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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Those huddled masses

Are we protecting the worst and expelling the best?

August 1st, 2015

BY TERRY ROSS

She came here for love. She fed a generation of hungry Americans. She created and lavished care on a beloved institution in Portland, Ore. So why did the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service want to kick Rose-Marie Barbeau Quinn out of the United States of America?

The short answer is that according to INS definitions, she was an illegal alien, having been born and raised in Canada. Although a Portlander and homeowner since 1976, Mrs. Quinn hadn’t jumped through all the right hoops at the right time.

Rose-Marie Barbeau met Mike Quinn in 1967 at the Vienna State Opera. He was a week younger than she. The opera was Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Quinn later joked that it was inevitable that they met — the opera went on for six hours. For the next ten years, in various cities in Europe, they were never apart, even at work. They both took jobs at Phillips of Holland in Vienna, then at an exchange program for American students in Austria, and finally, for four years, at the Atomic Energy Agency, where Rose-Marie did clerical work and Mike worked in the library.

In 1976 they moved to Portland, Quinn’s hometown. As culture devotees, the American and the Canadian found Portland’s nightlife barbaric. There were the symphony, the opera, and the ballet, true, but afterwards, everyone just went home. There wasn’t a single late-hours cafe or restaurant where you could eat, drink, and discuss the performance you had just attended.

In February 1978, she and Mike put down $21K, borrowed $12K more, and opened a quasi-bistro or Gasthaus — Rose-Marie always called it simply “the pub” — the Vat & Tonsure. While opera recordings played in the background, Rose-Marie cooked. Mike ran the business and stocked the wine cellar. Actors, lawyers, opera singers, politicians, symphony musicians, civic leaders, and citizens hungry for a taste of Europe quickly made it one of Portland’s most popular hangouts.

For twenty-four years, Rose-Marie and Mike lived as husband and wife, but they didn’t formally tie the knot until December of 1991, when Quinn was on his deathbed. He died literally hours after the vows. They married so that Rose-Marie could inherit their common belongings, all in Mike’s name. The most important of these were their house and their restaurant.

Rose-Marie duly inherited their house and the Vat. But the marriage license didn’t confer citizenship or even legal residence. According to a federal law passed a month after the Quinns’ deathbed ceremony, a marriage must be in existence two years before naturalization proceedings can proceed. As for the ten years together in Europe and fourteen in the United States, they didn’t count. Neither Austria nor Oregon recognized prolonged cohabitation as common-law marriage, although many other countries and states did.

All during the years with Quinn, the unofficial missus had been, so far as the INS and the IRS were concerned, a non-person. As she put it some years ago, with characteristic bluntness, “I flat did not exist.” But in 1992, Rose-Marie went public for the first time: got her social security card, drew a salary, owned property, and paid taxes.

Rose-Marie kept the Vat going for almost six years after Quinn’s death, still cooking every plate of Cornish game hens, lamb chops, and prawns, still preparing the house pâté. She also did Mike’s share of the work. In 1997, after the Fox Corporation demolished the downtown block that housed the Vat, she started looking for a new place, but at this point the INS intervened. They denied her their coveted green card, which grants an immigrant the right to live and work in the United States permanently. Undeterred, Rose-Marie persuaded Senator Mark Hatfield to introduce a Congressional bill to grant her citizenship. In 1994 the bill went to committee, but neither Hatfield nor fellow Oregon Senator Robert Packwood bothered to dig it out. Meanwhile, for three years the INS refused to permit Rose-Marie to travel to Canada to visit a sick brother. Or rather, they refused to guarantee that she could return if she left.

Her brother finally died, and, eventually, so did Senate Bill 2421. Hatfield retired, Packwood became a pariah and then a lobbyist, and the new guy, Ron Wyden, wasn’t inclined to resuscitate Rose-Marie’s cause. A judge had ruled in 1996 that so long as the bill was technically alive and therefore potentially under consideration, she could stay. But with the bill dead, she was back in limbo.
Despite a letter campaign to his Washington office, Wyden repeatedly refused to take up the banner, and Senator Gordon Smith refused to get involved. In fact, so-called “private bills,” once common, had dwindled drastically. Rose-Marie, homeowner, taxpayer, and employer, was hoping that she might be included among a select group of favored Congressional business associates, au pairs, spiritual advisers, and gardeners.

But time ran out. In 2008, in Room 463 of the INS building in Portland, Rose-Marie Barbeau Quinn, once of Sudbury, Ontario, reported for a hearing on her continued presence in the United States. Many friends and supporters were on hand, but the functionaries of the INS had decided that her love affair with Portland was over, and they issued her a one-way ticket to a country she hadn’t lived in for thirty-four years. Nor, in the intervening years, has she been able to return, except for one brief trip to deal with her house and belongings.

Consider now the story of Hortencia Perez, a nurse’s aide from Puebla, in Mexico, who for a number of years worked as a live-in helper for this writer’s mother and father when they were in their eighties. Before this, she had worked for more than twenty years doing the same work, either as a live-in aide or as a daily worker in people’s homes, looking after elderly people. She was an illegal alien, having entered the country many years before on a tourist visa and never gone back. Hortencia lived frugally and sent most of every paycheck home to relatives in Puebla. Her only diversion was church on Saturdays and Sundays, where she was active in various Catholic parishes as a volunteer.

When, upon the death of my parents, I had to let Hortencia go, she was already near retirement age, and not in the greatest health. She took a few more jobs, all of them very poorly paid and for unpleasant clients, and then she found herself unemployed and unemployable. I have no doubt that her imperfect command of the English language would have made it easy for her to gain citizenship, but she could not apply for it as an illegal alien, despite her long residence in the United States and invaluable services to many families, including mine. So back to Mexico she went.

Consider now the situation that Victor Davis Hanson, a third-generation raisin farmer in Selma, in southern California’s central valley, finds himself in. On a routine basis his farm machinery is stolen, any tools not hidden disappear, bags of trash as well as old mattresses, broken furniture, and ruined appliances are dumped in his vineyards, drunk kids drive off the road among his grapes, causing thousands of dollars in damage. The perpetrators of these crimes are illegal Mexican aliens, many of them on the public dole because of a near or distant relation, a child, who happens to have been born in the U.S. and is therefore a citizen. The local police, many of them also Mexican immigrants, do nothing. And no government organization of any kind, Democrat or Republican, tries to curb the crime wave, for fear of alienating Latino voters.

And what about that illegal immigrant in San Francisco, who had been convicted of several felonies and deported more than five times, who murdered an innocent woman in cold blood. He, at least, will be again deported — perhaps.

Rose-Marie Barbeau had no organization of French Canadians to lobby for her, so off she went to Montréal. Hortencia Perez could rely on no group of Pueblan nurses to stick up for her, so she had to go, too. The thugs who make Victor Hanson’s life a repetitious hell, on the other hand, are given carte blanche to go about their destructive behavior. And the murderer in San Francisco, if he’s deported, will probably be back in no time.

Is there some principle of justice in all this? Or are the INS and America’s entire immigration structure (industry?) completely off the rails? Only a Pangloss could feel sanguine about this situation. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

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