I lived in the United States illegally for eight years. Apparently the politically correct term is undocumented. I didn't care what it was called: That was me, always feeling like the bottom of the food chain. No opportunities, no hopes. I worked hard every day to pay for my bills and to attend college, while there was no prospect of a green card yet.
I used to work as cashier for a cafe deli in Manhattan, serving lattes for business men and young professionals. I used to hear them talk of their jobs and their vacation plans. I had a dream: Once I had a green card, I was going to travel too, and have a wonderful job where I would wear suits and sip lattes on my break.
The hardest part was, of course, not being able to see my family. My parents and siblings are in Colombia and I'm here alone. Although I made plenty of friends and coped very well most of the time, the holidays always got me super sad. Other things were also highly negative: no social security number, no credit history, no access to health, no financial aid, not able to take a better job.
I lived and loved NYC, knowing that I belong here, that I'm an American, even if no one was willing to validate my feelings; even when people told me that I wasn't not in the system, that I didn't exist. I mostly went about my business every day and dreamed of my shiny gorgeous green card that would fix all these problems.
Eight years after landing in America, and after a lengthy. expensive legal process, I obtained my permit to live and work in the US. But most of those problems I had as undocumented are not gone. I can't get private loans because I have no credit history. A year later, I'm still job searching. Since my work experience is mostly food handling and child care (among other, equally low-income jobs such as waitressing, apartment cleaning, cashier -- all off the books), I am struggling to find employment I'm satisfied with, considering that I speak two languages fluently and have a BA from an American college. I cannot get financial aid because I'm a post bac -- my degree is actually getting in the way.
Health has been the only true improvement, since due to low income, I qualify for medicare (not welfare, not food stamps).
I expected something to change drastically after I became a legal resident, but that change has not happened yet. I trust it will, little by little. I have had a couple of interviews, which counts as improvement compared to not being able to even apply for a “real” job before. I hoped getting my legal status would end the struggle and make me happier. However, I realize now it is only the beginning of a new struggle: fighting in a bigger pool, competing in a greater market.
The day I passed my immigration interview, everyone was congratulating me. I was confused. This paper isn't something I achieved. This is something I deserve. It should be my right, not my privilege, to have identification documents in the place where I live. I, too, am America.
May 1, 2013 - Los Angeles, California, U.S - A woman with a ''Green Card'' sign, shouts slogans as thousands of people participate in the May Day march. In celebration of May Day, people have gathered across the country to rally for various topics including immigration reform. (Credit Image: © Zhao Hanrong/Xinhua/ZUMAPRESS.com)
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