Coming to America: The Story of Rosalie
Editor’s note; CHN Intern Lear Burton is a junior and sociology major at Brigham Young University.
Rosalie was born and raised in a shantytown in the Philippines. From a young age she had her eyes set on attending nursing school, something that would equip her with the skills to escape poverty. Beating the odds, she struggled through nursing school, working her way through jobs in the Middle East. Eventually a Texas hospital would fulfill her dreams with a job offer in the United States.
So 20 years after graduating from a nursing school in the Philippines, Rosalie landed a position at a hospital in Galveston, Texas. The hospital hired on a staff of immigrants, including Rosalie, because no Americans would take the jobs, even when they were offered $5,000 moving bonuses.
Rosalie’s story is documented in the recently published book A Good Provider is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century, written by Jason DeParle. DeParle, who recently discussed his book at an event hosted by Spotlight on Poverty & Opportunity, showcases Rosalie’s struggles, including the enormous effort and waiting that Rosalie and her family underwent in order to get to the United States.
When Rosalie got to the U.S. she would prove to be both passionate and successful in her work. After several months, her three children and husband were able to join her. Although she grew up in a slum in the Philippines, she now lives in a four-bedroom house on a cul de sac in the Houston suburbs. DeParle, who has covered poverty issues for the New York Times, sees Rosalie’s story of immigration as “one of the most profound anti-poverty stories” he’s ever encountered.
Understanding the divide between assumptions about the ease of immigration and the reality, DeParle concludes that “For all of the talk of ‘open borders’ they don’t seem so open to people trying to cross them—not even to someone as privileged as a Filipino nurse.”
Anti-immigration rhetoric paints immigrants as the enemy, people who will take the jobs of Americans. In this case, Rosalie took a job that Americans wouldn’t take. Her immigration was a win across the board. It was good for her patients, good for her family (both in the U.S. and the family she sent money to in the Philippines), and good for the U.S. economy. DeParle notes that though such a cost-benefit analysis shows the benefits of migration, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Migration became the vehicle of her salvation,” says DeParle. “That it brought her to Texas is something for Americans to cheer–it’s good for your country to be the place people go to make dreams come true.”
Stories like Rosalie’s help us understand that immigration is a dream-come-true reality for millions of people within the U.S. Furthermore it should remind us that unfair anti-immigration policies often negatively affect our immigrant friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members.
Immigration is one of the most widely debated issues in our public sphere. Arguments about the policy and morality surrounding it penetrate local and national news week in and week out. It is clear that discussion on immigration generates media attention, but what do Americans actually think about immigration and immigrants themselves?
Overall, Americans support immigration. A Gallup poll found that even in the last two highly charged years around 75 percent of Americans responded that immigration is a good thing for the U.S. In fact more Americans (79 percent) think their city/community is a good place for immigrants to live than do Gallup poll respondents worldwide (54 percent). Rosalie’s story testifies of both of these things; her immigration was good for her and for the Galveston community in need of nurses.
Despite general American favorability towards immigrants, a July Gallup poll asking “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” had a record high 27 percent of people mentioning immigration, making it the “top problem” for the month. We aren’t privy to knowing how respondents see immigration as a problem—whether respondents are referring to the threat of immigration or how the Trump Administration is handling immigration— but either way there is national concern with how immigration is handled at large.
Heightened concern about immigration has risen with political arguments over various talking points on immigration. Political fear-mongering of immigration, including tactics that vilify immigrants, relies on misinformation or cherry-picking facts about the legality, the rate, and the ease of immigration.
Legal immigration is three times more common than illegal immigration. The U.S. has 45 million people who are foreign born, considered first-generation immigrants, and about 75 percent of them are legally authorized to be in the U.S. There has been a large drop in new, unauthorized immigrants coming into the U.S. In 2017 there were an estimated 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, just 3.2 percent of the population.
Though it is important to know the facts around immigration, it is equally important to understand immigration on a personal level.
Understanding immigration, as someone who is not an immigrant, starts with getting to know immigrants. It means understanding the hope of immigration, the power that it has to alleviate suffering. In America we value the diversity of peoples and ideas, and we know that makes us stronger both socially and economically.
When your personal relationship with an immigrant comes at odds with the vitriolic rhetoric around immigration, there is a clear disconnect. Jason DeParle puts it this way, “If all you knew about immigration came from politics, you’d think the country was in an especially bad place—angry, bitter, and mean.”
Although Rosalie is undoubtedly grateful for the opportunities that immigration gave her, it is also clear that the people of Galveston, Texas are better off having Rosalie in their midst.