kind before handing me a little paper ticket of my own. That was the last happy moment in my day.

I found a bare spot between a poster offering the services of Spanish sign language interpreters and a pictogram instructing me not to take photos with my phone, and I joined the sullen group holding up the wall. I glanced down at my ticket. C306. The TV screen bolted into the corner displayed a row of blinking numbers: B46, C394, G30. A voice called out G31, and the screen changed. An old Chinese woman in the middle of a row stood and waved her ticket as she gathered her purse from under her chair. I wanted to hear her call “Bingo,” but of course she didn’t. She turned and inched unsteadily past the line of politely shifted knees to reach the aisle leading to the clerk’s window. As she exited the row, a young man entered it from the other side to take her empty seat.

The numbers crept upwards in small groups. A few Bs were called. Two Cs and a handful of Gs. Then nothing. I glanced up to find the lone clerk sitting at her window and staring out towards the door. Soon, the smiling security guy came in holding a huge set of keys in one hand and pink tennis shoes in the other. He handed both to the clerk, who then changed her shoes and laced them up before calling G35.

The waiting-room musical chairs continued, with vultures swooping on abandoned seats before they could cool back to room temperature. An elderly man came unsteadily through the door with an orthopedic cast on his foot, and sighed as he scanned the full rows of seats. Only after eye contact could no longer be avoided and public shaming was imminent did the young woman with the Kindle stand to offer him a seat. The only smile in the room, besides the one on the security guard now grooving to his iPod, was George Takei’s on the poster across the room.

No, George, it wasn’t.

C304 and C305 must have had better things to do that morning, because they weren’t around to answer when the clerk called them. After almost two hours, it was my turn. I approached the window with a smile, hoping honey would set the right tone for the interaction. 

“Good morning,” I began, putting my documents on the counter.

“Ticket and application, please.” Her eyes didn’t leave her screen.

I gave her my crumpled C306 and my application form #SS-5, filled out and printed from my computer for maximum legibility. She impaled C306 on a metal spike and scanned my application form.

“Name change? You have paperwork?”

I took my marriage certificate from its envelope and handed it to her. Anticipating her next move, I opened my passport to the photo page and extended it towards the window just as she barked “ID.” She looked at my passport photo, then at me. She flipped the passport over, read the all-caps CANADA across the front, and snapped it shut.

“Are you a US citizen?” She handed my passport back to me.

“Not yet,” I replied. “I have a green card.”

“Let me see it.”

“The card itself expired last week,” I explained. “I have a document here extending it while they process my renewal. This is the official paper that says I’m allowed to live and work in the US.” I showed her the document that my immigration lawyer had rushed me by overnight courier.

She glanced at it and pushed it back to me. 

“Green card,” she repeated. “I need to see your card.”

I sighed and pulled it from my wallet. She took it from me, leaned it up against her computer monitor, and began typing. Her computer beeped. She looked up at me.

“We can’t use this. It’s expired.”

I blinked. 

“I… I know. That’s what this other document is for. It extends my green card until they can process the renewal.”

“Sorry, the card is expired. You need a valid card.”

I resisted the desire to connect my forehead with the desk in front of me. I held the extension notice out again.

“The guy I spoke to on the phone said that this counts as an official document from immigration and I could use it for a name change,” I explained. “I’ve been married almost three years now and I would really, really like to use my married name. I had to wait to renew my green card, because otherwise the fee is almost $600 to change it. This paper is all I get for now – I won’t have a physical card for another year, maybe. Are you sure you can’t use this?”
She must have sensed something in my voice, because she softened. She took the paper back out of my hands and laid it on her desk to read it more carefully.

“Well, it’s got your alien number on it. That’s the same as your green card. Let’s see if the system will accept this as an expiration date instead.”

“I appreciate this so much,” I told her. “It means a lot to me that you’re trying to help.”

She typed away for a moment, and then frowned.

“Honey, I’m sorry,” she said, giving me back all my documents. She turned her screen so that I could read it. “Looks like they don’t have your name changed with immigration yet, see? We can’t do anything until that system has your new name in it. I’m sorry.”

I nodded and thanked her again for her effort. I folded my documents neatly into my accordion folder and left the Social Security office, the same person I was when I arrived.

Note: Those of you who follow me on FB or Twitter may be looking for a post about the “Here in America” comment. I’m still working on that post and hope to have it ready by the weekend. 

 


Dude Write