Before he came to be known as the Internet wunderkind, Jerry Yang was Yang Chi-Yuan, an immigrant boy from Taipei. Yang—who learned English from a dictionary game he played with his mother—is the co-founder of Yahoo! and now a billionaire tech entrepreneur in the U.S.
Yang and 49 other immigrants are profiled in a new book, Green Card Stories, by journalist Saundra Amrhein, which puts a human face to the immigration system roundly criticized as irrational and broken.
“These are the people who have gone through the gauntlet of the immigration system and have come out on the other side,” said immigration lawyer and Cornell law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr, who wrote the book’s introduction. “These are truly amazing people who have survived.”
Yale-Loehr spoke at a book launch event at the Proskauer law firm near Times Square in early December, following a presentation on immigration policy updates by a panel of lawyers.
Yang came to the U.S. at age 9, and his family settled in San Jose, California. By high school, according to the book, “He was a U.S. citizen through his mother.” His mother was sponsored by a sister who was married to an American.
The story does not discuss the details of Yang’s hurdles as an immigrant, but the other narratives do. For instance, Iraqi bodyguard Hayder Abdulwahab and Filipino asylum seeker Patricia Samson both had to escape their strife-torn countries to survive.
Abdulwahab, who lost his vision in a car bombing, came to the U.S. in 2008 as a refugee. He subsisted on meager support from his Supplemental Security Income while fending off scorn from fellow Arab immigrants who begrudged him for helping U.S. troops in Iraq. This forced him to stop attending services in his mosque.
Eventually, Abdulwahab and his family adjusted to American life with Abdulwahab’s sons entering public schools and his wife finding a job at a day care facility and learning to drive. After they got their green cards, Abdulwahab had laser surgery done on his eye. Finally after six years, he regained his vision—in time to witness the arrival of his third son, who was born last year in Florida.
Like Abdulwahab, Patricia Samson fled to the U.S. to escape the unrest in her country, the Philippines. Coming from a military family who served during the Marcos dictatorship, the Samsons applied for political asylum. Their petition was denied. Going down another route, the family members eventually got their green cards through a petition filed by a relative who was married to an American citizen. However, this excluded Patricia, who did not meet the age requirement. The threat of deportation loomed.
“Her attorney advised that her quickest recourse was a risky move to ask for suspension of deportation,” according to the book. “Losing meant returning to the Philippines…The immigration judge reviewed her record and the hardship her deportation would cause her parents, now U.S. residents. When the judge ruled, Patricia was ecstatic. She won her case. She got her green card.”
Patricia is now a successful entrepreneur who runs a specialty ice cream store in Redondo Beach, California, selling French sorbet using goat’s milk.
The people in the book were former clients of immigration lawyers, including some served by top Manhattan law firm Proskauer.
“I reached out to them,” Yale-Loehr said at the forum, looking in the direction of fellow panelists Proskauer partner David Grunblatt and special immigration counsel Avram Morell. “I told them, tell me your best stories; I want to know who they are, why they came to the U.S. and why they decided to stay.”
Grunblatt said the book is a collection of immigration stories that are both “fascinating and frustrating.”
Morell called for the U.S. government to “part the curtains a little bit” to avoid a long-drawn immigration process that is difficult and time-consuming.
“Not just for humanitarian but also from a good business sense perspective,” he said, adding that some of the immigrants bring special skills needed in the U.S. for global competition.
The book is a tribute to the immigrant spirit of those who successfully made the journey to America, said Yale-Loehr. “They come with courage, determination and resiliency, determined to fulfill their potential in America.”
In this catalog of immigrant success stories, each narrative has its own personal drama and theme of defying the odds. While we read such inspirational stories every day in newspapers, magazines and blogs, the takeaway of Green Card Stories seems to be that there are many creative ways to attain citizenship, and with the right (albeit pricey) lawyer you have a good chance of winning your case. If only more immigrants had that luxury.
Green Card Stories is published by Umbrage.