Guest Opinions

Living proof that immigrants are worthy of the chance America gives them

Maria Valles Bonilla, right, from El Salvador, watches a taped video message from President Donald Trump after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Fairfax, Va.
Maria Valles Bonilla, right, from El Salvador, watches a taped video message from President Donald Trump after taking the Oath of Allegiance during a naturalization ceremony at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Fairfax, Va. AP

Let me start by declaring that I am a migrant and a former beneficiary of public benefits — the benefits that may one day soon be used to deny a visa or green card to someone like me.

The recent White House proposal to deny visas and/or green cards to applicants who might have used government benefits, even those who have been in America legally, is not only ridiculous, insensitive and immoral, but also shortsighted economically. It makes me thank God and the past thoughtful national and local administrations that laid the goodwill foundation for people in need.

The conceived proposal has prompted me to recall my family’s early life in America. I came to the United States with almost nothing. I had a scholarship that wasn’t adequate to cover the living expenses of one person, let alone a family of three. Immediately after my arrival in Laramie, Wyo., I began preparing for my wife and our 2-1/2-year-old daughter to join me. I recall negotiating and pleading with a sales clerk at the local Salvation Army Thrift Store to reduce the $5 price of a used baby crib. I finally paid $1.50.

Our daughter was soon diagnosed as anemic and the doctor recommended that we provide her with foods rich in iron, including cereals, raisins and peanut butter. Without WIC (the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children) there was no way we could have afforded $1.50 for raisins alone in our monthly budget of $135. That $135 covered food, gas, utilities, car repairs, clothes, laundry, and medical treatment and other necessities.

As it is with the overwhelming majority of immigrants, our family’s need for assistance was short-lived. My wife and I got jobs and were not only able to take care of our four children, but also support many American-born children and their families.

It is the contributions of our child who benefited from the WIC program that disproves any thought that public resources are wasted on potential immigrants. As a student leader in high school, she organized and coordinated the cleaning of the Western Idaho Fairgrounds as a service project for several years. My family woke at 5 a.m., drove to the fairgrounds and picked up trash for two hours each day during the fair.

I become an emotional wreck when I recall the day she came home and announced that as a family we would be delivering toys to veterans at the Idaho Veterans Hospital who had no families. She has also supported and mentored American children through Big Brothers Big Sisters in several states.

To provide our child with a quality education, we cleaned and provided maintenance services for the preschool and kindergarten she attended in exchange for her tuition.

There is an American story of hope and paying it forward in our experience of bartering. My family has extended the same gesture, having a parent clean and maintain our preschool in exchange for tuition.

We have for years provided job opportunities that support many families, and mentored and coached many aspiring and established educators, speakers and community leaders, in addition to being part (tangibly and intangibly) of organizations that make our community vibrant.

Our story is not uniquely ours. It is the American story from the day Native Americans welcomed and helped pilgrims survive the inclement winters. Any attempt to destroy foundations that assist fellow human beings is un-American and does not foster or encourage people like the child I brought to America, or her parents.

Vincent Kituku is an author, speaker and founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope.
  Comments