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Posts Tagged ‘secrets’

Today, Mark Krikorian, the executive direct of the Center for Immigration Studies, had an op-ed piece* published in the New York Times in which he stated that, “Some might argue that simply asking about legal status is tantamount to barring illegal aliens from the schools, since no one will want to confess to being an illegal alien. With illegal aliens filing tax returns and lobbying Congress, such a claim is not borne out by the facts. Living in the shadows? What shadows?”

I have so many things that I want to say about illegal immigration and especially about the draconian measures that have become law in Alabama, but I’m going to start with what I bring to this discussion that is different from all of the other people shouting to be heard.  It is not my expertise in economics or foreign policy or moral reasoning; it is my voice as a privileged American who was given a taste of the fear that undocumented immigrants live with each day when they get out of bed, when they drop their children off at school, when they drive to work.

I did not grow up around people who are afraid every single day that they will be deported; I did not internalize that fear as part of quotidian life.  I came of age as a member of a racial majority from a firmly upper-middle class family.  I attended a prestigious university and checked off all of the “right” boxes to have a successful life as an American who would never experience the hardships that these families face.  And yet, I fell in love with an illegal immigrant and married into his family, and as a result I married into his fear of being arrested and forcibly removed from this country.

That fear lived with us for five years like an ominous shadow that colored the way we viewed every situation we faced as a young couple.  I asked my husband what he feared the most in that time and he said, “That they would grab me and deport me and strip from me the life and the opportunities that I have here.”  The words “grab” and “strip” give a poignant description of the violence that we feared.  My deepest fear was that one day he would just not come home.  I had heard many stories of people being deported without even a phone call (since they don’t have the right to one).  I lived every day with the knowledge that the husband that I kissed before I left for work might disappear without warning.  I prayed obsessively each morning, “Keep him safe from watchful eyes and harm.  Bring him home safely tonight.”

I remember the second time we consulted with an attorney about my husband’s situation.  I told her how afraid I was that one day my husband would not come home and I will never, ever forget what she said to me.  “They usually don’t come for families in the night.  If you make it home safely, you’re probably safe until the morning.”  I wept when she said that, and I still cry each time I tell that story.  How many Americans fear people “coming for them” like we live in Nazi Germany?  How many Americans only feel relief from unrelenting panic when their family members are safely in the house for the night?

I remember when we had a big snowstorm in 2011 and many roads closed because of car accidents and the cell phone reception was bad.  I couldn’t reach my husband on the phone and I worried that he could have a car accident and be picked up as an illegal immigrant, since I live in a state where the police can legally demand to see proof of legal residency at any routine traffic stop.  I spent that night repeating the rosary again and again with the nuns on some TV program even though I am not a Catholic because somehow the rhythm made it easier to breathe.  I did that until he arrived home after midnight, having been waylaid by a tree that fell across the road.

When I think back to our life in the shadows, I remember the time that my husband’s boss refused to pay him for 2 months of work (more than $6000) and my husband was scared to take him to court because he didn’t want his (il)legal status to come to light.  We never recovered those two months of wages.

I think about my husband’s little brother, and the year that he was six.  I see him sitting at the kitchen table with his small feet kicking his chair.  We had forgotten he was there, and he was listening to his family talk (in Spanish) about new laws that were cracking down on illegal immigration.  The women were talking about how afraid they were while the men were making reassuring noises about the likelihood that these laws would be enacted.  My small brother-in-law squeezed my hand and asked me quietly (in English) why we have to be so afraid.  I hugged him to me and told him not to be afraid.  I explained that he was born in the US and everything would be okay, while I hoped that he was too little to notice what I was not saying about his brother.  Namely, that he were not born in the US, and that he should be afraid.

I remember fearing that I would lose the security clearance that lets me work in my field because my husband was here illegally, and being told that for my career advancement, I needed to attend a conference in Arizona during the boycott.  I remember the way my protests fell on deaf ears when I explained that I felt wrong about going to any conference that took place in a state where some scholars would feel uncomfortable coming to present their research since they might be stopped and harassed for looking “like an immigrant” (read: hispanic).

More than the panic attacks when I couldn’t reach my husband on the phone, more than the injustice and feeling of impotence when employers cheated my husband, more than the creeping certainty that I was teaching the children in our family to be afraid, more than the anxiety that my husband’s status would rob me of a job, I resented the ignorant comments that people made.  I burned when they spoke of illegal immigrants who taxed our economy and unfairly jumped the line.  I raged inside every time a co-worker or a neighbor or a family member made some stupid comment about immigrants like they were engaging me in an academic debate with no faces in it, no real people.  I wanted to snap back, “You are talking about my husband!  You are talking about my family!”  I felt like I could never scream loud enough so that they would shut up and stop talking about something that they know nothing of, that they will never understand.  More than anything, I want to scream until the whole world hears the voice of these people who are nameless and faceless to the majority of Americans.

*http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/10/04/should-alabama-schools-help-catch-illegal-immigrants/defining-good-immigration-policy

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If you have ever stayed silent while someone said something prejudiced about illegal immigrants because you are afraid of drawing attention to someone you love, you are not alone.

If you have researched other countries that you could live in because it seems like you will not be permitted to stay in the country that you were born into and that you love, you are not alone.

If you have woken up early and stayed up late, slept little, visited every specialist under the sun, and paid for the privilege of being given more impossible tasks to complete while they condescend to you about how little hardship you would endure if separated from someone you love, you are not alone.

If you have risked everything including your job and the respect of people you care about to keep someone you love safe, you are not alone.

If you have ever knelt by your bed to pray that someone be safe, that someone be granted clemency, and found yourself flat on your face pleading with God for mercy, you are not alone.

If you have ever cried until you threw up because you worried that your life would never be okay again, you are not alone.

If you have put every part of yourself into a quest like this, your sweat and your blood and your flesh and your tears, you are not alone.

I was married to an illegal immigrant.  We were together for 5 years before the US government granted him legal permanent residency.  I wish that someone had told me that I was not alone.

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