My husband and I watched “Living Undocumented,” a show on Netflix about illegal immigration in the United States, for the same reason we like watching people trying to crawl out of debt: some sort of warped guilty pleasure we share.
We wanted to feel good about our mediocre existence and compare ourselves to people who had a long journey ahead of them. It wasn’t a sick act – we weren’t mocking, but rather seeing how far we’d come; from the headache of filling out dozens of applications, ordering official documents and multiple interviews, to waiting anxiously for the results we couldn’t be sure about. If we weren’t accepted, it would upend our lives.
My husband’s Canadian citizenship ceremony was happening the next day, after nine years of our own hike across the land of bureaucracy. We both have a Brazilian background; I moved to Canada with my family at three years of age, and he arrived as an exchange student when he was 18 years old. It finally felt okay to be excited, and we decided to be reckless and get a taste of what the very first steps felt like.
We watched the first episode, then another, until it was 1:30 a.m. We wouldn’t go to sleep until we finished at least one more. What we expected to give us peace, made us doubt if my partner’s ceremony would happen at all.
I expected it to be bad, but my ignorance as to what constituted bad was quite juvenile.
It was as if I had been irresponsible in thinking everything would go smoothly. Without giving blatant spoilers, I learned about the unfairness of the US Border Patrol. For example, I didn’t know they could negotiate peaceful terms involving an undocumented family meeting another family member one more time before they get deported without being deported themselves, only to take it back , and put the visiting family members into indefinite imprisonment at the detention camps. Another thing that shocked me was that US border Patrol could physically assault lawyers representing undocumented immigrants without any immediate repercussions.
It was not just the difficult decisions they had to make — it was the spirit they felt from their community; the constant struggle between wanting acceptance but never being able to reveal yourself.
All this doesn’t compare to how surprised I was to see that under the Trump administration’s Zero Policy, every single undocumented immigrant is treated the same, and can be deported at any time. That means undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes in the country are treated the same as one that is law-abiding and a constructive member of their community through their work and family. The policy forbids any official who oversees the undocumented immigrants to exercise discretion or determine what consequences are appropriate based on the immigrants merits, sometimes allowing for leniency, such as allowing them to stay in the country, or even have a driver’s license, if the individual has contributed constructively to their community and has no police record. Instead, all officials have to apply a predetermined punishment, in this case deportation or detention at an internment camp.
This means undocumented immigrants who have willingly checked into Border Patrol agencies throughout the years, paid taxes, are raising their families with their kids going to local schools, and have never committed a crime, could be deported at any moment.
The friendly relationship between the agency and the people wanting to live a better life had come to a terrible end: mothers and fathers having to say goodbye to their children, decade-old careers abruptly ceased.
I couldn’t help but wonder, what if we weren’t safe from this? What if all it takes is one government worker interpreting the law in their own way, destroying everything we worked for?
These nine years of our own process to citizenship were challenging, not because we were undocumented, but because it escalated to a lengthy trial where my partner had to win in order to apply for citizenship. On the day of the verdict, the judge said how impressed he was with my husband because he had represented himself in court, and won. This was an incredible victory; we were overjoyed and relieved. But it also became an event warranting suspicion; the trial proceedings and outcome had to constantly be reviewed throughout the application process.
While I am not at liberty to divulge all the details surrounding the case, it ultimately meant we had one more hurdle to overcome. Before the ceremony, all applicants have to go through a final verification process, meaning everything that occurred during the process had to be reviewed one final time. We were worried: could the person behind the desk use this as a reason to postpone us from crossing the finish line? On the day of the ceremony, neither of us spoke about it. I prayed for the best, and started thinking about a calculated reaction to the worst.
As the day progressed from the initial anxiety to the reassurance of the judge’s welcome, to sitting and witnessing my life partner swear the oath as a citizen of Canada, I realized I never had anything to worry about. There was a pride and unity that filled the room, a rhetoric that went beyond integration — there was open praise for our different backgrounds, and that as people we would add our culture to the fabric of Canada’s history.
Our victory felt bittersweet knowing how hard it is for others to work for years, only to have it taken away. We had finally made it, and I can only feel an abundance of gratefulness: for my country, for this nation of people who are accepting, and that we can now officially call ourselves a Canadian family.
Graphic by @sundaeghost