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    Posted July 2, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First Person: Your essays

    My elephant leg

    I once heard this anecdote about how people train elephants in India, or Asia, or wherever it is that they use them as beasts of burden, by chaining them up as babies to trees so that no matter how hard the elephant tugs, it cannot break free. Once they are adults, they are so broken down that they need only to be tied with a rope to keep them from wandering off.
    I’ve been living most of my adult life like one of these broken down elephants, tied by a flimsy rope that I’ve come to think of as a heavy, thick chain that keeps me in place. You see, I’m an “illegal immigrant.” My father is a naturalized citizen of this country, and I’ve an application for legal status in, but because of the rules of the current immigration system I’ve waited nearly 19 years for said application to be processed. We submitted the application shortly after I graduated high school in the hopes that within a year or two it would be approved and processed and I could continue my education and achieve that better life that my parents sought for my brothers and me when they brought us to this country.
    In the meantime, I entered the workforce and I enrolled in classes at a community college. Year after year I would check on the status of my application only to hear, “next year, come back next year.” I had set specific goals for my life early on, like going to college and becoming a professional, earning a good salary, raising a family, etc. I saw my father work long hours, being exploited in the sweatshops of downtown L.A. and sometimes getting screwed out of his wages by unscrupulous folks who took advantage of people like him who spoke little or no English and had no idea what protections and rights they were entitled to under labor laws. I knew I could provide a better future for my family if I just had a decent shot at it.
    I didn’t feel I was asking for a handout. I was willing to work and earn it just like so many folks have done generation after generation in this land of opportunities. But when I couldn’t even get something as simple as a driver’s license or a social security card to work legally and live within the means of the law I felt desperately frustrated and helpless. At one point in my late teens I became so depressed that I attempted suicide because I felt myself to be totally worthless and inept. I always carried with me the stigma of being undocumented and it pervaded every aspect of my life. My self-esteem was non-existent, my dreams and aspirations became impossible, unreachable blurs and I felt I had no purpose for living.
    Somehow I made it through this period of my life and I have attained some milestones along the way—I completed an A.A. degree back at the community college after 10 years, I overcame that crippling feeling of helplessness and lack of self-confidence that had me thinking for so long that I was worthless, and I learned a trade that, while not the profession that I’d like to practice, puts food in my belly and keeps a roof over my head.
    In recent years I saw a movement that began with the “Dreamers” come to life asking the government to act upon and bring out of the shadows the millions of undocumented folks that form a significant part of this country’s economy and society. I felt a faint hope rise within me, but as I’d grown jaded and cynical after so many years of waiting for my “papers” to be processed I could not bring myself to believe entirely that it would be successful. Every time I hear Washington politicians postpone immigration reform and their excuses for doing so, that faint flicker of hope grows fainter.
    I am a 36-year old man now, no professional life, no good salary, no wife and kids, but not feeling incapable and inept as I did for so long. I know it is never too late to become who you want to be—I’m still aiming to become a professional (an English literature teacher, no less). And yet I still feel like those elephants who are so broken down they don’t know how easy it would be to break that rope that holds them in place and go their own way.
    I hope you publish this letter so that maybe it has some effect, even if minimal, in changing this broken down immigration system that for so long has been that bondage that has kept folks who could contribute more to this country than so far has been allowed. Thank you.
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