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America, My Home Essay Contest

An Illegal Alien

Tamara
Larkin Street Youth Services / San Francicso Community College
Sponsoring Station: KQED, San Francisco

Once upon the time I was a smart, scholarship winning student at a private college in New Mexico. But things went wrong: the college asked me to leave despite my good standing. With nowhere to go, I entered a new world; a world of homelessness, poverty and being undocumented. Being undocumented and an illegal alien excludes me from exercising the rights afforded to American citizens. Additionally, I am restricted from accessing social services that are available to most U.S. citizens. Finally, my undocumented status keeps me in a constant state of fear and insecurity.

There are many rights as an undocumented person that I am denied. As a dutiful person involved in the community, I would like to pay taxes, vote, and he eligible for jury duty. However, these are rights that I cannot exercise, since I am not allowed to become a California resident. Furthermore, everyday things such as obtaining a drivers license, opening a bank account both require proof of California residency. Getting a legitimate job to pay the rent is not possible. These rights are important and are part of our everyday lives.

Another disadvantage as a non-U.S. citizen is that I am restricted front accessing social services. For example, during times of hardship I am not eligible for General Assistance or to receive foodstamps. Without means of government assistance it is extremely difficult for me to survive and to establish a stable living situation. Additionally, I struggle with a chronicle disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis. Given my non-immigrant status I do not qualify for Medical, a health care privilege in this country, which makes it impossible to afford the necessary medication. It is even more unlikely to obtain a job that pays at least minimum wage and offers benefits like Social Security Insurance and provides paid sick and/or holidays. Last, but not least is the challenge of finishing my college education. Being a non-citizen of the United States I am ineligible for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA), which prevents me from having access to affordable college education. The previous list of examples of the restrictions of privileges is impairing my ability to provide myself with basic needs and stability. Even in the world of homelessness, not being eligible for government assistance puts me in an isolated category and outside of this society.

Aside from the overall hindrance of not having access to social services and other privileges, not having papers has a tremendous impact on my trust in others and has a damaging influence on my self-esteem. Given my undocumented status, I am always vigilant and careful whom I talk to. Talking to the wrong person could jeopardize my housing, lead to losing my job and even get me deported. The fear of being reported to the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) is crushing and stressful since this can lead to deportation, which is my worst nightmare. Getting deported would mean losing everything and starting all over again. Apart from a daily dose of fear and insecurity, the negative image of illegal immigrants hurts my feelings. Thanks to my articulate and eloquent verbal expression in English, people do not always realize that I am not an American citizen, when I hear comments like: "Illegal immigrants are lazy," or "They will never learn how to speak proper English," or "All immigrants are potential terrorists and they should leave our country." I feel hurt, ashamed and inferior. I see that immigrants are not being seen as the same as other human beings but rather less. Immigration laws are stating a clear message; one does not have the right to be in this country unless one is eligible. Burdened with the negative image of immigrants in general and the laws, I often try to be invisible. At times I feel afraid to have taken the place of an American on the bus or a bed in a shelter for homeless. Despite the challenge of feeling good about myself in a society that expresses fear and prejudices towards its immigrants, I maintain the hope of becoming a U.S. citizen with rights and privileges one day.

My life as an illegal alien has given me insight into the struggles that are faced by many other immigrants. For example, early in the morning I see Latino immigrants standing on the side of the road in the hope to be one of the wanted construction workers for that day. Their challenges consist of how to provide their family a secure future and how to financially support a family without work documents. I came to understand their hardship through my own experience of being an outsider in American society. Given my undocumented status, I am fortunate to receive services from organizations such as the Larkin Street and Catholic Charities. My hope is that these excellent services will be better accessible for other immigrants. Therefore, I will continue to strive for better living circumstances for myself and others.

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