When I was younger I had this wild idea that whenever I adjusted my immigration status, everything would be okay.
I used to think that papers, that is, a social security number, work authorization, a state ID, citizenship, was the answer.
On November 22, 2013 I received my U nonimmigrant Visa approval letter. I applied for this visa in January of the same year. To be eligible for a U-Visa, one must have been a victim of a crime in the United States, be impacted emotionally and/or physically, and have helped the police/government in the investigation of said crime.
I was sexually abused by my step father for four years. Starting at the age of four and ending at the age of eight. And while the abuse happened such a long time ago, it is so present today that sometimes it feels like it happened yesterday.
I became involved with the immigrant rights movement in 2009 after realizing I wasn’t eligible for financial aid and seeing no way out. Hopeless, confused and afraid the New York State Youth Leadership Council found me when I was a high school senior. I became a member and stayed involved ever since.
I got used to the idea of being undocumented. I learned how to work with it. I learned how to apply for work without a social security number. I opened a bank account without a social security number. I traveled within the United States without a state ID. I received several private scholarships without proper documentation. I was accepted into college. I started college. I overcame many of the things some told me I wouldn’t be able to do. I became unafraid.
More than being unafraid on paper, I was living fearlessness. I attended rallies and helped coordinate some of the coming out events in New York. Was featured in several media outlets. Started the country’s first undocumented youth advice column. In other words, I didn’t let my undocumented reality stop me from doing something. From resisting. From speaking out for myself. And I learned. I learned immigration history, I learned deportation and detention practices. I learned about state laws and programs that keep funding those centers. I learned about international laws that force people to leave. I learned why Colombia was so under resourced and violent when my mother got up and left. I learned why she wasn’t able to obtain a visa and why we became undocumented. I learned about the long history of border militarization and poverty wages. And I also learned that getting these immigration papers wouldn’t solve any of this.
I found out I was eligible for this U-Visa while being screened for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals eligibility. It came as a surprise to my mother and I. We had been screened years before, and found nothing. All of a sudden, I was eligible for a U-visa and the thought of adjusting my status became a real one. One I never had before.
None of my contributions and hard work mattered. This U-Visa strictly looked at the sexual violence I had survived. It defined me. It shaped me. It made me eligible for a U-Visa but all the violence and discrimination I faced as an undocumented immigrant in the United States for 20 years didn’t. It hurt. It continues to hurt. Everything about me had been summarized to four years of my childhood. The United States’ way of apologizing was giving me a visa. A visa that I can’t leave the country with. I can’t apply for financial aid. I can’t get health services. I can still be deported. A visa that has undermined everything I’ve pushed for and gave back without being welcomed. The simple fact of wanting to be with my family, or of attending college, or of living here for 20 years isn’t enough. I needed to be hurt. Hurt so bad beyond repair to even get on a line.
And so I sit here, thinking about this approval. About the work authorization card that came in the mail. About the social security number that followed. About the fact that in 2016, if all goes well, I’ll be able to apply for a green card….and I still feel the same emptiness.
Go ahead and call me spoiled. A brat. Dramatic. Whatever.
We deserve better than this. We deserve way better.
It was never about papers, citizenship, a social, or a state ID. It was about the ways in which we treat immigrants in this country, and around the world. About the systems we have in place that drives people to migrate. About the circumstances back home and US backing of that. About the cookie cutter requirements and categories we allow immigrants to enter under. About who gets to work, live and love here. About who doesn’t. And having papers won’t change any of this. It won’t change or make up for the 20 years we lived without them. And it won’t change the fact that the rest of my community still lives under constant threat and fear.