I am a 34 year old female immigrant from Jamaica. As a child growing up in Jamaica, I always heard stories about this land of milk and honey called America. A place where one could go to a supermarket and eat “anything you want without getting into trouble, as long as you eat inside.” Where the taps at the schools had milk coming out of them, not plain water like we had in Jamaica. Most people I knew had someone in America and the most fortunate had someone who would send a barrel/box packed with food, clothing and toys especially at Christmas time. No cereal tasted better than “American” cereal, no dress prettier than one that came from “America.”
At the age of 14, being a talented athlete, I qualified for a visa to participate at a track meet in Miami. My joy knew no bounds! When I set foot on American soil, heaven would have taken a backseat had I been given the option to choose. In the week that I stayed, I ate more hamburgers than a professional eater at a Coney Island contest could have handled! I practiced my “American Accent!” I had saucer-eyes at everything!
I returned to Jamaica feeling like someone special because I could say I had been to the great USA. Subsequent to my first visit, I traveled to the US on short trips to compete at track meets over the last four years of high school in Jamaica. In 1996, I was privileged to win a track scholarship to attend Eastern Michigan University. When I arrived, I thought Michigan was an “ugly” place compared to the more colorful Florida that I had been to. I soon settled into my dorm and before I knew it, assimilation into American life began. I no longer felt like I was just there for a short time. I went to classes and went “home” with my American roommates. I went to the homes they grew up in for weekends and holidays. I went to my first turkey trot and survived running through ankle-deep snow that I’d never experienced before. I went crazy the first time I felt and saw snow! I went to classes and learned to spell the “American” way; “color”, not “colour”, “center”, not “centre.”
Gradually, people stopped asking which country I was from because my Jamaican-accented English was not so evident. I transferred to the University of Wyoming my junior year and got the experience of being in yet another geographical part of the US. I discovered snow-capped mountains, ultra-white Christmases and bone-chilling cold! I embraced and fell in love with it all! By the time I graduated in May 2001, I was a full-fledged American, armed with my Business Management degree and ready to take pursue the American dream. Corporate job, husband, children and house in middle-class suburbia with the white-picket fence. The ghetto of Spanish Town, Jamaica from whence I came was a distant memory. Sadly, the reality was, I was not an American on paper and the next ten years would become a nightmare. My work permit expired because many employers would not even take an application from someone who only had a work permit. I had a 3.47 GPA but that did not make a difference. Perhaps I was in the wrong job-market (I moved to Miami to be with my grandma after graduation) or I just had bad luck but everything went completely wrong and I eventually fell out of legal status.
Fast-forward to 2010, after years of seeking legal counsel and pursuing ways to gain legal status, a close friend recommended a person named Alberto Alers , running an organization called Seamens Harvest, who could help. That person turned out to be a fraud, a liar and a thief who took my money, filed false applications, forged my signature on documents and withheld mail that the US Immigration had sent me, and caused me to be deported in absentia.
I was incognisant of all this until October of 2011 when, en route to Washington State, I was taken off an Amtrak train by the border patrol in Montana and put in jail for 9 days. I who had never been in any trouble in my life, found myself behind bars. Nine days of pure mental torture! I retained a lawyer who has been successful in reopening my case. I had one hearing recently, the judge was very fair and granted me a continuance, one ground being that I was defrauded. ICE has arrested the guy. He ran a scam for 9 years and robbed countless immigrants, hundreds of thousands, perhaps, millions of dollars and worse of all, took away the opportunity for many victims to gain legal status, legitimately. He has been arrested by ICE and has 42 counts against him. The US government now wants to deport me. I don’t have a US citizen husband, child or parent here but I do have US citizen and permanent resident family members here.
My ties to this country are way beyond economic. I’m long past being excited that $2 can buy a meal. Since graduating from college, I have lived here in near-abject poverty, yet I’d rather be no place else. I pay my taxes, always have. I dream of getting my green-card so I can pursue the American dream I so long ago envisioned. I dream of the day I can dust off my now faded diploma, fill out an application and work at my skill-level. I dream of continuing my education, earning that MBA I thought I would have had the opportunity to earn, a year after earning my Bachelor’s. I dream of marrying in America, having my children in an American hospital, settling down in a nice suburban place, hopefully with mountains as a backdrop. I can’t imagine not ever seeing or touching snow, breathing in fresh, cold air, hearing and speaking with an American accent. America is home to me. After 15 years, it’s no longer a place to visit.
All the unfamiliar have become familiar. I’ve said the American pledge countless times. We the people includes me! I mourned with the rest of America on 911. I celebrate the triumphs of America in the same way Americans do. I cannot conceive of a life anywhere else, though I’ve seen other shores. I am the American dream deferred. First in the family to go to college. So much potential and desire to succeed. I don’t know what the future brings, but I hope that one day I will be able to have on paper, what I already feel in my heart and soul; an official American identity. God bless everyone who knows what a blessing it truly is to know America, to be American and God bless America now and evermore.