While suburbs don't often dabble in international affairs, heavily-Polish Niles became one of the nation's first municipalities to pass a resolution, at the Dec. 13 village board meeting, that calls on the U.S. State Department to stop thwarting citizens of Poland in their attempts to visit here.
Polish citizens now must make costly and time-consuming trips to the U.S. embassy in Poland, pay a fee of about $100 to apply for a visa, and frequently get their requests rejected and lose the application fee, said Niles Trustee Andrew Przybylo. This causes hurt and heartbreak, he said, adding his dying mother's request to see her dear cousin from Poland was turned down.
Niles leaders helped collect petitions
Przybylo and Andrew Wywrot, chairman of the Niles Sister Cities Polish Delegation, helped, along with the Polish American Congress Illinois Division, collect more than 2,000 signatures last year to present to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who supports waiving visas for Polish citizens.
Leslie Combs, a Schakowsky staff member, said those signatures on petitions help.
"The petitions allow the Congresswoman to stand on the House floor and say 'I've heard from my constituents,' and that's very important," said Combs. She also said Schakowky's office is glad to help citizens trying to secure a visa for a loved one in Poland.
Obama supports cause
In May, President Barack Obama told Poles on a visit to Warsaw that he, too supports placing Poles on the visa waiver program, which would allow them to come to the U.S. without visas.
Requiring visas "doesn't make any sense, when they (the State Department) would let people come from Latvia and the Czech Republic without a visa. It almost seems like there's prejudice against Poland," Przybylo said.
Why government requires visas
In the past, some Poles who came here on student or tourist visas stayed longer than the time period the visas allotted, so typically, the U.S. State Department grants visas to Poles who have strong reasons to return to Poland, explained Combs. Those might include owning a home or having children or grandchildren there, she said.
Przybylo said he doesn't believe it's still the case that Poles will overstay their U.S. visas to work here.
"Polish people don't have to come here anymore," he said. "They're part of the EU and they can work anywhere in Europe. Their economy is growing, while we have high unemployment."
People suffer when visas denied
Both Wywrot and Przybylo said they frequently hear stories from Polish Americans that their relatives in Poland were denied visas to come here.
Przybylo related that about seven years ago, when his mother Alice knew she was dying of kidney failure, she invited her cousin Barbara in Poland, whom she had always been close to, to visit so she could see her one last time.
"Barbara traveled two hours to the U.S. consulate in Krakow, gave them $100, kissed their ring and then they told her her visa was not approved," said Przybylo, who is also one of the owners of in Niles.
"So my mother didn't see her cousin Barbara prior to her demise. That always saddened me."
What about the U.S. citizen's rights?
He made the point that while Polish nations do not have legal rights with the U.S. government, his mother, who was born in the U.S., did.
"She was discriminated against because she was denied the opportunity to see her cousin," Przybylo stated. "Those rights should be addressed, and I will go so far as to say in a court of law."
On Nov. 8, Illinois Sen. John Mulroe, a Democrat whose district includes part of Niles, passed a resolution supporting visa waivers for Poland in the state Senate.
On Dec. 7. U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat, testified before the U.S. House Committee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement, asking them to place Poland in the visa waiver program.
However, few municipalities have passed resolutions, said Frank Spula, president of the Polish National Alliance, which has advocated for the visa waiver program.
"I think what Niles did is wonderful," he said. "You need to have individuals within the municipalities who know about the issue. And we need to get the word out to various Congressmen in various districts. Congress and the Senate make the decision."