An Undocumented Story
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 23:01
Amid hopeful conversation about humane immigration reform, I felt the urge to share my story and the plight of my parents, friends and community — all of whom share my experience as an undocumented immigrant.
I like to think that my story is no different from anyone else’s. I grew up watching “Will & Grace” and lip-synced to ’N Sync and Britney Spears. I used to babysit to earn some spare cash. But the reality is far from the one you’d expect. While fortunate on the Hilltop, my privilege disappears once I return home. Back in Brooklyn, I wake up to my mother rushing to work, where she endures long hours of house cleaning. I speak to my father, who struggles to stay positive despite having been unemployed for ten years. And as I tour my former neighborhood, I see the impoverished conditions of my community, the lack of encouragement among teenagers who see their high school graduation as the finish line and the gang-related activity that stops young men and women from reaching their potential.
Of course, all of this is not specific to the immigrant experience. What makes our experience uniquely unbearable is the constant reminder that we simply do not exist, that our taxpaying dollars are not sufficient and that the service that we provide is not enough. That our labor is taken advantage of, then forgotten, and that our children are only a burden to society. We are humiliated for our broken English, accused of abstaining from American culture and seen as parasites that benefit at the expense of others. Most Americans cannot relate or sympathize. They create roadblocks between themselves and us and pretend we are living proof of overpopulation, the main cause for unemployment and the source of public overspending.
“Retreat to the back,” we commonly hear. There is no system in place that allows us to “wait in line.” Some of us were in line and were tossed out. Others have been waiting for years. We are then expected to marry, file for other visas or self-deport, then return “the right way.” Easier said than done. Why is it that we are seen as aliens who don’t have attachments or a responsibility to our children, community and country? Why are we held to different standards as if we truly were from another planet? We are constantly bullied, belittled and told that our stories are not part of the American tale.
Our stories, too, are real. Our stories are real when we acknowledge that our relatives fear travelling because of possible road checkpoints. Our stories are real when we witness that our friends cannot continue their higher education because they have no means to finance it. Our stories are real when we see families across the country torn apart by outdated enforcement policies. Our stories are vivid images of the struggles that blacks, women, gays, children and other vulnerable groups faced and continue to endure.
Last year, I saw my sister again for the first time in over 14 years. I also flew in an airplane and drove a car and travelled west for the first time. All these experiences — as unexceptional as they seem — are some that most immigrants will never have. Some communities cannot even gather water for their homes without fear of deportation. Our stories are warped by the media, which focuses only on our status and never on our narratives. They portray the migrant as filthy and iniquitous instead of weaving stories of hardworking men and women who yearn for a better home and better community.
I speak in disapproval of current policy that continues to incarcerate innocent people, separate families and instill fear in immigrant communities. I relate to the renewed excitement with President Obama’s second term, but remain concerned and frustrated with his past leadership. I also battle with the timid or simply inconsiderate proposals that attempt to categorize the immigrant community, that pretend science and mathematics are the only way to the American Dream and that highlight border enforcement when it is clear that people are arriving in lower numbers.
What is even sillier is the thought of not providing immigrants with a reasonable path to citizenship. The reality is that we are just as entitled as anyone else to this land. Let us not forget that the memorable words engraved at our Lady Liberty’s feet, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” — explain why we, too, deserve a fair and equal chance at citizenship.
Francisco Gutierrez is a senior in the McDonough School of Business.