The Difficulties of Undocumented Life

By Kelly Anne Bridges Two weeks ago, I reunited with my fiancé in Mexico for my uncle’s wedding. For four days, I was able to have his hand entwined in mine, run my fingers through his once unruly hair, and rest my head against his chest. Alas it was only for four days. At the airport in Guadalajara, we said our goodbyes: I returned to Philadelphia, while he returned to Monterrey, Mexico. This was not uncommon. Three times a year for the past two years we endure the heartbreak of physical separation, as we live in two different countries. I live north of the border in the land of the free. He lives south of the border in a land characterized by drug-related violence. From the age of thirteen through the age of eighteen, my fiancé lived life as an undocumented immigrant. In 2007, my fiancé moved in with his aunt to one of San Diego’s harshest neighborhoods. It was his first time away from Mexico. Moreover, it was the first time he was away from his immediate family. His mother, father, grandparents, and little sister remained on the other side of the border in a country facing political instability, poverty, inequality, and carnage. His parents sent him to the states on a tourist visa in order to give him a better life; however, he violated the terms of his visa by attending his final year of middle school and four years of high school in the states.

He was admitted to Drexel University, where he planned to study biomedical engineering with a concentration in neuroengineering. Furthermore, he was admitted with a Dean’s scholarship into the university’s honor’s program. He wanted to attain the American dream, yet he wanted to do so with proper documentation. He feared the potential repercussions of remaining undocumented during college: What if he was deported during or after he obtained his diploma? What if he was unable to secure a position in the states once he graduated? What if we were unable to get married in the future or if our family was broken apart due to legal troubles? For my fiancé, getting a student visa was not only seen as a rational choice, but also a morally right choice. The student visa he hoped to obtain was needed in his journey to study in the United States. Additionally, he no longer identified with Mexican culture to the same extent that he had when he first left his country. He was now immersed in American culture and adopted the identity that went with it.

During the summer before our freshmen year of college, my fiancé planned his move. He meticulously went through the Bed, Bath, & Beyond checklist to account for the furniture he would need for his dorm room, asking me to help him choose the linen for his bed. He purchased his one-way ticket to Philadelphia and two weeks before his orientation week, he had three suitcases packed for college with clothes, personal items, and memorabilia that I had given him throughout the months we spent together: photographs, love notes filled with poems, and toy turtles I had bought for him, as they have long been his favorite animal. He was nearly college-bound but the one item he didn’t have was his student visa.

Two weeks before he was to fly to Philadelphia to attend Drexel University, he traveled to Tijuana where he had an appointment with the American consulate. He waited several hours in the waiting room, where he witnessed the joys of those who were granted entry to the states and the tears of those who were denied. He was called to speak with the official who was to determine the course of his future. He told her that he had lived for five years in the United States where he attended school. He proceeded to tell her about his ambitions and accolades attained in high school and at college, as he received various honors and scholarships from Drexel. She was not compelled. Within five to ten minutes she decided to deny his student visa and to revoke his tourist visa on two criteria: 1) he did not have sufficient ties to Mexico, though his immediate family lived there, and 2) he should have returned to Mexico at 16 years of age, when he was a sophomore in high school. He was devastated. One week later he tried to speak to another officer providing evidence demonstrating that he would return to Mexico, unless he was able to stay through other legal means (e.g. work visa); however, the immigration officer did not even skim his paperwork. His evidence was compelling: he was to care for his sister in the case that his single mother died from lupus and he was offered a job at a hospital in Mexico to manufacture biomedical technologies. Once again he was denied a visa. I can still remember the pain in his voice when he called to notify me of his second denial. We cried together for the next several days, as we tried to figure out our future.

It was not until the Spring semester that he began a different life in Mexico. Though he started as a biomedical engineer at a university in Monterrey, he quickly switched to software engineering. The switch to the new university due to his denied student visa has negatively affected his academic drive, as US immigration officers essentially told him that his dreams did not matter. Additionally, at his university, he faces language and cultural barriers. Since he left Mexico in middle school, his Spanish language skills have remained rudimentary. He is unable to compete at the collegiate level with his peers, as he does not have the vocabulary to do so. Furthermore, having lived for five years in the states during the time in which one develops a cultural identity, he has had difficulty befriending his peers. My fiancé is undergoing a culture shock upon his return to Mexico. All of these factors have led a once healthy, social, and ambitious young man to fight with diagnosed depression, isolation, and academic failures.

I hope to one-day reunite with my fiancé. In July, we will mark our three-year anniversary, though it is one marked with sadness. I remind myself that had immigration policy provided amnesty for children brought to the states, had the country allowed a young immigrant to pursue the American dream, and had his student visa been granted, I would never have had to say goodbye to him two weeks ago. Everyday, I would be able to have his hand entwined in mine, run my fingers through his once unruly hair, and rest my head against his chest. It would not be a life lived in the past, but one in the present.

I ask that you share this article, not for me or my fiancé, but for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States and for those who are no longer allowed entry back home.


10 Comments on The Difficulties of Undocumented Life

  1. Don'tComeHereIfYouDon'tHaveTheProperDocuments // April 24, 2014 at 10:25 pm // Reply

    well too bad… guess that is what happens when you break the law in the first place…

    • If you are Not native American ; you are a immigrant . So tectonically all of us who are not Native American are breaking the law and have broken the laws (since the ancestors of many in America did not have “proper document”s )。 But that doesn’t matter really because in reality no owns the earth :)

    • Some people need to get it together. I hate when ppl dont have compassion. Hell you only here cause your momma had you here. I wish you were born somewhere else and your mom didnt have papers and youd understand. I think that no matter what he should have been allowed to stay. Whether you know it or this want to be person decided to steal some of mexico and call it usa and block others out and steal their land! So honestly you arent american either. Do the practice test it takes for the people to become a citizen and see if you pass the first time and see if you would be allowed to stay. This is to all who have something against “immigrants”!

  2. Remarkable blogpost. Will you link me to more of your posts??

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  4. Could I register for the articles you write?? I don’t know how
    to do it and don’t want to miss your next ones.

    • As far as I can tell there aren’t any mechanisms on our site to allow you to subscribe for updates but that is certainly something I can bring up with our board

  5. This really encourages me. I just want to write
    as passionately as you.

  6. This is unfortunate, but I don’t see how this advocates for immigrant rights. Success in school does not “earn” entry to the country any more than money or atheltic ability. Your frustration with the system does not justify you claiming “US immigration officers essentially told him that his dreams did not matter.” A lot of people “dream” of going to the US alone, let alone attaining an education and getting a good job. The fact is is that we don’t have open borders, and so immigration officers need to use whatever metrics they can to determine to whom to give the limited number of visas.

    One thing that often leads them to reject people is a disregard for US law. Yes, he violated the terms of his visa the first time around. The purpose does not justify the violation. Some people violate the visa only to prevent their hungry families from starving. One of the things the immigration system does (and must) take seriously is such violations.

    Every point you make in this entire article is justified only by your personal (and, dare I say, somewhat selfishly worded) desire to be with him. Sure, you seem to love and appreciate the guy. But, just from the facts presented, it sounds like a lot of other people are in much worse situations (re: starvation and disease), have much more noble intentions (re: feeding their families, escaping drug violence), and less arrogance to think the education you pursue is more important than the United States legal system’s mandates.

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