Doing it Right

My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant

By JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS
Published: June 22, 2011

One August morning nearly two decades ago, my mother woke me and put me in a cab. She handed me a jacket. “Baka malamig doon” were among the few words she said. (“It might be cold there.”) When I arrived at the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino International Airport with her, my aunt and a family friend, I was introduced to a man I’d never seen. They told me he was my uncle. He held my hand as I boarded an airplane for the first time. It was 1993, and I was 12.

My mother wanted to give me a better life, so she sent me thousands of miles away to live with her parents in America — my grandfather (Lolo in Tagalog) and grandmother (Lola). After I arrived in Mountain View, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area, I entered sixth grade and quickly grew to love my new home, family and culture. I discovered a passion for language, though it was hard to learn the difference between formal English and American slang. One of my early memories is of a freckled kid in middle school asking me, “What’s up?” I replied, “The sky,” and he and a couple of other kids laughed. I won the eighth-grade spelling bee by memorizing words I couldn’t properly pronounce. (The winning word was “indefatigable.”)

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. “This is fake,” she whispered. “Don’t come back here again.”

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I have mixed emotions over this.

On one hand, I feel for Mr. Vargas. He has learned to love his second home and, because he was raised there, considered it his true home. He isn’t a lazy person: he studied hard, worked hard, proved his worth and intelligence. And his successful career is all due to his ethics and abilities. Even if he didn’t live in the US, who’s to say that a legal citizen would take his spot and achieve the same things? His success, objectively speaking, has been earned. I at least understand a part of his dilemma as I’ve been raised in Saudi Arabia and learned to love this country as well but only as my second home. Unlike Mr. Vargas, my heart will always be loyal to my birth country.

However, I also disagree with Mr. Vargas. Being an all-around wonderful person is not enough reason to bend the law. He supports the DREAM Act but I can’t help but feel that Mr. Vargas wrote the article and shared his experiences because he is looking for affirmation. He wants his readers to take his side and join in his fight to get the US  citizenship that has always eluded him.

Like Mr. Vargas, I was born a Philippine citizen. I still am and I am damned proud of it. If the roles were reversed and there is an American staying in the Philippines illegally, I would definitely frown upon that and lobby for deportation. Thankfully, that barely happens, haha!

Unlike Mr. Vargas, I am going through the legal process of getting an immigrant visa, a fiance visa. I fell in love with a man who happens to be American. Unlike most Filipinos, I didn’t jump at the opportunity. I had a comfortable life and I didn’t want to leave! I never even though of the “American Dream” and have never equated living in the US as “having a better life.” I had a good job, a supportive family, wonderful friends, happiness, and — most importantly — a Plan. I knew what I wanted with my life: get an MBA, save enough to open a resto/bakery with my mother back home since cooking and baking is a shared passion, work hard with my regular job so I can fund my business, and, when I have enough, buy a lot and have my Dad design my future home, which will have a spacious library and a studio. I had simple dreams but they were MY dreams.

However, things changed when Chris and I got engaged. I had to re-write my Plan as my previous one did not have room for a significant other. I had to struggle with myself. Was this what I wanted? Was I willing to sacrifice for a future with Chris? Was I willing to step out of my comfort zone and leave my job, my home and endure a few years of separation from my parents and siblings? I thought about it a lot but I knew what the answer was. YES. We wanted to build a life together and everyone knows that good things never comes easy. Eventually, Chris and I decided that we needed to live in the US, mainly due to the standard of living, access to quality education for our future children and because living in a hot, humid country is a health risk for Chris.

So we did everything the right way. We consulted an immigration lawyer, pooled our resources to pay for his services and all government fees, collected the requirements, filled out all the forms, and, we waited. Apart. We understood that this is part of the sacrifice that we both have to take if we want to start our life together. And we wanted to do it right and legal. It’s not a fake relationship for the purpose of getting me a visa but, due to people like Mr. Vargas who try to get around the law by doing sneaky things, we have to fight and prove that Chris and I are for real. Chris and I did discuss the necessity that I would probably have to apply for US citizenship later on. I expressed my wish to re-apply for a Philippine dual citizenship after that because I wanted to be in-touch with my roots. When we have children someday, they will be taught that they are both Americans and Filipinos and that they should be proud of their mixed cultures.

We’re currently in the last stages of the process and we’re hoping for an approval so we can be together again by mid-September. We never even considered cheating the system. I don’t want to be another Mr. Vargas — a person living illegally in his adopted country. A lot of people are like me: we go through the legal process because we want to do it right. Unfortunately, our efforts are hampered by the Mr. Vargases of the world who think that writing a human interest story to gain the popular vote will make the US Immigration authorities more sympathetic. Instead, screening and filtering of all applicants become more thorough and this creates delays and unnecessary difficulties. People applying for legal immigration suffer because of people like Mr. Vargas.

Mr. Vargas, I may be a Filipino like you (remember, you are STILL a Philippine citizen) but I will never support your campaign. You’re an intelligent professional. Go home, process the necessary paperwork, and prove that you deserve it.

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3 thoughts on “Doing it Right

    • I was sympathetic at first. The writer knew all the right buttons to push, But then I thought of us, I thought of others like us who did it the right way. And I thought of how illegal aliens make people think that ALL immigrants from this or that country must be illegal and that they’re desperate for a US visa. They give legal immigrants a bad name. 😦

  1. I think that the American Dream went bust ages ago due to inflation anyway. But I always thought that it was the illegal immigrants from Mexico that gave immigration authorities the biggest headaches? Either way, you’re right when you say that it’s the people who try to do things the legitimate way that suffer for it. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you and Chris, since you’re at the final stretch already.

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