Immigration: Then and Now


Irene Patatoukos
     Staff Writer, Tampa Bay

I consider myself an advocate for immigration. For as long as I can remember, I have had an interest in immigration. This is no surprise, especially since I come from a family full of generations of immigrants. On my mother’s side both my grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country to escape war. Then came my father, who was in search of a better life.

My relatives didn’t come here by filling out applications and waiting for a reply. My father “jumped ship.”   “Jumping ship” doens’t mean he jumped off while the ship was moving. Instead,  he got off to explore the city and when the ship left he conveniently missed his opportunity to board. This was more than 30 years ago. The consequences he faced were vastly different then they are now, especially since there  were no negative consequences.

My father was able to get right back on a ship and go back to Greece, no questions asked. He later was able fill out his applications for a visa, which was approved fairly quickly, and return back to our country within 2 years. The fact that he had been in this country illegally wasn’t an issue.  He was not faced with the difficulties many aliens encounter today like 5 to 10 year bar on entry and proof of financial stability, to name a few.  

Today, an immigrant trying to enter our country, especially illegally like my father did, has many issues to face including deportation, barring of entry by the government, and extreme difficulty when trying to obtain a visa. In some instances, obtaining a visa is out of the question.

When my father received legal status in this country, he was finally able to apply for citizenship. His application did take long to process but was not difficult to obtain. He took it seriously and studied very hard for his citizenship test, which he aced. The process for my father to receive his visa and and citizenship took about ten years. My father was sworn in on March 8, 1991 as a citizen of the United States of America.

It is quite difficult to gain citizenship now. An acquaintance of mine has been trying to go through the proper channels to bring her mother from Columbia. It took five years and two denials for her just to get a six month visitor visa. After meeting with different attorneys to discuss the chances of her mother obtaining citizenship, she has come to the realization that the chances are very slim.

When looking back on the immigration system then and comparing it to what it is like now, it’s hard to believe that two vastly different systems have existed within the same country. How great would it be to take our country back to the immigration system of what is was instead of what we are experiencing now.  It use to be that  seeking a better life was an honor to this country instead of a threat. Bringing a relative for a visit didn’t require a lot of patience as well as evidence that your relative will not overstay and has somewhere to go back home to.  Citizenship was a possibility and not just a fantasy in the eyes of someone who was not born in this country.

Is there a chance that this country will once again return to the immigration system of then or something similar?