- Posted January 31, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Naturalized citizens: Your thoughts on immigration reform
Immigration Reform - The right thing to do
I came to the U.S. close to 2 decades ago as a final year medical student hoping to transfer to a medical school here after battling with repeated interruptions back home due to prevailing socio-political problems. I came in as an F1 student registered in a test-prep school to take the medical boards (a requirement for advanced standing admission to US Medical schools i.e the few that take transfer students). I was even willing to go back a year or two just to realize my dream of getting quality education without all the incessant interruptions back home. What I however did not know was that it’s practically impossible for a non-citizen or non-permanent resident to be accepted into a U.S. Medical School because the schools insist Federal loans are needed for admission and international students don’t qualify for Federal loans.
I tried my best, called EVERY single Medical school in the U.S. and applied to as many as were even willing to consider transfer students. The only school that offered a glimmer of hope was George Washington University and back then, I believe they were asking for about $40,000 in tuition – upfront! Needless to say, I couldn’t afford it, so that was a no-go.
At the same time, the exchange rate between the dollar and the currency in my country literally doubled within months making it even tougher to survive. I struggled so hard to live up to the rules of my student visa by attending school fulltime and not seeking employment, but I couldn’t survive for long. Eventually, I had no choice but to seek some means of survival. I had to get a job.
I won’t belabor you with the details, but suffice to say it was quite tough. I had no SSN and the only skills I had were medical. I couldn’t even get a job as a medical asst because I soon found out those required a specific degree. I ended up working in a small store where I did everything from cashier, store manager, personal asst e.t.c all for a paltry wage of $100/wk. Even then, I might have been lucky to have been paid 2ce if that for the time I was there. I was desperate; I just needed money to feed and to be able to get to and from school.
Cut a long story short, I eventually applied for and thankfully got a SS card. I then proceeded to look for better-paying jobs. I must say during this period, I’d picked up some computer skills (mind you, I’d NEVER touched a computer in my life prior to coming to the States) and had actually gotten so good that I was ‘hired’ at the place that was paying me $100/wk. In addition to everything I did there, I was the resident computer tutor for students who signed up for computer classes.
Anyway, moving on, I took several tests (through staffing agencies) and eventually landed a temp job in a global firm. It was so surreal. I was so hungry, my very first week there, I begged for and got some overtime hours. Finally, life was stabilizing somewhat for me. I was still pursuing my medical dreams, studying for my boards and all, but working ardently. However, when it became obvious that no U.S. Medical school was going to accept me, I resigned myself to faith and focused on work.
To maintain my student status, I enrolled at a community college (cheapest option) carrying a full course-load (majoring in computer science) while working 2 jobs. Even with that, I averaged a 4.0 GPA most of my semesters in school and remained on the Dean’s List every single semester in school. I also made the National Dean’s list and won a number of other awards. I worked hard, studied hard and just lived day by day.
By now, it seemed obvious that medicine wasn’t really an option anymore. I focused on school as I continued working in IT-related roles. I learned quickly and was soon distinguished from the pool of workers. I became a valuable asset to the firm so much so that when I got another offer 2yrs later and wanted to leave, the firm tried so hard to keep me.
That was several years back and I’ve been through so much but I’m still here today. On 9-11, I was on my way to work when the plane flew right over my head and hit the WTC. The chaos that ensued has been detailed in many ways already, so no need to recount. I was buried in debris for 3hrs, but instinctively, my medical sense took over and I went on a self-appointed rescue mission. I personally helped about a dozen people to safety on that fateful day.
After 9-11, life changed significantly. The company I was working for folded some of their operations here in the U.S. and my department was closed and outsourced. I lost my job. That singular event began years of nightmares for me… nightmares that eventually resulted in me ‘dropping’ out of school. I simply couldn’t pay my school fees anymore so I had no choice but to drop out (even though I was an honor role student in a special honors program). At the pinnacle of my tragedy, I ended up sleeping on the street.
After many years (during which time I lost everything), I eventually got another job. I’d struggled to stay in school throughout my period of joblessness, paying my tuition before buying food or paying rent, just to maintain my legal status. But after 3-and-a-half years without a job or income, I was left destitute. It wasn’t just that there were no jobs at all, it was also that the few jobs I could’ve applied for involved some degree of international travel which I couldn’t do because of my status.
I ‘dropped out’ of school to survive. The jobs have been few and far-between since then and the recession certainly hasn’t helped issues. Even in that state though, I was fortunate to win an international award in my field (recognized as one of the best in the world). Yet, my travail continues…
Today, I’m still here, reasonably ‘successful’ in my new career but VERY limited. I have been courted (seriously) by firms in the UAE and even Europe, but have refused to bite because the US has become home to me. There is so much more to my story that I can’t possibly share in the time and space that this forum offers. But I wanted to give you an insight into the life of an ‘illegal’.
I have NEVER committed a crime in my life and would otherwise be labelled a goody-two-shoes but for this immigration predicament. I never planned, hoped, sought or wanted to be illegal; circumstances pushed me to it. Even now I watch as jobs I qualify for slide past me because my status makes it impossible for me to go for them. I’m grieved, depressed even… but I continue…
I have taken this time to tell an abridged version of my story so you ‘hear’ a human voice behind the ‘phenomenon’. There are others like me, perhaps with different stories but all with truth of intent. If you knew me in person, you’d love me…. I’m actually a pretty cool guy, if I say so myself (lol). But I have to say the words here hurt… they hurt deeply. I’ve shed a few tears over the comments that some have made on this issue. I read in another forum where someone called for “all illegal immigrants” to “be executed”! Yes, he said just that – EXECUTE ALL OF THEM!
I live a pretty clean life and save for this immigration issue, I have NEVER committed a crime – EVER! I don’t even drink or smoke – yes, that’s how plain I am. I’ve always worked in churches as a volunteer staff since my very first month of being in the States. I daresay, I’m a noble citizen! But…
So many people have spoken on behalf of ‘illegals’ but I wanted you to ‘read’ firsthand from one who is otherwise so-labelled. I speak excellent English and write just as well. I mentor several people – some even older than me and I’ve been responsible for getting some people into college who otherwise had no plans of going (all Americans, by the way). I’ve supported them emotionally, psychologically, academically and financially. This is who I am – I give.
So, as we go back and forth on this debate on illegal immigrants and how to deal with them, I want you to remember my story. Hopefully, this helps you to see the ‘human face’.