America and The Immigrant

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By: Brittany J.E. Hughes

She was graceful, nothing like I expected her to be. I’d spent countless hours combing over every detail of her story. Although I’d never met her in person, I knew everything about her. Well, Everything that mattered that is. I knew the name of her husband, children, parents, and siblings, where she worked, how much money she made, how she’d fallen in love, her dreams and aspirations-everything. I was her storyteller, crafting every fabric of her experience into an intricate memoir. By no means was her life easy, there were traces of poverty, loss, and oppression outlining the rims of her existence. Yet, she embodied hope.  My hope in recounting her life would be that my audience would fall in love with her the same way that I had- I believed that with the right words I could evoke empathy and compassion onto calloused hearts. As an attorney, I’d never really thought of myself as a storyteller, but her livelihood depended on it. I wasn’t going to let her down.I believe it would have worked, if only we had made it that far.

The look on her face was devastating. You could sense the panic, fear, and subtle confusion. In my heart I knew that she anticipated this result, but her belief in the American Dream, in me- gave her hope. She wasn’t the type of woman to go down without trying. Although I had done nothing to cause her anguish, I still somehow felt guilty. Perhaps it was because I had something she did not. I did not work for what I had. In fact, I only received it by chance. She, however, had spent thousands of dollars, tirelessly consulted any lawyer who would listen, risked life and limb to be present in our country, experienced loneliness and prolonged separation from her family, and learned a foreign language and culture in hopes of assimilation. In the end, none of it mattered. She’d married a U.S. citizen, was raising three U.S. citizen children, and had for the most part conducted herself as a model member of society- yet- because she entered the country illegally, returned to her country of origin for a funeral, and reentered illegally she was now subject to a ten year bar- if she left the United States, she wouldn’t get back in. Looking at her, I felt terrible, I wish I’d known her sooner.


As an African-American woman, my relationship with America is complicated. More often than not I find her dreams inaccessible, her disposition frustrating, and her presence infringing. My ancestors were brought here on slave ships, against their will. Perhaps that is why I struggle to wrap my head around someone willingly choosing to call this country home. Nonetheless, for those willing to risk their lives in search of opportunity, shouldn’t they be given the benefit of the doubt? In a country where slavery, genocide, and racism are as intertwined in our history as our flag- shouldn’t we strive to construct an open and accessible society? It seems that America has always chosen who is worthy of her love by following the sporadic, not so subtle racism in her heart. I wish I hadn’t witnessed her cruelty in my office that day.

She was trying her best not to cry. To no avail a single tear streamed down the side of her face. The choice was not easy- spend the rest of her life in the U.S. with the fear and risk of deportation or willingly return to her home country, unable to re-enter the U.S. for another ten years. If she left, would her husband follow? What about her children? They wouldn’t have the same opportunities.  She had officially entered purgatory- the space in between.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask her what she would do. In a way, I’d hoped she would stay-disregarding the law. My sentiments conflicted with every lawyerly instinct in my body. But she owed us nothing-not respect or decency. She’d taken care of our own, asked us nicely, and was still denied. She deserved better and we failed her.

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