The Other Immigrants

Sima Cheregosha came to Texas from Iran 14 years ago. She knows what it's like to leave her country behind and make a new home in a strange place. But she has little sympathy for people who come to the United States illegally, and she was one of several immigrants to support proposals that would make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to live and work in Farmers Branch.

Cheregosha, 42, began her speech at a September city council meeting by declaring herself a "legal immigrant," since she came to the United States as the bride of an American citizen. Yet it's been difficult for her relatives to join her here.

"My family members are suffering and aging quietly. Economic pressure along with lack of basic social freedoms are...choking them near death every single day," she said from the podium. "And why didn't they cross the border to enter the United States? Because they chose to follow the law."

After Cheregosha applied for visas on behalf of her parents and her sisters and brother, her parents were able to come after waiting just two years. But her siblings have waited six years and expect the paperwork to take another four.

"I know people who applied 12 years ago and just got a green card," she told the Dallas Observer. She mentioned a friend from Lebanon who'd waited more than a decade and was finally issued a visa during Israel's bombing campaign last summer. The woman was told she'd have to leave her 21-year-old son behind, Cheregosha said, since he's no longer a minor.

"These are sad stories, and if you're going to feel bad, you have to feel bad for everybody," she said. "What about people who did follow the law and they applied and they're still waiting? If it's justice for all, I'm fine with it, but if we're favoring one group, why? Because they can make a lot of noise?"

She was referring to Mexicans, who make up the largest number of people immigrating to the United States, and the largest share of the undocumented population. Immigrants who share Cheregosha's support for measures such as Farmers Branch council member Tim O'Hare's are the minority, says Dennis Bixler-Márquez of the University of Texas at El Paso, but they exist within the Mexican-American community and tend to be overlooked by the media.

"No one speaks for an entire group—it's not a unified position," he says. "There are some who say, 'Wait a minute—we should expel people,' but those people would not be representative."

Juan Baldor, a naturalized citizen who teaches Spanish at Dallas Baptist University, wrote a letter to the editor of The Dallas Morning News thanking O'Hare for having the courage to act.

"I find the use of American symbols to support illegal immigration appalling," his letter read. "Yes, this is a nation of immigrants: immigrants who respect its laws. Immigrants who learn its language. Immigrants who respect its values."

When the Observer called Baldor for comment, he declined to elaborate. But he wasn't the only Latino to speak out in favor of O'Hare's ideas.

Nestor Gutierrez, of Irving, went to one of the Farmers Branch council meetings to support O'Hare. "I just came from the capital of the third world—Los Angeles," he said. In previously single-family dwellings, there are now "10 people living in a house...a bunch of bunk beds in the garage. This is what I'm afraid will happen here in this city. I don't want this city to become a big Tijuana."

Cheregosha stressed that her position on immigration has nothing to do with race or ethnicity, just law and order. People come to the United States from the developing world in large part to escape chaos and lawlessness, she said, so wouldn't it be ironic if the very presence of many immigrants erodes American rule of law?

"Do you really want to raise a generation who assumes breaking the law is acceptable as long as you can organize rallies and call for boycotts and bully your way to the top?" she asked.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Megan Feldman
Contact: Megan Feldman