One thing I learned this past year is the true value of an American passport. I never realized what a gift it is to be able to buy a plane ticket to just about anywhere in the world and then just go. This is NOT the case for Ecuadorians who need to collect huge piles of papers months before their trip to try and obtain a visa. Often, even with all the correct paperwork people are turned down. Sometimes they are approved but for a shorter period of time than they wanted. Other times they are approved for the full time and then it is shortened when they go through customs.
Many Ecuadorians are forced to move (legally or illegally) to the US or Spain because the opportunities for making money are much greater in these wealthier nations. About half of the boys I worked with at the treatment center had fathers or stepfathers working in Spain. There are towns made up only of women, children, and older men, as all of the young men have moved abroad for better work. Many children are being raised by their grandparents and can barely remember their parents who left Ecuador years ago.
It was interesting to come back to NY with this new understanding of travel rights and emigration/immigration. I have a new appreciation for the many immigrants in New York working and struggling to create a better life for their families. I understand how very valuable being born here is and how very hard it is for people to bring their loved ones over, even if they themselves are an American citizen. There are many many people here who are filled with a never-ending fear of being deported. Such a hard life!
As much as I hate much of what is happening politically in the US right now, I now understand how lucky I am to be an American citizen. Cheesy, but true.