This week’s “I Am” story comes to us from Janine, an immigrant wife and soon-to-be mother who is fighting for her right to stay with her family. Current law prohibits U.S. citizens from sponsoring their foreign-born, non-US citizen, same-sex partners (Julianne Hing has the scoop here). As we challenge the concept of human “illegality,” driving immigration discourse, let’s also take pride in challenging the dominant idea of what a “family” looks like whenever we are given the platform to do so. As Janine tells us: “We are cast as ‘illegals’ and also discriminated against for who we love. There is a lot of anxiety involved when someone calls you ‘illegal.’ Even the government uses this word. It is morally wrong and we have to stop pretending it’s okay.” That’s why she’s joined the campaign to Drop the I-Word.
For the “I Am…” storytelling project, people from all walks of life relate experiences, demand respect and reject criminalizing language about immigrants. Stories are gathered in collaboration with our campaign partners. We are grateful to the Alliance for a Just Society for connecting us with Janine.
“I am in line, but still can’t get papers”
I live in San Francisco, in the Mission District and I work as a scientist in a biotech company. I grew up in communist Eastern Germany. When I was ready to go to college, things changed, capitalism came from West to East Germany. Then I applied to go overseas to go to MIT in Boston. I did it with the help of a scholarship from the German government. Then I fell madly in love with a woman for the first time. I wanted to stay so I got a visa and found a job.
I have been working in the United States for more than 10 years. I married a woman and I am expecting a child this spring. Most married people in my position can apply for permanent status and if things work out, eventually they can become naturalized citizens. But the federal law doesn’t recognize my marriage. So, even though I have done everything correctly and I have over a pound of paper work to prove it, there is no “line to get in like everyone else.”
Even with papers, people are stuck. And my employers know that it would be very difficult for me to leave this job, so if they chose to, they could increase my responsibilities without giving me a raise. I couldn’t quit my job and stay home with the baby. I couldn’t live with that kind of pressure.
For many people in this circumstance, there is no clear path or way to get out of this situation. We are cast as “illegals” and also discriminated against for who we love. There is a lot of anxiety involved when someone calls you “illegal.” Even the government uses this word. It is morally wrong and we have to stop pretending it’s okay.
When my partner and I got married, we went to the consulate and filled out papers for her to be able to live and work in Germany - they apologized saying it would take three months for her to get her papers. This means it’s possible for a government to recognize a marriage between two women and to support their right to stay together in the same country.
This country has a love-hate relationship with immigrants. Immigrants contribute to society in every way, but we are not always given the chance to have a better life. There are many complexities that tell us the system is broken. Sometimes I’m not sure we even have a system at all, which makes it even easier to scapegoat immigrants. We have to continue to call for change and demand a real immigration system that recognizes the humanity of all.