By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
On March 2, 2005, I entered this country from the U.K. on a tourist visa. I'd never been to New York before. It seemed like a fun place to be. The friendly immigration official gave me a cheery wave as he stamped my passport and sent me off with a polite "Have a good day, ma'am."
I was in the United States of America, without papers, without friends, without a job. Yet in two weeks, with a little help from my fellow illegals, I was ensconced in a loft apartment in Brooklyn, with a full-time waitressing job, a Social Security number, a bank account, and a new boyfriend.
But it's easy for someone on a U.K. passport, you say. You're white, you dress like us, you speak the same language (debatable). Wasn't your Prime Minister that cute guy who helped ol' George out with the whole Iraq debacle? You're our friends!
In actual fact, though I have a degree from one of the best universities in the world and a glittering career in publishing, the tightening of immigration laws and the reduction in the number of H1 work visas available after 9-11 have forced me to become an illegal if I want to stay, work and make my life in New York City. Prior to 9-11, I could have rolled up on a tourist visa, applied for a job, and three months later been sitting pretty in my Park Avenue office space playing with the back massager on my comfortable office chair and ordering the secretary off the phone to go and fetch me a Frappuccino.
As it is, if I go the legal route to a new life in New York, I have to find a job willing to sponsor me, apply for a visa by April 1, and, because of government restrictions, wait until October at the very earliest before being able to officially take up my position as a paid employee of an American company. If I miss the April 1 deadline, it's likely that the soonest I could take up legal employment would be October 2006.
For those would-be immigrants out there who lack the first-world privileges I grew up with, the prospect of coming here legally is growing increasingly remote. Under President Bush's "Guest Worker Program," the idea is that employers will be matched up with workers for a three-year period, but afterward, the workers will be no further along the path to gaining permanent resident status or citizenship. Bush's hazy program has given false hopes of an amnesty for illegals, and in the days after he made the proposal in January 2004, the number of illegals attempting to cross the border actually increased.
And is border control the real issue at stake? The vast majority of illegals I've met have merely overstayed their tourist visas, meaning they entered this country in a perfectly legitimate fashion.
I think you're missing the point, Mr. Bush. I and my fellow illegalswhether Mexican, Slovakian, Haitian, Italian, Nigerian, Indian, Australian, Britishwe're not here to make your taxes increase, leach off your welfare system (I'd stay in the U.K. if I wanted to do that), or make "your" America an unsafe place. We're just here to live our lives the best we can, and to do that, we're working 60-hour weeks on minimum wage, dodging immigration officials, and devising any way possible to stay in this great country of yours.
Here's what I've learned about how to be an illegal alien in New York.
1) Get into the city. There are numerous routesplanes, trains, automobiles, or boats. I came in on Flight 101 with American Airlines. My friend Sergio rowed over from Mexico on a little boat with his family. What was it like? I ask him. Aburrido, he says, and shrugs. Boring. Another girl I know, from the Ukraine, made friends with a lovely, kind American doctor, who promptly invited her oversome Eastern European passport holders aren't allowed into the country without an "invite" or sponsor. The girl promptly overstayed her tourist visa and decided to . . .
2) Get married. Marriage to a U.S. citizen gets you a green card in three months. After three years you can get permanent residency, which means you can live and work here without a U.S. passport. You will need to find someone stupid enough to take on financial responsibility for you for five years after the marriage. If you run up the credit cards and disappear, they get the bills. I like the way this country works sometimes. You also have to put up with the IRS nosing in on your bank accounts, rent payments, mortgages, etc., to make sure you really are financially co-dependent. An Italian bartender I know entered the U.S. eight months ago, and for the first three months lived solely off tips earned from bar tending. In month four, he met a Puerto Rican Baptist from Queens, 10 years his junior. In month five, he started passing on pay checks to his new Puerto Rican girlfriend to cash on his behalf. In month nine, they are intending to get married with a pleasant little ceremony in a church on the East Side. It can be done, mis amigos, and in a mere five years, you can be pledging your allegiance to the U.S., or, if going tandem's not in the cards . . .