Although the process of immigrating to America can be difficult, the advantages that it offers is enough to make it worth it. For Lina Carver, that meant electricity, health care, and financial security.
The newlywed from a small village on the island of Luzon in the Philippines stepped off the plane in Japan and saw her breath for the first time. It lingered in front of her face and slowly dissipated. Her first inhale of the brisk air burned her chest—she thought her lungs were on fire. Her husband, Harry Carver, assured her it was normal.
It was 1973 and Lina Carver had just left her country for the first time. She waited with her husband for their plane to arrive to take her to her new home—America. While waiting, Lina would run inside to warm up just enough so that when she came back outside, she could see her breath again. New experiences were all around her and she hadn’t even reached the United States yet.
Stepping off the last plane of their trip, Lina was excited, tired, and nervous. The couple was welcomed by Harry’s family. His mother and brother grabbed and embraced her. Once free from their arms, she turned around to her father-in-law, and he gave her a hug.
“Welcome to the United States,” she remembers him saying. It was the start of Lina’s American Dream. She felt that anything was possible.
Kenneth Holland, the executive director of the Center for International Development at Ball State University, described the United States as “the nation of immigrants.”
For most of American history, American immigration policy strongly preferred European immigrants over immigrants from the rest of the world. The Immigration and Nationality Act quickly changed that in 1965—a little more than a decade before Lina immigrated.
The goal of this act was to bring immigrant families back together and to bring in more skilled workers to help boost the U.S. economy.
It was the Cold War era when Lina immigrated, and the U.S. military had to make sure she and her family were not Communists. She hired a private investigator, and it took six months to process her marriage with Harry.
She got a physical and vaccinations, and set up her embassy interviews—all so she could get her visa.
She went through the U.S. military to immigrate because her husband worked at a military base. This made it relatively quick and simple to move to America.
Lina’s experience was easier than when she helped her brother immigrate to the U.S.
It took more than twenty years to bring her brother to America because of the type of visa Lina’s brother had to apply for. Family-based visas have waiting periods and limits on their availability. Her brother was waitlisted for more than twenty years because of the demand of family-based visas in the Philippines.
The process began in 1981, and he officially immigrated in 2005. He was just fourteen years old when the process began, and by the time he could come to America, he was married and had kids. His kids were able to immigrate with him, but he had to leave his wife behind in the Philippines.
His wife is still on the wait list.
A 2015 Pew Research analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data and U.S. population projections stated that fifty years after the the U.S. immigration policy was changed, nearly fifty-nine million people have immigrated to the United States.
A study by Pew Research Center found that fifty-five percent of U.S. population growth between 1965 and 2015 was a result of immigration. As of now, only four percent of immigrants to America come from the Philippines.
Historically, America has been seen as the Land of Opportunity. But today, the United States is not always perceived that way.
Jutta Vogelbacher, a German instructor at Ball State University who emigrated from Germany, said that people from Northern and Western Europe do not see America as the Land of Opportunity anymore.
European countries tend to provide a lot of benefits and a high quality of life for a large portion of their citizens, specifically with regard to health care, she said.
Vogelbacher never had to worry about health care until she moved to America. In Germany, she felt secure, and had health insurance even with her part-time job. These advantages do not exist in America, as not all individuals have health insurance. According to the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that aims to promote a high-performing healthcare system, Germany spent 11.2 percent of their gross domestic product on health care in 2013, while the U.S. spent 17.1 percent—the highest in the world.
But for others, like Lina, America offered more opportunities than her home in the Philippines. There, she says she was often financially unstable.
She grew up in a hut made of grass and bamboo with no electricity. Her family’s furniture consisted of nothing more than a wooden chair. Every day they would struggle for money to buy fresh food from the market, which, between their lack of electricity and the heat of the Philippines, had to happen daily.
In America, there are more opportunities for employment, and Lina took advantage of them. She worked at Chrysler Transmissions in Kokomo, Indiana for more than 30 years, and she says the U.S. has given her more financial and health security than she had before. Like seventy-three percent of other immigrants, Lina thinks it’s important to work hard in order to remain financially secure.
Today, Lina lives in a two-story home with her husband still by her side. “This is my home. I’ve lived more of my life over here than in the Philippines,” Lina says.
“I’m proud to be an American—a Filipino American.”
For those like Lina, America offers an ability for advancement and has more benefits than their home countries— it is still the Land of Opportunity. For others, like Vogelbacher, the Land of Opportunity is just a phrase, the benefits of which have been left in the past.