Living the American Dream 2012

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Meet Sammy, a young man who believes he is living the American Dream.   Sammy is in his early thirties, works as a cook at a local diner, and lives in a small apartment.  This is not your typical America Dream scenario, but Sammy was born in Burma.  Burma was and remains a country with no government in the traditional sense.  It is a country plagued by guerilla warfare.


Sammy and his family lived in a small village.  One night a band of guerillas invaded the village, murdered his parents as he watched, and took him hostage, forcing him to join the guerilla forces.  As luck would have it, Sammy was not a very good soldier.  He was, however, a hard worker and he became the camp cook. 


Sammy dreamed of escape.  One day, Sammy freed himself from the group.  Using money he had stashed away, he bought a plane ticket to New York, and in 1998, landed at JFK.


Lacking any identification or documentation, he was arrested by the Immigration Service.  Sammy had two options: a one-way ticket back to Burma and certain torture and probable death; or incarceration in an American detention center (prison) until the government acted on his Application for Asylum.  


After about a year in the detention center, his case was heard by an Immigration Judge and he was granted asylum and he was issued a work permit.


Then the unthinkable happens.  Terrorists fly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Everything changes.  The Immigration Department is in total flux, and is reengineered into Homeland Security and USCIS.  Many applications for Green Cards are frozen. 


But Sammy still has his work permit and doesn’t abandon his quest to stay in the United States.  He continues to works hard.  Then in 2009, Sammy and I have a chance meeting.


He engages me to help him obtain his Green Card.  I research his case and after two more years of legal filings, Sammy’s application for a Green Card is approved.  The year is 2011; 13 years after Sammy entered the U.S.  This Green Card gives him permission to stay in the United States indefinitely. Barring any criminal charges,  five years from the date the Green Card was issued, Sammy can (and I believe he will) apply for U.S. citizenship. 


The American Dream of freedom and opportunity, what most Americans take for granted, is alive and well in Central PA.   Every day when Sammy walks out of his apartment, he is living proof that hard work, determination, and a dream can go a long way toward making a life what it should be.


This life doesn’t have to mean a big house or fancy cars – just freedom, safety, and the opportunity to work hard and to make a living.


Jay C. Whittle is Special Counsel to Reager & Adler, PC specializing in Criminal and Immigration Law.  Jay can be contacted at 717-763-1383 or

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Harrisburg Magazine Readers' Choice 2011