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How Can an Immigrant "do it the right way?"

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Why can't people who immigrate to the U.S. just do it the right way?" Go ahead. You can admit it. You're definitely not alone.

Close your eyes and imagine something with me. Oh, right. You can't read if your eyes are closed. OK, then, just pretend your eyes are closed.


Imagine that it's four in the morning, you're in your bed with your partner, asleep. The house is silent, except for the little sounds.

If you were awake you might hear a clock ticking somewhere downstairs, one of your kids snoring in the room next to yours, or a bird chirping in the big tree in your backyard, because he knows the sun is coming.


you might hear glass breaking in your kitchen. You might hear a hand reaching through the broken glass to turn the deadbolt. You might hear the almost-silent scrape of the door against the tile floor. You might hear the squeak of the loose board on your stairs as a foot presses against it.

But you don't hear those things. You're asleep, trusting that the deadbolt is holding the world outside from interfering with the people you love inside.

A few dozen more ticks of the clock, and here's what you DO hear: Your four-year old daughter screaming.

You know her almost better than you know yourself. Her scream is not a cry of sadness or the whimper of a bad dream. It's not the angry protest after her discovery of a two-year-old sibling messing with her stuff.

It's a scream of terror, and she's doing it over and over again. It immediately sends a jolt from the top of your head, through your body, past your knees, to the tips of your toes. You and your partner both sit straight up, glance at each other for a split second, and you're out of bed, bare feet on the cold floor. Without a second thought, you reach under your nightstand, hold your finger against a small circle of metal, and grab the gun from the safe. You've never had to use it before, but this is why it's there. You are the protector of your family. Your partner and your three kids depend on you.

You edge your partner behind you and whisper "Stay here." Your blood pumps, your heart racing like it did when you were fighting to finish the last stretch of that marathon last month. The one you almost didn't finish because you thought your heart would explode first.

You hold the gun in front of you, quickly glancing into your son's room as you pass. He's sitting up in bed, eyes wide. You yell at him to stay there. No sense being quiet at this point. Your ten-year-old daughter pokes her head out of her room and you wave her back inside. Your four-year-old's open door is straight in front of you. You walk through it and swing the gun left, toward where you know her bed is.

She's standing on the cold floor, in a red ruffled nightgown, messy brown hair falling around her shoulders. She's trembling from head to toe , tears are streaming down her face...and a masked intruder is standing behind her, arm around her neck, the point of a glinting silver knife turned toward her cheek.

You feel bile rise in your throat, muscles tensing everywhere in your body. The fingers of your free hand curl into a fist and your already racing heart shifts into overdrive.

This can't be happening.

"Money. All you've got. And everything in your medicine cabinet." The intruder says it calmly, but when you don't move, he repeats it, yelling this time, the knife hovering millimeters from you daughter's skin.

And before you can do anything else, he's lunging at you with the knife.

So, you pull the trigger.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock.

The man dies.

Your family is safe.

It must have really sucked to pull that trigger, but you stepped up and did what you had to do.


Killing is against the law, isn't it?

Well, sure...BUT someone broke into your house, threatened your family, and attacked you. So, it's justified.

But, WHAT IF there was no provision in the the law for self-defense? What if everyone were to tell you that you were wrong. That you should have calmly and rationally called 911 and let the police handle it, instead of pulling the trigger. What would you say to those people?

I know what I would say:

"Are you crazy? He was trying to kill me right at that moment! I DIDN'T HAVE TIME!"

OK, hopefully I haven't lost you at this point, because I'm about to get to the WHO CARES part of this.

***We interrupt this program for a public service announcement. Because of the world we live in, the author needs to state that this is NOT an endorsement for or against guns. It just isn't. Don't go there. Seriously. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming***

Pretend you're closing your eyes again.

Imagine you live in a place where work is hard to find. You have a spouse and four children. You need to feed them, clothe them, keep them safe. You finally find a job, and you're grateful. Pretty soon, you realize it's not going to be enough. The minimum wage is $4 per day, and you spend $2 of that getting to and from work on the bus. The remaining $2 is barely enough to feed your family for one day. What about clothes? What about medicine? What about school supplies? What about shoes? What about home repairs? What about anything else?

Your spouse decides to make food to sell out of your house. Doing that gives your family an extra $1 a day.

Your son needs new pants. His one pair doesn't even touch his ankles. But, no money.

Your daughter needs medicine. The kind they give her at the public clinic doesn't work. But, no money.

A local gang decides your house is in their territory and they demand $2 a day to "protect" your home and family. Your hands are tied. You know what will happen if you refuse. No home. No family. The "protection" money takes priority.

Despite the fact that you work 12 hours a day: No money AND no food.

Your family is suffering.

What will you do?

In the U.S. there are jobs. In the U.S. people's work is really worth something. You feel like that's your best option. But how do you do it?

Well, here are the choices:

A) Apply for a visa to go to the U.S. to work.

Since you don't have an employer in the U.S. to apply for you, nor do you have a family member who is a U.S. citizen that can apply for you, you'll have to apply for a non-immigrant visa. It will cost you about $260 (application fee, visa fee, scheduling fee, Mexican passport fee, etc.) and it may take months to come through, if you're approved at all. Oh also, you'll need to prove that you're planning to come back by showing some or all of the following:

1. That you own your own home

2. A bank account with a substantial sum in it

3. Proof of family in the U.S. waiting to support you while you're there.

4. Proof of employer that will be waiting for you to return

Oh, and here's the thing: Even if you manage all the rest of that, the visa you'll be getting is only a 3-month tourist visa. You'll be able to go see the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Rushmore. But you won't legally be able to get a job.


So, when you come home three months later, should you decide to "do it the right way," you'll have exactly ZERO more dollars to contribute to your family's well-being.

Well, you won't qualify for the visa anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Let's check out other options.

B) Apply for a student visa

Good News! If you want to go to school in the U.S. then you can apply for a student visa! You'll still have to pay $200 to apply (plus passport fee, scheduling, etc, etc). OK. Maybe your family will loan you the money.

But what about tuition? You won't have access to all the same grants, scholarships and loans that a U.S. citizen has.

Here's what you'll need each year for four years (including housing costs):

Community College: $8,614 (for out-of-state students)

Public University: $35,370 (for out-of-state students)

Private College: $45,370

Books and Supplies: $1,250


You'll only be able to work on-campus jobs, if there are any available. Plus, you don't automatically get a work visa after graduating. You have to find an employer who is willing to apply for a visa for you. And if you don't, you go home. Or you go back to school.

In your situation, this kind of money only appears in your dreams. Looks like, for you, this option is dead in the water.


C) Marry a U.S. citizen

Not too many U.S. citizens are walking around your tiny town looking for marriage proposals. Oh, and there is one other detail: You're already married.

But let's pretend you're not, just for fun. What would the options be?

1. Go to the U.S. in order to meet someone.

"So, I'm trying to get to the U.S. to meet someone, to marry him or her, so I can get to the U.S.?"

2. Fall in love and pop the question

I highly recommend the "fall in love" part, as faking this situation to get your green card is a serious offense that results in jail time and a $250,000 fine.


3. Go back to your own country and apply for a fiancé visa

Pay $535 to file (not including appointment fees, passport fees, etc, etc.), and then start the waiting game.

If it's discovered that you were in the U.S. illegally, you'll be required to return to your own country for a minimum of 10 years. If your spouse can't or won't come with you, for any reason, good luck. You know what? Just "good luck" either way.

4. Don't expect a guaranteed welcome to the U.S. even after your ten years are up.

Again, for you, none of that matters, because you're married.


D) Pay a coyote to take you over the border.

No, not a furry desert animal that might eat you on the way there. Check out the second one.




A wolflike wild dog native to North America.

A person who smuggles Latin Americans across the US border, typically for a high fee. "At the bus station, there were coyotes offering to drive us to Los Angeles"

He'll charge a couple thousand bucks. But you have a cousin in L.A. Maybe he'll front you the money, and once you're making $8 an hour instead of $4 a day, you'll be able to pay him back in no time. Plenty of places need workers: farms, construction crews, cleaning companies, factories. You'll find something easily, and send money back to your family.

Looks like D is the winner. The other three are not in your realm of possibility. But the last one...well, you don't like the idea.

You've heard of people dying in the desert, getting shot at by border agents, and being beat up by gangs that prey on would-be immigrants. Plus, your cousin says you'll be treated like trash once you make it. If you do make it.

Option D is the LAST thing you want to do. But what if it's your only hope?

TIME'S UP! Time to pick one. Your family is suffering and you DON'T HAVE TIME. What's it gonna be?

***We interrupt this program for ANOTHER public service announcement. Because of the world we live in, the author needs to state that this is NOT an endorsement for or against illegal immigration. It just isn't. Don't go there. Seriously. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming***

This is the point: When we tell an undocumented immigrant that they need to simply do it the right way, it's the same as telling a person who fired in self-defense, a split second before being killed themselves, that they should have called 911 instead.


We like to imagine that coming to the U.S. "the right way" is a simple, civilized, orderly process, and that if a person would just comply with it, they could be here, live here, work here, raise a family here legally.

For the millions who don't fit into the neat little scenarios above: FALSE.

A couple of years ago, I picked up a novel at the library that I thought I might enjoy. The cover was decorated with sugar skulls, colorful and bright. I thought it might be a story that portrayed Mexican culture. Instead it was about a police officer in a border town who, out of the goodness of his heart, would identify Mexicans with fake papers and point them to the correct office, where they could stand in line to get real ones.

I wanted to rip the pages to shreds to ensure no one would ever read those words again! (But I didn't, dear Librarian. I didn't.)

That is the myth. Here is reality:

What we have is a broken system that ENCOURAGES illegal immigration because receiving permission to work in the U.S. is more complicated, and infinitely less feasible than people realize. And that's what most immigrants come for. To work to support their families.

There's no provision in the law for these people. There's no "self-defense" clause for them. What there IS is an automatic label: "Illegal."

Not "Someone who exhausted all her options."

Not "Someone who would have liked to do it the right way."

Not "Someone who payed thousands to do it right, and still got denied."

Not "Someone's Father."

Not "Someone's Wife."

Not "Someone's Son."

One label. No Provision: Undocumented Immigrant


And that, dear reader, is why you and I need to pause before telling an immigrant something they already know: that they should have come "the right way."

***We interrupt this program for ONE LAST public service announcement. Because of the world we live in, the author needs to state that she was not trying to imply anything at all (Nothing. Really.) by the pictures she chose to use of brown, black, white, Asian, hairy, bald, tall, short, fat, skinny, young, old, and old-ish people. They're people. It's not about that. It just isn't. Don't go there. Seriously. We now return to you to your regularly scheduled day.***