Category Archives: Family

All Breakdowns Cost . . . Not Just Marital Ones


A Telegraph story quotes UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud about couples cohabiting without being married: “Those couples are four times more likely to split when their child is under three than if they are married.” He promises to support marriage (by which he really means heterosexual unions, as being more likely to produce children who need looking after) and reduce payments to single parents – most often, of course, female parents.


It’s awfully nice that Lord Freud cares so deeply about children. Would that the rest of the Conservative Party did. If only they had not removed the benefits that married couples received, years ago. If only, too, they acknowledged that marriage, even heterosexual marriage, in undergoing a revolution. It will never again be the 1950s-style union the Tory Party would like to recall, even those Tories who have no memory of the 1950s because they were born after that era.


Caring for children, giving them loving guidance, is an essential task of society. So why do the UK and US make it so difficult?


The BBC reports here that many parents are paying more for childcare than they are for their average mortgage. Another report here points out that London parents, in particular mothers, cannot afford annual childcare costs of approximately $18,000, so they are leaving work – at a time when many politicians blame non-working parents. Whether there are two parents or one paying hardly matters, when the issue is the high price of quality childcare. Is Lord Freud addressing that? Hardly.


In Sweden, many parents are unmarried and stay that way. It is not marriage that keeps them in the home and caring for their children – it is the sense of family, of responsibility and partnership, which are supported by Swedish national policies.


When bad marriages create pain, why keep them intact? It is not just spouses that suffer from the evil actions of the adult they’ve married. Children suffer, too.


As a child, Sir Patrick Stewart witnessed his father repetitively beat his mother. He has never forgotten. “As a child, I heard in my home doctors and ambulance men say, ‘Mrs. Stewart, you must have done something to provoke him. Mrs. Stewart, it takes two to make an argument.’ Wrong. Wrong! My mother did NOTHING to provoke that — and even if she had, violence is NEVER, ever a choice that a man should make. Ever.”


Now that he is, as he says, “an old white man” who will be listened to, he has been speaking out against domestic violence because that kind of breakdown costs. His work for Refuge, a nonprofit that helps women whose husbands and partners mauled them, is proud and essential work. Yes, Sir Patrick survived. He has done well. How many others have not? How many former children never got over the trauma of their parents’ treachery? How many perpetrated violence themselves?


That, Lord Freud, is a family breakdown.


There are married parents who stay in the home and abuse and rape children, either hiding it from the other parent or threatening the spouse with murder, mayhem, deportation if word leaks out.


That is a breakdown of the family.


What about the parents – heterosexual, married – who subject their daughters to the horrors and continuing pain of FGM? Who beat their children for talking to a friend of a different religion or caste? Who arrange marriages of underage children to people they have never even met, often much older than they? Who perpetrate or condone dishonorable killings of their own children?


Lord Freud, what more horrible evidence of family breakdown is there?


You think this does not cost???


In terror, in mental illness, increased violence, suicide, intergenerational conflict, arrests, lawsuits, trials, convictions, prison time? In fear, blame, shame, in children wondering where help lies, whom can they trust, dare they tell a teacher?


We understand. For you, money is the only counter, and your party does not want to pay for other people’s children. We get it, you think it essential that both biological parents care for all their children within the context of a legal marriage.


But seriously, Lord Freud, the lack of marriage is not the problem here. It’s the lack of structure. The lack of hope. It’s a society that has turned its back on loving guidance – both of those words equally stressed. It’s condoning violence within the home, financial shenanigans that remove jobs, unlimited immigration (and in the UK, giving immigrants benefits no other society allows, simply for arriving) that pits very different cultures against each other. It’s the lack of respect for schools and teachers coupled with an economy so shaky that no one knows when they might be downsized or sacked, where entrepreneurship is sometimes the only logical answer.


It’s not the lack of marriage alone. If it were, Sweden – with its thousands of unmarried yet diligent parents – would bubble with unrest.



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Goodbye, North Dakota and Kansas

North Dakota and Kansas want to call this a human being.


Goodbye road repair. Goodbye police protection.

Goodbye fire fighters and robbery detection.

Goodbye schools, goodbye traffic rules.

Goodbye licensed cabs. Goodbye DNA labs.

And goodbye to preventive vaccine jabs . . ..



Why, you may ask. Why indeed.


North Dakota’s senate and Kansas’s house of representatives have voted to spend billions on unnecessary criminalization of normal, in fact, healthy and inevitable developmental processes. Which will leave them little money for road repair, etcetera. I’m not sure why the lawyers in their legislative bodies didn’t warn them.


What? You hear them squawk.


Well, didn’t you, ND and KS legislators? Didn’t you vote to make it law in your state that a fertilized egg is a person? You did, right? I have the articles about it right here and here.


Oh, that, you murmur. No big deal. Protection, yeah, that’s it, protection.


Whoa, hold on. If a fertilized egg is a person, and if it somehow fails to complete the nine-month journey to birth, that means – of course it does – homicide and potential murder. Right?


Follow me down this slippery slope you’ve created.


In order to determine that there is, in your view, a human in existence, you will need to test – on a daily if not hourly basis – every female child or adult of childbearing age in your state. Even those visiting for seminars and conferences, or celebrating Grandma’s 60th birthday. That means every female between . . . oh, let’s play safe and call it from eight years old to 60. Oops, that means Grandma, too, but of course in order to catch outliers, you need to be generous with your terms.


So somehow, every day, every female from third-grade to five-years-from-Medicare will need to take some sort of test (blood? saliva? pheromones?) to determine whether she’s carrying a human being within her.


If she is, you have to follow her. Medically, of course, unless you really want to pay officers to shadow tweens to determine whether they’re hitting that tennis ball just a tad too hard.


And if that fertilized egg – sorry, human being – fails to thrive? If a spontaneous abortion, AKA miscarriage, occurs, as it does in what reputable medical researchers estimate is at least one-third of pregnancies? Even though miscarriage is nature’s way of making sure fertilized eggs with faulty genetics don’t continue?


Well, hell. You’re going to have to use the rest of your taxes, beyond what you’ve already invested in surveillance and testing, to investigate the potential criminality of the erstwhile pregnant citizen. Was it a planned abortion? Was it “accidental”? I put that word in quotes because you will need to, as well. As every good 19th-century gynecologist knows, miscarriages happen for a variety of reasons: climbing stairs; riding a horse astride; sex with one’s husband, and so on. Add to those the possibility of miscarrying on a flight to ND/KS, or perhaps working long hours while teaching school. Wait, there will be no schools, you won’t be able to afford them. So much the better. That will force everyone to homeschool their children. Or, you know, not.


If the investigation determines that the pregnant citizen may have been at fault for taking a swim in a brisk lake?


Out comes the grand jury. The indictment. Incarceration (her children will just have to get along without their mom, her husband without his wife) and trial. With a guilty verdict, jail or prison. Again, the children will suffer, but what do you care?


You’ve just jailed a woman guilty of nothing but possessing a human body which God has designed to rid itself of some genetic errors.


Naturally, you’ll have to let violent criminals out of prison early in order to make room for citizens who have done nothing wrong.


Also, you’ve bankrupted your state and made it unlikely to be selected as the destination for national and regional conferences and tourism.


So what! You’ve declared your interest. You’ve shown you support children. From conception to birth, anyway, the most important months, and that’s what counts.


Until a member of your family is pregnant, or hit by a driver running a red light. Oh, dear . . ..


Goodbye traffic light maintenance.

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Filed under Birth control, Conception, Contraceptive, Family, Harassment, Health, Law, Miscarriage, Misogyny, Personhood, Pregnancy, Prison, Surveillance, War against women

Eat Drink Man Woman

One of the film's last scenes, with yet another set of stellar dishes


“It’s Sunday torture.”

Going to church? No, it’s the weekly dinner prepared by semi-retired master chef Chu for his three daughters in this lovely 1994 Taiwanese film by Ang Lee (perhaps better known in the West for directing Sense and Sensibility, written by and starring Emma Thompson). Although the daughters still live at home, their presence is mandated each Sunday at the table, which groans with gorgeous, delicious food made by their dad.

It is through his food that the widowed Chu communicates with his daughters and expresses his love. But it’s an act of increasing desperation: Chu is losing his sense of taste, a tragedy for such a master. It’s the physical manifestation of the emotional, for his taste for life is slipping, as well. His daughters are drifting away. He knows they must, but the pull is harsh. The eldest, Jia-Jen, teaches high school and has converted to Christianity. Chu’s best friend comments that Jia-Jen has found the right man for her in Jesus, but she yearns for a physical relationship and finally meets that in a fellow teacher.

The middle sister, Jia-Chien (of the three, she most resembles her dead mother), has a high-powered job as an airline executive, and is offered a transfer to work in Amsterdam. Her ex-beau has become a friend with benefits, yet Jia-Chien knows she’s stuck. She wants to take the Amsterdam job, but hesitates to leave her father . . . and then there’s the handsome troubleshooter who’s just sauntered into the office.

The youngest daughter, Jia-Ning, is still in school. She works part-time at a Wendy’s, where she meets a co-worker’s discarded boyfriend. Jia-Ning offers sympathy. The young man responds. They discover they share many interests. But how can she, as a youngest daughter, leave her father?

Then there’s the neighbor’s mother newly returned from America, who’s got her eye on Chu as a prospective second husband. Of all the characters in this film, she’s the least sympathetic. We laugh at her, though, and wonder: is she what Chu needs to put savor into his life?

This is a family film in the best sense. Much is unsaid, much misunderstood. Connections are made, lost, and remade. The three sisters discover (as the two sisters did in Sense and Sensibility) what each lacks in her life. As one sister says (the same line was used in S&S), “What do you know of my heart?” – an excellent question, as she finds no one can know her heart if she will not reveal it. Chu rediscovers his taste and his zest for life through a remarkable and unforeseen transformation.

For foodies, this wonderful, warm film carries an added bonus: the visuals of dumpling-making, fish-steaming, the construction of layered dishes and the deconstruction of chickens that later attain divinity by being smoked. The first long segment of food preparation took a week to film and involved Chu as well as the hands of professional chefs. You will never again look at Chinese food without recalling this film’s beauty.

If you haven’t yet seen Eat Drink Man Woman, do. Those two hours will become cherished memories.

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Filed under Ang Lee, China, Cooking, Family, Film, Love, Movies, Relationships

“Beautiful Boy”

Michael Sheen as Bill, Maria Bello as Kate


Yesterday, I watched this 2010 movie, a film so quietly brutal and ferociously tender in its portrayal of a couple launched into turmoil that it still stuns me, twenty-four hours later.

If you have no children, no link to children, this movie may not make sense. It may call from you dismissive, even arrogant, reactions. But if you’re a parent, especially if your children are adolescents or grown (and you remember their adolescence), you’ll feel all the pulls and punches this film slaps at you.

All the more because the two leads are powerful. Maria Bello, an actress I’ll watch in almost anything. Michael Sheen, an exceptional actor even when he’s not playing Tony Blair, and here using an American accent that by my count slipped only once.

When tragedy strikes a family, not only does it not move on little cat feet, it also takes no notice of the emotional temperature of parents. The parents may be together and happy, apart and happy, apart and sad, or, as here, losing the orbit of each other a little more every day. There’s a slippage. With that slippage comes a determined focus on it, then off it, then on it again, like a blinking light in the shadows. People lose focus on other things, inconsequential things like paying the power bill on time. They also lose focus on things of great moment, like the sound of a son’s voice and the words he’s not saying.

What did we miss? What could we have heard? Why didn’t he tell us? How could I have acted differently? Why did he do what he did?

And: how are we going to make it? Together or apart?

The research on grief in the past twenty years has been vast and welcome. Everyone grieves differently, we’re told. Give each other space. Be kind. Try not to add to the thousands of parents who break up after the death of a child. But when a child has brought the gift of pain to others, when you each feel responsible and want to run from accountability, when there’s enough blame and guilt floating in the air around you to fill a medieval dungeon, how can two parents make any progress at all?

Foundering, gasping to stay on top of the floodwaters, the couple here (Kate and Bill – their son is Sam) leave their house to paparazzi and stay first at the home of her brother and sister-in-law and their young son.  A detail person (she’s a freelance copyeditor), Kate subsumes her breaking heart in an orgy of cooking, cleaning, and looking after the boy, even singing him to sleep. The song she chooses is her own son’s favorite, and the wonder is that she manages to even whisper it. Bill paces, drinks, and pounds tennis balls into a wall. Soon, they move on to a motel, and it’s here that the rubber-banding, the back-and-forth dance of a long-married couple begins to show its bones.

We understand the pain, the terror, the guilt. It could have been our child. At the same time, we wonder at their obtuseness, at the ignored clues, the sense of disconnectedness that infected every relationship: Bill and Kate, Sam and Bill, Sam and Kate. Could that happen to us? Maybe it’s only fate or God’s grace that has kept us from similar tragedy, from a “just checking in” casualness too sheer to catch hold of meaning. The line between “normal” and “mentally ill” seems more blurred and fuzzy than ever.

“Beautiful Boy” isn’t an easy movie, but it is, finally, about understanding. It’s about finding and making peace. It’s about nurture. Repairing what has shattered.

In classic Japanese decorative arts, when a plate shatters and is glued together, the repair is highlighted by a thin strip of gold paint. Nothing in life is perfect, says the shiny paint, not this plate, not your life nor mine. Accept it, celebrate it, and trudge on. Sorrow stretches out space in the heart, for joy.

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Filed under Family, Movies, Teenage boys, Violence

The Power To . . . What?

The power -- superpower? -- of touch


Every once in a while, I read pieces like the Washington Post’s “Date Lab”, where two individuals who have answered numerous questions about themselves – pertinent and im – are tossed together in a blind date orchestrated and paid for the Post. Then they’re interviewed. Following which, readers get to comment on the interviews, the daters themselves, and the answers they wrote perhaps months ago.

It’s a non-sexist, nominally non-ageist (most all participants weigh in with less than 35 years) endeavor that seems to attract more than a few extremely picky people. Well, what did you expect? They’re still young. Naturally they want (insert list of required traits here) in someone they’ll see for a second date. Yeah, not marriage or friendship, but second date. There aren’t many of those out in Date Lab Land.

Getting back to those questions. One I’ve always tuned into is: “If you could have a super-power, what would it be?”  Oooh, the possibilities! Oddly, one of the most popular – among men, at least – is the ability to be invisible. (Did I say they were under 35?)  Another, of course, is Superman-like flying. Spidey-style climbing comes up less frequently. In fact, comic book superheroes are woefully under-represented.

Here’s one I’d like to see more of (it’s mine, actually, but listen, this is a great idea): the ability to heal – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – with a single touch AND the ability to pass on the same talent and knowledge with that touch.

Who would you touch first? Your family and friends and neighbors and co-workers, sure, naturally. But then? How could you spread the health faster? You’d touch people who touch people (cue Barbra Streisand). Who touches the most people in a given day?

Nurses. Physicians. Teachers, especially of small children.

Let’s get creative. Police officers. Prison guards – especially because their clientele needs healing more than most. (I recently heard a female prison guard complain about the decades-old closing of American mental hospitals – thanks, Ronald Reagan – because, as she put it, “prison is just a mental hospital with a victim happening before entry”.) Cashiers. Restaurant waitstaff. People running for office – all those handshakes and hugs.

See where I’m going here? It’s the access to human touch that would get the world healed quickest.

A few weeks ago I got to know a woman visiting from China, and one thing we discussed was the American penchant for hugging in public, especially on-campus. Turns out there’s not much hugging in China. Certainly not between people who barely know each other. How about good female friends? She shook her head. No, not even there.

Considering the recognized benefits of healthy hugs between friends or lovers, I hope China discovers ways to encourage such hugs, and soon. Even without the healing touch, it would do a body good. It would do the corporate body, the Chinese population, good.

And when I get my desired superpower, it won’t take as long to bring uniform health to China.

Oooh, flight attendants! Add to the list.


Filed under Date Lab, Family, Health, Hug, Love, Relationships, Spiderman, Superman, Superpower

Becoming A Mensch, The Jane Austen Way

Jane Austen



I’ve just finished the most fabulous book, recommending it to all of you: A Jane Austen Education, a memoir by William Deresiewicz. The author is a former professor of English and has written a great deal of literary criticism, but it is this candid, forthright, embarrassingly honest portrayal of his evolution from self-absorbed literature geek to, well, a man of good character (a description Jane Austen might have used without flinching) that will become – if we’re all very fortunate – Deresiewicz’s masterpiece.


That’s because the author doesn’t just detail his examination of Austen’s limited oeuvre, books he was initially reluctant to read since they didn’t fit his idea of real literary work, of complicated syntax or manly, action-filled writing, the kind that was the opposite of “girlie”, as Deresiewicz’s putdown of Austen had it. The fact that a wonderfully “manly” writer – and Austen’s contemporary – Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe, admitted that he simply could not do what Austen did (“…the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary, commonplace things and characters interesting”), eluded the young Deresiewicz. He was unimpressed.


Yet a college curriculum forced him to read Emma, and in doing so, he recognized that Austen (whom Dickens, years after her death, called a “cynic”) revealed great truths through the minute. Deresiewicz says, “Her ‘littleness’ was really an optical illusion, a test” akin to the parables of Jesus. With each book, Deresiewicz’s mind and spirit grew. He developed patience, humility, and a sense of his place in the world. Like the Grinch, his heart grew multiple sizes, and, Grinch-like, the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight, what happened? The only thing that could happen, of course. He met the woman who became the love of his life.


It all sounds pat, does it? Something like a trick, shadows and billowing curtains? Son et lumiêre for Janeites? Not at all. In fact, it was damn hard. Nothing as tough as trying to develop from figurative caterpillar to Lepidoptera, in part because most of our errors are made in public.


From Emma, Deresiewicz learned that small, everyday concerns (what Austen referred to as “particulars”), the warp and weft of our lives, matter greatly. Pride and Prejudice (whose original title was First Impressions) taught him the crucial importance of placing reason over emotion. It was Northanger Abbey’s turn next, and Deresiewicz learned how to learn – how to “strip the paint”, as he put it, from his mind – which made him an infinitely better teacher, one who encouraged his students’ thoughts to flower. From Mansfield Park, whose heroine, Fanny Price, has neither the grace nor the wit of the ever-popular Elizabeth Bennet, he nurtured the sense of goodness that has more in its favor than grace or wit – or money. Persuasion dealt Deresiewicz a kindly slap on the head, demonstrating that friends and kindred spirits are where we find them, sometimes uncomfortably close. And in Sense and Sensibility, he discovered the secret of falling truly, madly, deeply, profoundly in love.


I wish high school teachers would assign this book to all their students, but especially to boys. Austen, though she decided not to marry (she had had her chances), dearly loved her brothers. She did not write for women or girls, but for all people discerning enough to understand her point of view, her detailed, wise, compassionate, witty perspective. To read A Jane Austen Education is to immerse ourselves in her art-of-the-small. If it can affect one young man so greatly, how many others would find their minds and their lives improved by a walkabout through the same territory?


Filed under Books, England, Family, Jane Austen, Love, Relationships, UK, William Deresiewicz, Writing

How To Gain Legal Status In The US Without Really Trying

Better than the flag


It’s pretty clear to me that the rise of hordes of single men in China, India, and other Asian nations – even former SSRs like Armenia and Georgia – is going to place enormous pressure on first-world nations in a multiplicity of ways. The current long lines of people begging for visas to the US, Canada, European nations, Australia, New Zealand is going to look like empty streets at 3 AM compared to the impending crush of Asian citizens – especially women and girls – pleading to escape nations where gang warfare and the disappearance of females of all ages has become endemic.

But did you know there already exist immigration policies in the US which foreign citizens can use to do an end-run around the usual pleas?

One of them is the U-visa program. This program offers temporary legal status to illegal alien victims of abuse who help police investigate crimes, though often those crimes are committed against other nations’ citizens who are in the US illegally. The Los Angeles Times illustrates U-visa with the case of Norma, who was in deportation proceedings – and scheduled for a hearing that could terminate her stay in the US – when she alleged sexual abuse against her minor daughters by their father, also an illegal alien. With her testimony, the man was imprisoned for six years. Norma and her children were, through the U-visa program, given the right to stay in the US “long term” – the Times reporter did not detail the length of the term. Norma has since become a legal permanent resident. Her children are with her. In a few years, their father will be released from prison. He may be deported.

I’m generally a centrist, politically. I tend not to go to the seesaw extremes. But this U-visa program looks like an underhanded way to keep people in the US without their having to go through the channels and waiting that other people must do.

From the Times piece: “. . . with increasing awareness has come increasing demand. In the three years that the program has been in place, more than 30,000 applications have been filed and more than 25,600 have been approved. Soon after a visit to Los Angeles this month to promote the program, immigration officials announced that all 10,000 available U-visas had been issued for the fiscal year, which ends Friday.  ‘We can see the volume already. At some point it’s going to be an issue,’ said Betty Song, an attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles.  ‘I don’t know what purpose the cap serves, because if people are eligible, they are eligible.’

Wait. These people are not supposed to be in the US at all. The cap that Song refers to should not even exist.

I like France. I’d love to live there. I’m also fond of Denmark, a beautiful little nation with a wonderful, collaborative feel. Offered an apartment in Copenhagen, I’d say yes.

But if I visited Denmark or France and overstayed my visa – or had myself smuggled in with no visa at all – either country would be well within its rights to demand that I leave, even if I could testify to another person’s crimes. Giving me legal status would be, in their eyes, simply rewarding bad behavior.

Rewarding bad behavior is what the US is doing.

Did Norma’s children endure molestation and rape? Yes. Do they deserve therapy and kindness? Yes. Does their mother’s testimony against their father entitle them, or their mother, to years in the US?  No. Why should it? What’s the connection? Why are we granting them status ahead of people who go through the effort of persuading the US that their presence here will benefit all of us?

Another immigration program, called EB-5, involves money, quite a bit of it. At least $500,000, to be precise. This practically unknown program grants foreign citizens US visas, fast-tracking them toward citizenship, on the basis of their investing in the US.

They buy their way in.

Again, the Los Angeles Times: “David Joyce marched his way to the front of the U.S. immigration line using his pocketbook, sinking half a million dollars into a Vermont ski resort. The British citizen had spent years in a futile effort to secure green cards for himself, his wife and their 9-year-old son so they could relocate to sunny Florida. Then, a fellow emigré tipped him off to a little-known federal program that helps foreigners gain permanent U.S. residency by investing in American businesses. ‘In six months, we had our green cards,’ said Joyce, 51. ‘Considering everything we’ve been through, this was easy.’ Joyce is one of thousands of foreigners speeding through the U.S. immigration labyrinth — for a price.”

The money is supposed to be invested in approved projects, namely, companies/firms/start-ups that will need at least 10 employees, located in “a rural area or a community with a high unemployment rate”. Whether those projects are legitimate, or actually get off the ground, is questionable, and not particularly well-followed.  Communities used for EB-5 projects have included places in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Vermont, often with enterprises whose owners have had problems gaining bank financing.

The Times: “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that administers the program, can’t say how many net new jobs have been created. Under USCIS rules, the projects don’t even have to hire 10 workers. Instead, an investor’s money can be used to preserve 10 jobs that economic models show, and the government concludes, would otherwise disappear without such funding. The USCIS, by its own admission, has failed to closely track the flow of EB-5 money, how the projects are being sold to investors or whether the projects were successful. Instead, its focus has been on making sure jobs are created — but not that the jobs will last.”

Some would-be immigrants have faced deportation when their projects fell through or didn’t meet the guidelines. Some have lost their entire half-million-dollar investment.

Yet for wealthy people overseas – especially the Chinese, with new riches, a desire to see their children in American schools, and a concern over the impending catastrophic rise in the population of young men, with a resulting increase in violence and lawlessness – the EB-5 program, capped at 10,000,  is a quick path toward citizenship, nearly as fast as marrying a US citizen to gain a green card. The investor doesn’t need to work in the business. He doesn’t even need to visit it.

Who benefits? Critics charge that foreign investors are benefiting much more than the US, and that it is sordid to sell fast-tracking toward US citizenship, especially in an absence of any investigation into fitness to be a citizen. One could be a drug-dealer in China, for example, or traffic children for slavery and enforced prostitution, and, with $500,000, buy into the EB-5 program and settle here.

Near your children.

I don’t know what the solution is in protecting US citizenship from abuse, but I believe we can do better than EB-5 and U-visa.

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Filed under Activism, China, EB-5, Family, Health, Immigration, India, Law, News, Politics, U-visa