5 Weird Realities Of Growing Up With 'Illegal' Parents
If you've been anywhere on the Internet in the last approximately forever, you might get the impression that a whole lot of people aren't especially fond of undocumented immigrants. That rubs me the wrong way because while I am here legally, it's only technically. DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an immigration initiative that allows immigrants who entered before their 16th birthdays a two-year work permit they can renew, as well as immunity against deportation. It has saved my ass. That being said, whether you know of DACA from your local news channel or your racist Uncle Jed at family reunions, here is a quick look inside from one of those dirty, sexy illegals.
For Most People, There's Really No Such Thing As "Legal Immigration"
"Why don't they just do it the right way? Why don't they just get in line with everyone else?" People who ask that question don't understand that, for many people like my family, there simply is no "right way."
To simplify the long and arduous legal talk, you must meet one of these qualifications to be eligible for immigration to the U.S.:
A) Already have family who are citizens
B) Marry a citizen
C) Have some extraordinary skill (the official term is "aliens with extraordinary abilities" ... so, basically just be an Animorph)
D) Be a refugee fleeing a country in a state of war or seeking asylum (and even that is not exactly a smooth process).
It may not seem like a huge bar to clear, until you consider that
even Superman only qualifies for two out of four.
It's a little more challenging than deciding you would like a change of scenery and asking for one citizenship, please. Even if, by some miracle, you meet one of those qualifications, there's still the money, which most people living at the bottom rungs of society in third world countries don't exactly have lying around, and the lifetime of waiting it might take. That's not an exaggeration -- wait times can exceed 24 years. So, for some, it's a literal lifetime.
The paperwork is so backed up at this point that even if the U.S. stopped taking
new applications altogether, you could still be waiting in 2032.
Even with DACA, the path of permanent legal status continues to be an unfinished road. I have two options if DACA ever becomes discontinued: I can marry a citizen, whose relationship with me will be carefully monitored, and face fraud charges if the marriage is not deemed valid enough. Or, I can return to a country I barely know. While returning to a home country may not seem that perilous ...
Nobody Wants To Take Anyone's Jobs -- They Actually Can't
Like millions of other kids under deferred action, I was brought to the U.S. at the age of 2. Contrary to Mr. Trump's understanding, the parental justification behind our move was less "take their jobs, then poison their water supplies" and more "our village just had like 10 beheadings, and I would rather my kids not grow up in a drug-cartel-run environment." So, while still in my Terrible Twos, I was brought over, along with my older sister, and my parents were just seeking a place where their children didn't risk having their corpses stuffed with narcotics. Oh, also, medical treatment -- that seemed like a nice thing to have, too.
Yes, cartels. We were fleeing this.
You see, I was born with a small birth defect pertaining to my legs, which could result in a possible elimination of spinal movement later on in my life. And after scouring multiple options near our small town, the only "solution" our wary doctors could come up with was to break my bones and hope that they would set properly after years of painful physical therapy. However, the very day I was to be put under for the operation, an American doctor stopped in for volunteer work and told my parents that there was a better, less horror-movie caliber treatment.
So, that, plus the routine dismemberments and mindless shootings, was enough incentive for my parents to bring me to a hospital in Georgia. This got me into years of (out-of-pocket) chiropractic care that resulted in a full elimination of possible disability.
Apologies to anyone offended by my selfishness in not
choosing the "break your legs, hope for the best" option.
The people screaming "go back to your country" don't realize what a death sentence that is in a place such as Guatemala, where a 12 year old was recently thrown to his death for refusing to gun down a random bus driver. And as much as I hear people say we're taking their jobs, I've never met an undocumented immigrant with a 401(k). In fact, regardless of their status, most immigrants only qualify for the most menial positions, even if they're highly educated, because foreign credentials are often not recognized. The result is that you are more likely to find an immigrant working under terrible conditions while picking vegetables than in your average office, even if that immigrant used to be an economist.
You Learn First Aid At 5 Years Old Because You Live In Terror Of Authorities
My life as an undocumented immigrant involved all the secrecy of being a superspy, but none of the attendant casual sex with hilariously-named women. It wasn't a good day until I saw my parents come home each night from their double shifts. As far as I was concerned, police officers hated us, and the feeling was all too mutual. I feared the power they held.
That meant that we were completely on our own in emergency situations. A kitchen mishap that would normally warrant an ambulance was, instead, treated with lessons on sterilization I found online and our family's first-aid kit. When a crime or a fire breaks out, you take care of yourself -- and remove the fire alarm for good measure. You can't risk alerting anyone.
"Only nofried beans and cold cereal. I don't trust that stove."
Now that I'm a little older and quite a bit safer, I come into contact with the police through community projects. Even now, it's hard for me not to tense up around them. When you've barely learned your ABCs, but you know that the policeman can tear your family apart over a red light, that fear is a little hard to shake off.
Everyday Things Are Impossible Without Papers (Which Actually Hurts Everyone)
Contrary to what a lot of angry people seem to believe, undocumented immigrants are ineligible to collect government assistance. That makes sense, from a political standpoint: If people are this worked up about us taking their (terrible) jobs, imagine if we took all their tax dollars. (Incidentally, undocumented immigrants pay billions in taxes every year.) But, what about driver's licenses? It's not like there's a limited number of those that we all compete for melee-style down at the DMV. But, I can't get one, so there are no cars to be driven, since insurance companies and dealerships are kind of sticklers about them. There are no loans to receive from banks, because there's no Social Security number to give them.
"So, can I get a loan, thereby realizing the American dream and keeping the economy moving?"
"The only thing you can keep on moving is right out my door."
The thing is, this isn't just our problem. No Social Security number also means no health insurance, which means huge ER bills the few times we risk the hospital. We can't pay those, so the hospital eats the cost and passes it along to you. No financial aid for college means fewer educated people becoming independent. If undocumented immigrants can't get driver's licenses -- and maybe they have to drive for their jobs or they live in an area that is simply impossible to get around without a car -- they may not know the local traffic laws, which may cause accidents. Guess who ends up eating that cost? Not our nonexistent insurance companies.
"My insurance info? Sure, it's already written on
your policy. Check the section titled 'Uninsured Motorist.'"
I never knew why my parents didn't drive. We ordered taxis every two weeks for grocery shopping. I walked to school and worked every day until I was in high school (which is when my state joined the 13 that decided illegal immigrants could be trusted with non-farming machinery and enacted laws enabling us to get limited driver's licenses). While other kids bragged about their Disneyland vacations, I always wondered why neither I nor my parents had ever taken an airplane somewhere. I have been invited to Washington, D.C. and naval bases for my academic achievements and interest in engineering, and I've never seen more than pictures of those places.
I Can't Go Back Home; This Is My Home
Lest my salsa skills deceive you, I'm not really equipped for life south of the border. I don't even remember it. Frankly, the closest thing to "Mexican pride" that I have is my unwavering belief that tortillas are the best source of essential carbohydrates. So, when people tell me to go back home, I can't help but feel conflicted, because in every meaningful sense of the word, this is my home.
Could you find something else to wave while you're berating me? That's my flag, too.
But, that might not matter. For many youth, DACA and all other chances at work permits are removed after three felony (or significant misdemeanor) court rulings. That seems reasonable, but keep in mind that traffic violations can be criminal misdemeanors and law enforcement doesn't have a history of looking kindly upon illegal immigrants. DACA can also be removed if we fail to land jobs or fail at pursuing future education. When that happens, it's back on the beheading side of the wall for you. (So, on the plus side, there's my motivation to study.)
My fellow undocumented childhood immigrants aren't asking for handouts -- we legally can't, after all -- we're just asking for a chance. DACA is our only chance. Please, house Republicans, stop trying to defund it.
For more insider perspectives, check out So You Want To Be An American: 5 Circles Of Immigration Hell and 5 Things I Learned Sneaking Over The U.S.-Mexico Border.
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