America is my home.
I can sing most of the words to any *NSYNC song. I am an avid Phillies fan. My favorite foods growing up were hot dogs, pizza and grilled cheese. I cried when 9/11 happened and I wear red, white and blue every year on its anniversary. I have lived, loved and hurt in this country for the better part of my life. Ask me where I’m from, and I’ll say Philadelphia. Sit down and have a conversation with me, and you’ll be quick to assume that I am an American woman through and through.
In reality, I was born in Spain and moved to the U.S when I was seven years old with my mother. Though I am quick to claim my European roots, I am realistic enough to know that I have been fully Americanized.
I came to this country in 1995, making it a little over 16 years that I have lived in the U.S. For 13 of those years, I was here illegally. I didn’t have a social security number, a driver’s license or a job until I was 20 years old.
Growing up, I thought I was the only child in this situation, but there are thousands of kids who are caught in this limbo. I call it a limbo because they truly are stuck and their future is uncertain. The only home they know is America, but they are told they don’t belong.
My limbo family and I were put in a situation we had no control over. When we came here, we were too young to say no and besides, why would we? We trust our parents and we know that what they do is for our own good.
Throughout high school, I thought everything was great. I attended one of the best high schools in Philadelphia and I was sure I would be able to get into a decent university. I did everything I was supposed to. In elementary and middle school, I earned better grades than most of my classmates. I was active and participated in many extracurricular activities. I had goals and I did everything I could to attain said goals.
When junior year came around, I realized that in order to go to college and get any kind of scholarship, I needed a Social Security number. I felt a sense of hopelessness which no one truly understands unless they’ve been in this situation.
Such hopelessness was the driving factor in the recent suicide of a high school senior in Texas. He wanted to go to college and become an engineer, but being an illegal immigrant made that dream impossible. He was an American boy who wasn’t accepted in America.
Though it may sound extreme, I understand exactly how he felt. The summer before senior year was one of the worst periods in my life. The thought that my education could not continue made me sick to my stomach. And to make matters worse, I couldn’t even get a job. What was I to do? Mooch off my mother for the rest of my life? That wasn’t much of an option since my mom and I were poor and lived off the mercy and generosity of those around us.
My mom worked hard to provide for us. She hated her jobs, but that never stopped her determination to make sure I had all I needed. There were periods when I wouldn’t see her for days at a time. That doesn’t do much a for a mother-daughter relationship. As I got older, I began to feel like a burden. Not because she made me feel that way, but because I knew that kids my age had jobs and could start providing for themselves. Though I wanted to, I couldn’t. I had to continue getting money from my mom – money she didn’t have to give.
When asked what colleges I was applying to, I did my best to avoid answering. My counselor always tried to start the application process with me, but I did my best to avoid him, too.
Some people are quick to judge and assume that illegal immigrants are a problem. They believe illegal immigrants are criminals who use up American resources and contribute nothing to our society.
There are at least 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Out of the 307,006,550 people in this country, 10 million cannot be solely responsible for every problem this nation faces.
One of these 10 million is Pulitzer winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas. Last June, he revealed that he is an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines. He hopes this revelation will lead to a much-needed conversation about the country’s immigration situation.
Currently, states like Arizona, South Carolina and Alabama are passing laws that enable them to catch more undocumented immigrants and make it more difficult for them to function in society.
Alabama’s new immigration law is the nation’s strictest. Public schools are required to get proof of documentation from both students and their parents. Though they will still be allowed to attend school, the reality is that many undocumented immigrants will be hesitant to enroll their children for fear of being discovered. Is discouraging a child’s education really the best tactic?
I am fortunate. Everything worked out for me. I have a driver’s license, financial aid and, when I graduate in April, I will hopefully have some job prospects.
But I still feel for those who were in my situation and have no immediate future. I still wonder what will happen to them.
Written by Vanessa Perkins