What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Carol.
What I want you to know is that I grew up an illegal alien and didn’t even know it. I came to this country a month shy of my thirteenth birthday and started the 8th grade without knowing anyone and not really knowing the language. My mom came here to settle into a politically stable country that would be safer for her girls. Having come from a country that endured a 36-year-old civil war, the kidnapping of my cousin, and being tormented for being in the political eye, it was enough for her to make that brave move.
What I want you to know is that I really wanted to fit in. I started high school like every other teenager, and participated in activities just like everyone else. While my schoolmates were getting jobs in the summers as lifeguards and at other local businesses, I could not work, my mom would not allow it; she would say just concentrate on your studies. I never understood why. While my schoolmates were filling out college applications, I was at a lawyer’s office filling out different kinds of papers. I never really understood my situation; I just knew I couldn’t work. I knew I was there to fill out paperwork to get a work permit while we waited to see if we could get asylum by applying to become a citizen. My grandmother died that same year and I couldn’t go to her funeral because we wouldn’t be able to get back in the country. I didn’t understand that. I remember my Latin teacher did a study abroad in Italy and I couldn’t go!!! I couldn’t travel.
What I want you to know is it is hard to become a citizen. I graduated high school and applied to the local community college. How did I do that? Well I’m not proud but I lied in the application when it asked me where I was born. I had a social security card; yes illegal aliens can get one. I got my work permit at 19 and got a waitressing job at a local restaurant and went to school. Yes I paid to work and had to apply every year and pay every year. What was I to do? Time went by and I was in my early 20s and still no citizenship. I ended up graduating from the community college with my associate’s degree, still no citizenship. I still paid to work here. I didn’t apply to a 4-year college because I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, this was still prior 9/11, the game changer.
What I want you to know is that I have never taken for granted living in this country. I was taking a trip with my boyfriend to Vegas and he proposed on the plane, I was pregnant and said yes. Three days later I was married. I said this is meant to happen, INSTANT CITIZENSHIP!!! I was wrong. I didn’t have insurance and applied for Medicaid and got turned down because I wasn’t a citizen, I paid for my child’s birth out of pocket. My son was born in 2001, 7 months before the fall of the twin towers. I immediately started working on my citizenship. I was a stay at home mom and knew that I wanted more, so I went to apply to the University of South Florida, brought the papers home and to my surprise I needed proof of residency and/or citizenship, I had neither. Times had changed since I applied to the community college. I had to wait til I was married for 3 years before I could apply for my residency (which is the “green card”). I got my residency finally in 2005. YAY I could finish my degree!!! I got my degree in International Studies in Political Science. Still no citizenship.
What I want you to know is that not all illegal aliens are working under the table, or trying to take your job, or benefiting from welfare, or Medicaid. There are millions of people living here illegally, some by choice and others because they had no choice. So today, I am still waiting for my citizenship papers to be approved, 25 years after arriving to this country. I am very proud to see people at the polls in this rainy morning here in Orlando and it brings tears to my eyes to think when I can do the same and call the United States my country. What I want you to know is that I wish I could vote today.