The Melting Pot: One Family’s Story


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by Matthew Ung

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

My father and his family are from Laos. For his service to the U.S. government during the Vietnam War, they were granted asylum and later U.S. citizenship. He recalls a U.S. Army captain in a Thai refugee camp who told him to believe in the American people and to not be afraid of the melting pot or he would never make it. Those words rang in his ears when he was deciding where to live. Rather than a big city filled with other refugees, he dove smack dab in the middle of the heartland, without a dime. He settled in Iowa and served as a National Guard officer, learning English from “Sesame Street” and going from not knowing what an atom was in college to acing medical school and employing dozens.

I’m so proud to be the son of Dr. Kham Vay Ung. I was free to grow up a patriot because my father was not a “hyphenated-American.”

I met my wife Nheylin on a mission trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. My church and I were there to spread the Gospel, and God surprised me with this Honduran citizen I felt I knew my whole life. She was a translator for another evangelism team, and the rest was years of long-distance relationship history.

Being as my fiancée was leaving her homeland and all, we married in Honduras. I didn’t want to, nor could I, pay boku bucks for an immigration attorney, so beforehand I had spent months researching and filling out the forms, and days on hold with the government “help” lines.

Finally, equipped with her U.S. visa and my backpack stuffed with marriage and immigration documents, we went through customs in Atlanta. After I cleared the checkpoint for U.S. citizens, I couldn’t find her on the foreigners’ side. I heard a knock on glass. She was in that detention area, face pressed to the glass and helpless dread in her eyes. After I proved through the glass that we were married, the officer at the desk checked with what seemed like five supervisors, and told her, “You have to go back to your country” to file Form ___. We were moving to our first home I had just bought in Morningside, and the moment was surreal. I told her if she was denied entry I would return with her to speed up any process at the U.S. embassy, and I meant it.

I protested to no avail. They put an extra flag in the system to make sure she was forced to return to Honduras, but let us go for now “because it’s the Christmas season.”

I spent the following weeks setting up an appointment at the immigration office in Omaha to get answers, which turned out to be a 15-minute slot at a counter where this immigration officer basically told me, “You’re right, the other officers were wrong. Next!” Oh. Thanks. We happily paid our $1,500 for her two-year conditional permanent residency, after which we pay again to turn it into an unconditional permanent residency. A year later we’ll pay again for her citizenship.

Perhaps you’re wondering if I feel “disenfranchised” to know the average, free, illegal immigrant visa overstay is 2.7 years. Sure I do.

To say our country is a nation of immigrants is to say nothing, for every country is a nation of immigrants. As I see the political jockeying for “the (insert race here) vote” today, I believe our greatest disservice to immigrants as a whole is inviting the law-breakers among them into our system of politics. Tragically, they have come to learn from the most deceived among us who make immigration a partisan issue when it never should have been. Weeks ago, when dozens of amnesty advocates were arrested for blocking intersections near the Capitol, my heart sank to see illegal immigrants of a particular race — hardly in the shadows — hold a banner that said “GOP, Do You Want Our Vote?” Before they can even vote, they know how to auction their votes off to the highest bidding political party. And even then, they represent their race first, country second.

Clearly we have failed to stand for something. With meaningless borders, why jump into the melting pot?

Matthew Ung works in health care administration. He holds a bachelor’s degree in theology and a master’s degree in business administration. He and his wife, Nheylin, live in Sioux City IA,. He is a regular opinion columnist for the Sioux City Journal. Reprinted with permission