In 1989, when I was four years old, my family immigrated to the United States. My parents were both architects. My dad specialized in skyscrapers. As professionals, they had experienced so much corruption that in paying fees to politicians and contractors just to find a project and complete it, they generally lost more money than they made. They wanted a better life for themselves and for us. So we immigrated to the U.S. My mom’s dad was one of 1,200 registered engineers in the country at the time, and he was a wealthy man. For a wedding present, he had given my mom a horse farm in the mountains. She sold it so that we could have money to immigrate. We came on a Temporary Work Visa. My uncle manufactured hearing aids in the U.S. at the time, and my dad came to work for him.
But, three years later, our re-application was denied. After two appeals, we were given deportation orders. I was ten. My parents decided to overstay. At the time, if you stayed in the country for seven years, you were able to apply for citizenship. We were only two years away or so. But, circumstances changed. The laws morphed and my parents were scammed by immigration lawyers twice in a row. My parents tried other routes to naturalization. My mom tried a Labor Certification Petition with her then employer, a rental property owner, and my dad a similar type of petition with our church. But neither panned out. By the time I had been accepted to college, our greatest hope was the DREAM Act. We watched, demoralized, as it continued to fail in Congress. In fact, the day of my graduation was bittersweet. Could I apply for the DREAM Act now that I was a graduate, out of school? However, my senior year at college, I fell in love with an American. I told her about my illegal status on our third date. It was incredibly awkward. I hadn’t realized what a foreign concept immigration was to citizens. She left the date thinking that if she continued dating me, she would be deported. Of course, we talked through all of that. I told her what life was like as an undocumented alien and she was brave enough to continue to get to know me. Then, a day before our first year anniversary of dating, we married. We were fairly naïve about life, which we both laugh about now, but there’s nothing naive about the commitment we continue to hold for each other. I warned my wife, when we started the naturalization process, that immigration was an incredibly slow, confusing, and expensive process. It would be difficult. We would have to plan well.
But even I hadn’t realized how difficult it would really be. Recently, my wife and I appeared before an immigration judge, and she granted me permanent residency. It took us about 4 years and a little over $14,000. Of course I worked while I waited for my papers to come through. I was a husband with a new family to help support and an incredibly expensive process to go through. Imagine trying to do that and be unemployed for four years. But, I did end up unemployed for my last year as an undocumented alien. The environment just felt so malicious. We didn’t feel safe with me working. During that year of unemployment, I tried to process all of what I had experienced as an undocumented immigrant. When we first immigrated, when I was four years old, the culture shock was so severe that I literally became mute for a year. I didn’t speak a single word. Then I started speaking English. I’ve come to believe that there is something about that experience, maybe the confusion of language at such an early age, the desire to communicate meaningfully, and what must have been a rather exciting newfound ability to talk, that led me to love the written word. I write poems. And that year I wrote poems about immigration.
It would be my honor to join my voice with Jose’s, and ask that we reform our current broken system and provide accessible pathways for people to become citizens, to pursue life and to relish liberty.