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The Reality of “Getting in Line”

This piece is written by one of our paralegals, Maria, who as a documented immigrant, offers a perspective on the great difficulties faced by those who are undocumented.

I am a documented immigrant. By some, I am praised because I “did things the right” way and didn’t “jump the line.” However, these statements are really short sighted and reflect an incomplete understanding of our broken immigration system. I often hear from people who stand across the political spectrum that they boldly oppose any leniency given to undocumented workers because they somehow hurt people like me. My fans insist: undocumented people chose to take the easy way out and displace law-abiding folks like me. How can I put this nicely? This kind of thinking is right up there with the flat-earthers, moon-landing doubters and bretharians (those who believe they can survive without food). Though, I understand where this sentiment is coming from: “there is a legal way to do things, obviously some people have done it, so to come here without documents must mean that you chose the illegal way to do it!” There is, however, a grave problem with this very rash conclusion: it assumes that we all have the option of “the right way”, that everyone looking for a better life can just prove their worth, fill out some papers, pay a small fee and voila!  

In reality, for most people, there is no line. The option is between (1) starving and having your children starve or (2) risking your life and the life of your family crossing ridiculously dangerous terrain, possibly being killed by wild animals, perhaps dehydrating to the point where you can no longer stand and are left to decompose, maybe being shot by a trigger-happy “patriot” seeking to make a point, the possibilities are endless! And guess what? The conditions in these people’s home countries are such that option 2, with all its die-a-painful death glory, is often the better option. But you insist, my friends, that undocumented migrants forgo the rightfulness of procedure and choose to do things “the easy way.” My question is: in what world is risking your life to live in the shadows the easy way, or preferable to filling out forms?  

Let me tell you more about my background: my father worked really hard to be what our Immigration system considers “skilled-labor.” He excelled in school, got two Bachelor’s degrees, three Master’s degrees and a Doctorate. My mother handled everything at home with three rowdy kids so that he could do that. My father, then, after volumes of forms and years of post-secondary studies, got a job offer from an American university. He and the university filled volumes of forms, we got expensive medical exams, gathered more evidence than most trial courts, had a Labor Certification from the Department of Labor going through incredible lengths to prove that my father was more qualified than any American for the same faculty position, had criminal background checks, biometrics appointments, etc, etc, etc. I won’t even get into our adjustment of status five years after to become Legal Permanent Residents.  

Yes, it was a pain in the behind to be subject to so much bureaucracy (and its fees). BUT, we had the option of procedure. We did things “the right way” because we could, and we could because my father was one type of worker as opposed to another. Though I greatly value my father’s intellect and hard work, by no means do I believe that people who work with their hands deserve any less. And just in case there’s any confusion, I have never met a person who would choose crossing the desert over filling out forms.  

The problem is, again, there is no line for most people. Those who come without documents have two very unsavory options, and procedure isn’t one of them. There are seasonal work visas and a very limited amount of visas for “unskilled labor” (though these people are far from unskilled), but in reality, we have a much greater labor demand than visas available. The option of finding an employer to sponsor a work visa for what we call a “non-professional” occupation is slim to none. For those who are non-immediate family members of U.S. citizens, there is a line, but the line can be decades long. Imagine earning less than $5 per day, watching your children go hungry and being told that your visa application will be reviewed in 21 years? The options here are not as straight-forward as you’d think. 

My goal here is only to share my own experience and perspective so people begin to understand that the “right way” is very narrow, and simply unavailable to millions of people who contribute on a daily basis to this country (and who U.S. employers desperately need). I hope that as our nation evolves, the option to come with documents, without the risk of dying, without the daily fear of being deported, is a real thing for people of all walks of life. I only urge you, if you insist on the “right way,” to learn what that means and to advocate in favor of a humane, reasonable “right way” as opposed to punishment for those whose entire lives are treated as little more than talking points.  

Photo Credit: Pejasar Flickr via Compfight cc