Living in limbo in the U.S.A.

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, April 20, 2013

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A friend and I met last weekend to plan her daughter’s third birthday party – a sort of downsized version of a quincea era.

But the smaller-scale rite of passage we’re planning won’t necessarily include a mariachi, maracas, ruffled lace dresses and sombreros. In fact, we talked about tutus, ruffled rompers, a candy bar, Pinterest-inspired decor, a new (costly) pet or tablet as a special gift and a Minnie Mouse theme.

“I’m not trying to overdo it or anything,” she said. “I just want it to be special. If we can, why not? For her.”

I agreed, wholeheartedly.

Her last statement means much more than just those seven words.

Erika Pedroza

Erika Pedroza

As an undocumented immigrant, there are so many things she – and the other 11 million – haven’t been able to do. She hasn’t been able to further her education. She hasn’t been able to land an ideal job. She hasn’t been able to take her daughter on vacation to the places she’d most like to go. Until recently, she hadn’t been able to even acquire a driver’s license to go to the grocery store or to doctor’s appointments with peace of mind.

Some of my stresses and complaints – college and scholarship applications, resume and cover-letter writing, airport security checks and speeding tickets – would be blessings and privileges to them.

Instead, those opportunities are denied to them, and not because of anything they did.

I attended school with some undocumented immigrants who were exemplary students, talented athletes, respectful young people. We worked hard for our grades. We did our homework, studied for tests and were involved in extracurricular organizations.

Yet after crossing the stage at high school graduation, I was off to college with scholarships, grants and loans. Meanwhile, some of my classmates – many of whom graduated with honors and no discipline record – remained confined to minimum-wage jobs in attempt to save enough money to go to school, perhaps, in the future.

They couldn’t apply for financial aid – not even for loans they’d be required to pay back.

The difference? Timing. I was born to a dad and mom who ventured to this country a few decades earlier than the parents of some of my friends. All of them made the painful decision to rip themselves away from everything familiar in hopes of better opportunities in the land of the free and home of the brave.

I’m not a parent, but if the way I was raised is any indication, I’ll bet the seven emotion-packed words mentioned earlier are true here.

For their children. These parents made difficult choices with the futures of their children uppermost in their minds.

An amnesty and a more reasonable immigration policy enabled my parents to acquire the citizenship that allowed them to land decent jobs and provide for my brother and me. I’m only one generation removed from the limitations and brick walls faced by some of the people I care about.

But frankly, nobody is unscathed. Be it seven, 10 or 24 generations, we all are descended from immigrants. The ancestors of each one of us left their native lands in search of a better life. For some, it’s been more easily obtained.

The more lenient regulations that “permitted” our ancestors’ transplanting didn’t equate to abusing any government assistance program. To the contrary, citizenship enabled my parents to live freely – both in the sense that they were able to embrace the freedoms available in this country and that they were able to live without reservation or fear of deportation.

We pay taxes, we are involved in our community and the worst things on our record are speeding tickets. We are not perfect, by any means, but we are decent people – an asset to our new country. We are proud of where we came from, and we love the country in which we live.

We are grateful for what we have and for the opportunities we’ve snagged. All immigrants deserve that outcome.

I recognize that laws are being broken, and our country must grab hold of the situation in some way. But current immigration laws are not the way to do it. Expelling those who know no other way of life is not the solution.

This isn’t about an issue; it’s about people – people with goals and ambitions, people with a desire to progress. People who, in fact, did nothing different from what you and I did, yet are being denied the freedoms we enjoy.

They are moms, who just want to plan a fun birthday party for their daughters.

Erika Pedroza is a reporter for the Wise County Messenger.

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