Jessica, a rising third year law student at Fordham University School of Law, is one of our summer associates. She is currently the Senior Notes Editor for the Fordham Journal of Corporate and Financial Law and a student attorney at the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Here she shares her family’s immigration story.
As a child, being deemed an American seemed quite arbitrary in my young mind since it was bestowed upon me solely based on my mother's physical location when I was born. Though born and raised in the States, I frequently divided my years between the United States and Taiwan, where my parents had emigrated. My Taiwanese relatives often did the same, visiting the US every so often. Growing up as an American citizen amongst non-citizen friends and families invoked the ever slight feeling of guilt, yet also one of pride. Though at the time I could not fully comprehend why, non-citizens of the United States always wanted citizenship.
My immigration story to the United States is a short one that started only a few years before I was born. But to truly appreciate our journey, I must first provide a little history on the Jang Family. My mother was born in Taiwan, but her parents were not Taiwanese. In fact, her parents had escaped China during the Cultural Revolution with the Nationalists to find safe harbor in Taiwan. My mother's parents left their homes with nothing, abandoning their wealth, friends, and most importantly, their families. They slowly rebuilt their lives in Taipei, eventually becoming managers at a sugar cane factory. With my grandparents busy at work providing for their family, my mother and her brother relied on and took care of each other. My mother's family was extremely close and though my grandparents passed away while I was very young, I still remember them dearly.
On the other hand, my father's family had immigrated to Taiwan from China long before the Cultural Revolution. Generations upon generations of the Jangs had lived and built their families in Taiwan—some doctors and some businessmen. My father was essentially raised by his nannies as he grew up in a wealthy household where my grandfather was too busy running the town's only hospital to pay any mind to his six children.
Though their backgrounds were night and day, my mother and father met through mutual friends and started dating in Taiwan. Shortly after graduating from Taipei Medical University in pharmacy, my father decided to continue his education in the United States, where the quality of education is much higher. My mother decided to go along (because does long distance ever work?), choosing to attend graduate school in the US to pursue a master’s degree in computer science.
Getting a visa to enter the US, however, was an entirely different problem. At the time, it was generally difficult for any Taiwanese citizen to enter the United States, as Taiwan's policies were not very open. It was especially difficult for women as the US was wary of potential illegal activity. Since both my parents wanted to study in the States, they needed F-1 visas. As there is no formal relationship between Taiwan and most other countries in the world, there is no US Embassy or Consulate in Taiwan.
To apply for their visas, my parents went to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which is their equivalent of an embassy. In preparation for their interviews, my parents prepared extensively with all the necessary documentation and more in hopes of receiving a positive response from the consular officers. The time of day, the day of the week, their appearance—everything was scrutinized to ensure their best chances of gaining visa approvals.
My mom’s F-1 visa was approved after only her second interview (she proudly told me later), while it took my father a total of five attempts to receive an approval. Apparently, this was due to the discrepancies in their grades as my mother was a much better student than my father. My mother entered the United States in March of 1986 while my father had to wait until the end of August of that same year to enter. Unfortunately for him, this meant that my mother was off gallivanting around the United States a full six months before my father could enter.
After a few years of schooling, my parents went back to Taiwan to get married, and the next year, my mother had me! (There are tons of home videos of me messing with my dad while he was working on his dissertation.) Once my parents were married, my mother became a dependent to my father's immigration status. After receiving his PhD in pharmaceutics at the University of Iowa, my father accepted a position with Fujisawas USA, a subsidiary of a Japanese pharmaceutical company. The company applied for an H-1B on behalf of my father, and consequently, my mother received an H-4 as a dependent of my father.
Though the H-1B is a non-immigrant visa, it is one of the select few that recognize dual intent, allowing the holder to apply for and obtain a Green Card. Fujisawas began working on obtaining a Green Card on my father's behalf, but unfortunately the company was sold before my parent's received their permanent residency.
Frustrated with his former company’s inefficiency, my father hired an immigration attorney to apply for his permanent residency. The attorney suggested he apply for a Green Card through the National Interest Waiver, or an EB-2 for professionals holding an advanced degree or a foreign national who has an exceptional ability. My parents received their Green Cards six months after they applied, and six years later, both my parents became US citizens. As a child, I vaguely remember my parents mentioning something about naturalizing—what to many is a huge step in their lives—but our own lives seemed largely unchanged, and I cannot recall when it occurred.
I was always at a loss as to why my Taiwan relatives would go through such great lengths to become a citizen of the United States. In my naïve and ignorant mind, I could not comprehend the appeal of being a United States citizen. Sure, I learned in school that "America is the land of the free," but my life just did not seem too different than my non-citizen relatives. It was not until I got involved with a volunteer program called Project SHINE during my undergraduate years at Emory that I truly began to understand the significance and privilege of being a United States citizen. While working with elderly non-citizens at the program, I was inspired by the joy and pride they exhibited on the day they came in to announce their citizenship approvals. The feeling of permanence and belonging, as well as being endowed with inalienable rights as a citizen of the United States, is unmatched.
“Immigration” oftentimes conjures up thoughts of social turmoil and economic losses, but many people frequently overlook the fact that the United States was built on the back of immigrants. Everyone has their own immigration story. Though mine is short and simple, it is a loved one. Even more so since my appreciation for my United States citizenship is the drive behind my passion for immigration law.