Immigration policy is a contested and challenging issue that continues to shape the United States as a nation with profound effects on the individuals that hope to gain opportunities in America. According to America in Progress there are1.3 million undocumented Asian immigrants in America. Asian Americans have played a significant role in advocating for immigration reform and 58% of Asian Americans have supported a pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Immigration reform and immigration policies are issues that affect many Asians waiting for visas to join their families in America. 1
This weeks’ readings focused on the issues that undocumented immigrants face in America. Ha Jin’s story “A Good Fall” demonstrates how Chinese immigrants struggled to fit in and create a new life for themselves in America. The main character, Ganchin, struggles with issues of exploitation, poverty, and anxiety about becoming an undocumented immigrant in America and connects to the experiences of many undocumented immigrants who are afraid to speak out about their situation for fear of being deported.
In the story, Ganchin is one of the Chinese immigrants that was teaching the monks Kung Fu. However, Ganchin’s employer, Master Zong fires Ganchin from teaching at the temple because he falls ill. Master Zong refused to give him the salary that was promised to him. He states that the salary was only a formality and that the temple doesn’t owe him any money even though Ganchin has worked for them for two years. Master Zong also kept his passport to make sure Ganchin could not apply for a green card. Master Zong kicks him out and states, “I don’t care where you go. Your visa has expired and you’re already an illegal alien, a lawbreaker.”2 The harsh cruelty Master Zong shows towards Ganchin demonstrates the exploitation that many immigrants face when they come to America. Undocumented immigrants are at the mercy of their employers and are unable to get help for fear of being deported back to their country.
Ganchin is afraid to return to his country because he owes a lot of money and will be attacked by his creditors if he returns. Ganchin states, “originally he’d thought that by the time his three-year stint here was over he could return loaded with gifts and dollars. But now penniless, he couldn’t imagine going back.”3 Ganchin’s life begins to unravel as he struggles to find a place to stay and find a way to stay in America.
Ganchin is being threatened by Master Zong and at one point Master Zong tries to force him out of the country. Master Zong kidnaps him from Fanku’s place where he is staying temporarily. Master Zong and his security guards tried to force him onto a plane back to China because they did not want Ganchin to expose them.
Immigrants that come to the United States often do not know English and this makes it very difficult for them to obtain employment and even get legal support if they are being exploited. They are easily exploited because they do not know English and are struggling to make money to live in the country and either pay creditors or support their families. This leads to many instances of undocumented immigrants working for very low wages and not speaking up for themselves if they are being exploited. Ganchin cannot renew his visa without his passport and he does not know English so he believes he cannot make a life for himself in America outside of the temple. Ganchin believes that he is not going to be able to change his situation and tries to commit suicide. Ganchin’s story exposes the obstacles undocumented immigrants face in their struggle to become legal citizens in the United States.
Immigration issues are closely linked to employment and exploitation of undocumented immigrants is an issue in many countries. Immigration policies need to be revised to help undocumented immigrants find pathways to citizenship. Immigrants from China struggle to keep their families together and immigration policies make it very difficult for family members to immigrate to America. Family sponsorship is the most common way that Asian immigrants come to the United States but many family members are lost in the system and are stuck waiting to get a family visa. “There are currently 1.8 million Asian family-based visa applicants waiting to be reunited with their families living in the United States—36 percent of all people in the visa backlog.”4
Often undocumented immigrants feel like they have no where to turn to in their moments of desperation because of their status and the challenges they will face in trying to change their citizenship status. America can be a very difficult place for undocumented immigrants to experience the economic opportunities and social freedom that were promised to them.
1. Tram Kieu. 28 May 2013. Center for American Progress. “Why Immigration is an Asian Issue.” https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2013/05/28/64474/why-immigration-is-an-asian-american-issue/
2. Ha Jin. “A Good Fall” from A Good Fall (Pantheon, 2009), 164.
3. Ha Jin. “A Good Fall.” 166.
4. Tram Kieu. 28 May 2013. Center for American Progress. “Why Immigration is an Asian Issue.” https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2013/05/28/64474/why-immigration-is-an-asian-american-issue/