22 Aug inVISIBLE Americans (Part 1)
By: Carrie Carranza Hussein
I am the opposite of a transplant. Not only was I born in the United States, and in Pennsylvania, but also right here in Lancaster City. Despite having been here most of my life, I have always gravitated toward transplants.
My dad immigrated to the United States a few years before I was born, so I witnessed the struggles of being “the ultimate transplant.” I saw his intelligence assumed because of his accent, the pompous snicker when he met some sort of stereotype, the heartbreak of not being able to see his mother one last time before she passed away. To this day, it’s the only time I have seen him cry. My father knew these struggles well, so we ended up housing cousins, friends of friends, and single moms. My mom worked at Migrant Education in Millersville. Her job was to help students in transient migrant families succeed in school. I had friends who were English language learners. I saw them laughed at when they couldn’t pronounce something correctly, or completely misunderstood context, or a command. They would smile and laugh along, but looking back, I’m sure they were embarrassed and hurt.
All of this is being said because, growing up in a home full of people who are not originally from here, I learned one big truth through all of this:
Being an immigrant is really, really hard.
The balance of trying to fit in but not wanting to let go of the home inside your heart is a painful and difficult course. The language and cultural barriers can be exhausting. Seeing your children grow up completely differently than the way you grew up can make parents feel lost. The absence of family members at life’s milestones, the thousands and thousands of miles between us and those we love, the surreal feeling of finally being reunited with family, or your homeland, and feeling like a stranger because time and distance have changed everything. The costs of immigration attorneys, renewing your status, stress over deportation, or anytime you see a police officer. No access to funding for your education. Discrimination and exploitation of laborers. Words like “illegal,” “border-jumpers,” or “terrorists” being assigned to you. I have learned over the years that these are some of the countless struggles that people in our community navigate each day.
I work with immigrants and refugees in Lancaster on legal issues and help guide people through getting work authorization, green cards, citizenship, travel documents, and reuniting families through immigration. It might sound like a great gig, and it is, but it’s not just those happy things I mentioned. For every proud and smiling face at a citizenship ceremony, or each parent reunited with their child, there are other families who have stories with a different ending. I have to tell many families that there is no option, they are not eligible, they missed the cut off by 2 months, there is a way but the wait is 13 years, you could do this but then the children can’t come too, I’m so sorry but there just isn’t anything that can be done for you right now. Maybe one day.
We started a project called inVISIBLE Americans because there are over 11 million people with no legal recourse when it comes to their immigration status. Many of them came to the US as children and grew up to find themselves in a situation with a limiting and drab future that they have no control over. Many describe this lifestyle as being “in the shadows.” It is akin to the LGBTQ community saying “ in the closet.” Having to hide you are, dodge questions, avoid suspicion of even those closest to you, try to make parts of yourself invisible; these are not comfortable ways to live.
But something beautiful is happening. DREAMers (undocumented people who came to the US as children) started saying NO. No to a drab future, no to limitations, no to living in the shadows and closets of fear. Their community organized and rejected the notion of a person’s value being defined by their immigration status or how they entered this nation. They will not be defined by a single journey they took but by their character, talents, gifts, contributions to society, and achievements. They are standing up for their futures and for their families’ futures. It is time to make these stories visible. They are over 11 million people. We can no longer pretend that these people are invisible or that they are somehow not a part of our greater American Story. They are here, they are working, they are teaching, they are giving, they are serving, they are studying, they are achieving, they are providing. They are here, and we want to tell their stories. We want people to consciously understand that a human being cannot be illegal. That people cannot just simply “ fix their status” or “ go take the citizenship test ”
Immigration is one of the most heated topics of this year’s election. It is a complex, messy, and broken system that is oversimplified in our everyday discourse. If we are going to be talking about it, we need to equip ourselves to speak with truth and knowledge. It is responsible when considering politics and policy platforms that we take a moment to look into the eyes of someone who will be affected and listen to their story and their concerns. inVISIBLE Americans is doing just that–creating an opportunity for someone to make immigration personal–to see a face, not a number; to think of a family and not a statistic. We want immigrants to own the narrative when it comes to how they are portrayed and to tell their stories. One of the DREAMers featured in this project has been sharing these stories with the hashtag #GetToKnowYourCommunity. I like this hashtag and this mandate. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@invisibleamericans), and get to know your community–transplants and all, visible and inVISIBLE.