This I Believe

Linda-Marie - Calistoga, California
Entered on May 3, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: immigrant

I believe there is no such thing as an “illegal” human being. Every person born on this earth has a right to eat, and to feed his family.

Let me tell you about one of my allegedly “illegal” friends. In 1989, José came from war-torn El Salvador and applied for political asylum. Immigration gave him a temporary permit while his application was pending. José was “legal.” He worked hard, paid taxes, and renewed his permit annually.

When we met, José worked for a lettuce grower and lived in trailer without hot water or heat, with his fiancée, Rosa. She had fled Central America to escape grinding poverty, where every day she had to find and cut fire wood to cook her tortillas. She hoped for a better shot at feeding herself in the U.S., where she worked “illegally” as a motel housekeeper.

José and Rosa married, which made her “legal.” They had three children, all “legal” U.S. citizens. José managed my herb farm, and Rosa helped take care of my children and house.

José is honest and hardworking. He always has two or three jobs. He now works as a chef. After 8 hours in the kitchen, he works a second job as an electrician. Not long ago, they bought a home.

Everything was fine, until an attorney offered to get José permanent residency.

Turns out it was a bad idea to ask Immigration to review the political asylum request, which had been pending for 17 years. Now José is fighting to stay in the U.S. Apparently there is almost no hope. Rosa’s status is even more tenuous. Their young children can stay, but the parents are suddenly “illegal.”

The hearings keep getting postponed, so they live in uncertainty. Should José plant another rose bush? Will he ever see it bloom?

From one day to the next, José and Rosa went from “legal” to “illegal.” Many people, part of the tapestry of our daily life, are described by this ugly word, “illegal” as if they were somehow inferior beings.

How are José and Rosa different from my great-grandfather, who fled Eastern Europe, hoping for a better life? Surely, regardless of where we’re born, none of us is “illegal.”