Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pulitzer Winner is an Illegal Alien - My thoughts

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I've had the immigration debate with several people over the years, and when I found I was falling in love with an immigrant into the US, I had to make sure we were on the same page. This was because of the distortion of psyche Jose Antonio Vargas explains below, and one I never wanted to find in myself.

My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant - - Jose Antonio Vargas

"It was an odd sort of dance: I was trying to stand out in a highly competitive newsroom, yet I was terrified that if I stood out too much, I’d invite unwanted scrutiny. I tried to compartmentalize my fears, distract myself by reporting on the lives of other people, but there was no escaping the central conflict in my life. Maintaining a deception for so long distorts your sense of self. You start wondering who you’ve become, and why."

I feel some sympathy for Vargas, and for some others who immigrated as children and had no control over their parents' or guardians' choices to move without papers. However, my instinct is that as an adult, they should make that effort to return to their original country and then if necessary, find a way back to the country where they want to be.

For those who are already adults and choose to leave their country and settle in another without the required documentation that grants you permanent residency or citizenship, I do wonder, what are they thinking?

As someone who has lived as an immigrant in both the UK and the US, I have come across many Nigerians who are illegals, call it undocumented or what have you. The truth is that by making that choice to overstay a tourist visa, student visa, or expired H1B, you're putting yourself in a position where you can't help but lie to get by. You lie to get social security, lie to get a license, lie to get into school, lie to get a job. Lie, lie, lie, how can they bear it?

And say you're a single woman, or man, you may even find yourself lying in your personal relationships, you may get married on a lie (Green card marriage), and what if you end up married to a fellow illegal - which happens often - what about your illegal-born American children? Do people realize it's no more automatic, and the children could get deported along with them too if they're caught? Some states in America are in the process of setting up laws to discriminate against illegals in such a way that it even affects their legal children, especially when it comes to food stamps and other government benefits. But do I really blame them?

And here I come to the weightiest part for me personally. My number one life motto is FREEDOM. Inside and out. Vargas had an apparent freedom, but in his head he was in prison. He could not travel out of the US, and had not seen his family in the Philippines for almost 20 years. What kind of life is that? For me, I want to do whatever I like with my life, go wherever I want, and live wherever I want.

Most of all, I want to be free to achieve whatever I can. It breaks my heart to see talented and skilled people waste themselves in under-the-table jobs just because they're illegals in a country. I wish more people will realize how important it is to maximize your life, both for your own sake and for that of whatever country you happen to live in.

What are your thoughts on this matter? If you'll prefer to drop comments as Anonymous, I've turned it on specifically for this.


  1. on one hand im like u dat came or is staying illegally shey all d ppl lining up at the embassy in ikoyi r stupid abi. and then there is d issue of u telling lies to get resources paid for with tax dollars dat ur not contributing to. but then again, like with this guy, if u go back u may not hve d same opportunities to make the same impact even if ur living in a mental prison with d fear that all uve worked for could go up in smoke in a few hours nd ull b deported with nothing. i heard a story of a dude hu worked illegally for a quite a number of yrs den saved up to relocate nd live comfortably but dey took all d money saying he hadnt been paying taxes when he was here. but to me rather than focus on americans being selfish nd not wanting ppl to come to their country, i say if 9ja (or watever other country) did wat dey were meant to do den mayb this issue wont be as big. however, i think quite a few dat decide to stay here illegally are motivated by something stronger than the lack of mental or physical freedom like maybe making a better life for family back home nd stuff

  2. I don't understand how someone can live a life of lies either...i mean the person becomes crazy...i've seen this.

    I personally don't trust the majority of illegal Nigerians in the U.S from person experiences. They remind me of hustlers that will do "ANYTHING" to get what they want.
    I also believe that every illegal immigration case is very different though and should be treated as such.

  3. I work with people who have children. Bottom line. I don't care which country you're a citizen of and I would love to live in your country if I needed to. I was lucky (so far) to live in the US. And I try to help everyone else that wants to.

  4. i want to add that if you are in a country illegally to better yourself and your family/community back home, that's one thing. It's another thing if you are backstabbing, causing crazyness, and basically taking advantage of every person and system you come across.

  5. I read the Vargas story yesterday. I've lived as an immigrant in four countries and I've come across so many Nigerians living illegally in these countries. But I've even visited countries people will not even consider living in and met Nigerians living there illegally (or how will you explain meeting a Nigerian living illegally in Cuba?).

    In the past, I used to be judgmental and felt it was ridiculous to live life under such tension. I've been most shocked in the U.S. - Nigerians living illegally for as long as 15 years who have not gone home to see their families, working under the table... But as I've come to realize, I should never judge people until I've walked in their shoes. We don't know the full extent of what pushed Vargas' mother to send her young son to the US and just like many Nigerians, we don't know their stories or where they're coming from.

    Do I encourage people to break the law and live illegally? No, it costs taxpayers a lot of money. Can I live in any country illegally. No, I am yet to experience anything that will push me to that and I pray it never comes to that. But I would be wrong to condemn people wholesale until I've taken them out for lunch and heard their sides of the story. Besides, I also think the West is complicit in some of the poverty that pushes many people to leave their countries. Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.

    P.S.: I followed up with my Nigerian brother I met in Havana. He's now in Belgium, married to a Belgian with a child. And yes, he is no longer an "illegal".

  6. It's no longer automatic, in all states? I don't think so. My classmates come here to have their babies and they leave with their blue passports for the kids.

  7. Desperate people will do desperate things.

    'Residents' (those with the right to reside) might find it difficult to understand how desperate non-residents can be.

    However, would you like to return to your home country a failure? I dont think so

    'Non-residents' are not all 'hustlers'. Some are genuinely fleeing poverty, war or hunger.

    After some time, they rationalise their 'non-residency' - by hoping that even if they are unable to travel etc....their children have better opportunities than they did.

  8. @NIL, if you're asking me personally, yes I would go back to Nigeria a failure. Whatever that means. My personal ethics will not allow me have it otherwise, especially in a country like ours where values are skewed already...

    ps, If you're running from war and etc, then seek asylum. When we throw morals to the winds in favor of desperation, anything is fair game, including the life we seek to protect. (Imagine, a burglar/stalker is terrorizing someone and they cannot call the police because they're undocumented.)

  9. It was my understanding that under the 14th amendment that children born here automatically are citizens regardless of the legality (or lack thereof) of their parents. I don't know if the whole anchor baby concept still works though (meaning the mother gets citizenship if she has a child in the US).

    Either way, i can't judge. As difficult as people paint the picture of getting to be a legal resident, i don't really know what to make of it.

  10. @Ladyngo, what I meant was that it was not automatic for the parent to get citizenship once their child becomes a birthright citizen. The parent can still be deported, and unless they're willing to leave their children behind, they all have to leave together.

  11. hmmm..... this is something..

    I really don't know what to say because some stories are just crazy!

    Personally, I can't live my life in fear, it's just hard //// but I really don't know what I will say if I was on the other side... If I had no legal papers, if things were terribly unbearable in my homeland, or if I was pushed by parents to be in the position...

  12. I share your thoughts on the matter. Some people might say it's because I've never lived as an immigrant but I love my freedom too much to be looking over my shoulder each time I see a Police officer walking by. It's just not worth the hassle. It creates too many problems and encourages criminality. I would not trust an illegal either. It's like if you're lying about who you are - your status, what else won't you lie about? It never stops at one lie, does it? The more they get way with it the more they lie about virtually everything until there is nothing of them left that is authentic. Virtually every aspect of that person's life is touched by that one lie supported by a host of other lies to keep up the facade.

    Some illegals take on the identity of a real citizen and commit all sorts of crimes under the person's name. I know one guy like that whose name got trashed before he got to the UK in the 90s, having being raised in Naija. He was born in the UK. He spent a decade trying to clear his name of all sorts and had a hard time with the Home Office convincing them he was the authentic one. It was one big mess.

  13. What is it in the last few days with people posting topics that cut so close to the bone? I think there must be some kind of plot that I’m not aware of.

    Back to the point now. This will get a bit long so you might want to take a bathroom break first :).

    Immigration is generally a hard topic to discuss and as a person, i've also been on so many sides of it. It is complicated especially when it comes to undocumented immigrants but i think compassion is very necessary because the impact of dealing with immigration is huge for anybody even when you’re doing everything by the book. Considering how stressful the whole thing is I imagine that most people would rather avoid the extra trouble of being undocumented. One way people get into this situation is through a lack of good information. Another problem is fear which gets worse when you don’t know what you really need to do. So you find people hiding stuff that is really not necessary thinking that it will help them but not realising in time that it’ll have the opposite effect.

    Another interesting point that you mentioned in one of your comments is the idea of throwing morals to the wind. The question of what is moral is a big issue for me when it comes to immigration. If you notice, people from developing countries get the shortest end of the stick when it comes to immigration. A European or American citizen can pick up their bags, go to the airport and buy a ticket to almost any major destination in the world and they can take it for granted that they will be allowed to enter that country, stay there and maybe even work or study for at least 6 months with no hassle.

    Citizens of third world countries on the other hand (usually brown people btw) go through hell before they can even dream of approaching the airport, not to talk of how much they have to pay for visas and other expenses such as health insurance and school fees for students in comparison to those from 1st world countries. And yet, these are people supposed to be from the most impoverished countries in the world.

    Now, what is moral about a system that puts the heaviest burden on the world's poorest?

  14. I am cosigning with Culturesoup here. There is a lot of mis-information, mis-advice and 'FEAR' out there. I saw that story yesterday and I had pangs of sympathy for the guy. At least he actually made 'good' for himself in a way which paradoxically makes it more difficult for him to reveal his status cause he knows he'll loose whatever life he has made for himself. For me, I must question the society that makes its citizens so desperate that they are willing to live such lives of deception to stay out of it.

    About people living a lie; 70% of working Nigerians are claiming ages that are not mine. They say it so much they believe it. Myne, lying is a national pastime abeg.

  15. But you gotta admire Jose for revealing his such a brilliant, strategic way. I'll be surprised if he doesnt now get visa, in fact it looks like he may even get a book deal out of Way to go!

  16. Even though i understand the plight of some illegal immigrants,i find it appalling to know that people live in countries without the necessary papers.What hurts the most is that alot of them are suffering and their suffer could've been avoided.The situation in countries isn't a good excuse as far as i'm concerned.Nice one again Myne!

  17. Well some see it as being brave and think some sort of magic would happen whiles they are there and become legal but personally i see no reason why people have to go through this stress in the name of greener pasture. some do get MARRIED but then just as U`ve pointed out "what if U get Married to another illegal" thats a scary scenario. I guess there nothing anybody can do to stop their growing rate coz they are either fed up with the situation they are facing wherever they come from or just hope for Brighter future of their kids"if they have any back home" or the ones they might bare in the land of Milk & Honey.

  18. True, Adura Ojo. The points you raised hit home. My passport's been stolen before and for a long time, I had to go through a lot of scrutiny to verify my identity. It was fine with me because I really wanted them to catch the person who stole it. I reported it to every agency possible. I agree the evil side of illegal immigration is bad. It hurts people's lives. Honestly, I can't say there haven't been times I have lumped illegal immigrants as one bad, immoral bunch. What is wrong is wrong and we cannot sugarcoat it. The immorality of it - even the illegality - is unquestionable.

    On the other hand, I have heard cases that are quite complicated and would take more than a categorical statement to address them. I guess the bigger question is what could be so bad where they're coming from that they don't want to return? Now, that's a question individuals have to answer for themselves.

  19. I do not understand why people choose to put themselves through so much torment. In some countries, you can't even use their medical services because you'll need to get an insurance to do so; and how can you get one if you're an illegal citizen?
    I know the situation in most of the places where they come form might not be really pleasant for e.g the case in Nigeria, but seriously, go back home and strive harder. There's no restriction as to where you must stay before one can make it. People are making it, and so can every other person, only if the right amount of hard work is put in place.

    I do not see any need for it seriously, if you ask me.

  20. I don't know if you read my email that was a response to you yesterday but its subtext really is that when you have illegals in a country even the legitimate foreign nationals suffer. We have had horrible xenophobic outbursts in South Africa because South African's seemingly no longer want to accommodate the unending stream of mostly illegals foreigners into the country. The worst part is that the system is made up of these very same SA citizens and so the law is not going out of its way to protect you either. I understand people who are running from country's under tyrannical rule but in Nigeria's case I think it is a different issues entirely. The Nigerian psyche is one of extreme competitiveness and I feel that Nigerians communities are incredibly tough on their men to such an extent that they are forced go to extraordinary lengths to prove themselves and be a "financial success". I've met countless Nigerians suffering in SA because they can't go home as they haven't made it (not because they can't buy a plain ticket) and yet meet a Zambian, Zmbambwean, anyone else here with an option to go home if things are tough and they will take the first mode of transport out. Not a Nigerian, he must go home having enough to build a mansion in his father's compound at least and by cars and everything for everyone at home. I watched my husband going through the stress of having calls every 2nd night to send money home until the day I put my foot down. I said it was either he becomes the husband I need or goes and finds a wife at home who'll understand that nonsense. I thought it very unfair that my money was spend on us and not my family and then his on his family because of being bullied. and he is not the only one who suffered this. We went to England to see if we'd want to immigrate to there and that brief visit had me almost kissing South African soil because there is no way I will allow myself to be belittled in a country when I have a beautiful one waiting right here. I truly don't how parents can expect that of their children.

  21. Thanks everyone for your opinions, I really appreciate it.

    @Culturesoup, your last point is valid, and maybe we need more lobbyists in the US senate or UK parliament to change their laws. Until then, the onus is on us to change our countries and have the rest of the world begging us to visit them. History tells me that things were a lot different in the 50/60/70s in Nigeria, can we make it back to that level? Don't forget too that the UK and US offer asylum to millions of brown people each year, and the US has the Visa Lottery for majority 3rd world countries.

    @Ginger, that many people do something wrong does not make it right. And you have to show me where you got those stats o, lol...

    @Wendy, your comment almost brought tears to my eyes. That is the crux of the matter. It's not about running away from war, or persecution, or even poverty. Most times in the Nigerian case, it's about keeping up with the Joneses in a competition of skewed values.

  22. I don't know about other Africans, but many Nigerians seem to be so desperate to go abroad and be illegal there. I don't know how they can handle living their lives in hiding! It's not just the lies is it? it's the fear of getting caught. It's like giving away some of your freedom. No thanks.


  23. I don't know about other Africans, but many Nigerians seem to be so desperate to go abroad and be illegal there. I don't know how they can handle living their lives in hiding! It's not just the lies is it? it's the fear of getting caught. It's like giving away some of your freedom. No thanks.


  24. I have of cases of people living here in India illegally...some people are just desperate because I do not understand why they will leave their country and go and suffer is some yeye country...not even the US, UK or Canada this time.

    I have never lived illegally any where, at least not in India here and I don't think I can live illegally anywhere... I cherish my freedom too much to do that.

  25. hmmm.. I will also say (I forgot to add) that people who are really suffering, and have things really really bad and can prove it can fle for a refugee status... BUT some come in illegally cos it sometimes TAKES LONG

    Am not talking abt Nigerians here tho...

    I will say most Illegal migrated Nigerians moved for the wrong reasons.... It's more of the status thing of "I live abroad" but for the other half, they want to help their kids and family suffering at home it is almost like if they don't stay their family won't have the best/ their kids might find it difficult to move away frm the poverty line... (for those who send money home)

    It's an interesting topic

  26. its funny that most of the people commenting and in a way condemning have legal status. And while it is easy from that position to say oh this is what i will do or not, while it is easy to talk about personal ethics; however it is harder when u live the life yourself.
    nobody likes being illegal. even the 419 guy who assumes different identities. btw identity/passport theft happens independent of being used for immigration purposes.
    my point is that, no story is the same. i have an aunt whose husband came here illegally. they had no children at the time he left so her only option for a marital life in lieu of divorce was to join him on a visiting visa (after about 5 years of waiting for him to get his papers in order. i know some people will say oh she should have divorced him but lets be reminded that we are different, with different religious, cultural, educational, family backgrounds that affect our decisions.
    of course she regrets it and while a single person might be able to go back a "failure"; its hard in the face of other factors (children, husband etc).
    at the same time, i have a friend who had a medical problem that no doctor was specialized to do the surgery in nigeria. she came here and she did pay for her initial surgery. however, she had to be monitored continually for her lifetime. there is no asylum for that. she made the decision to over-stay her visa. i CANNOT judge her bcos while i know nigeria is not that bad medical wise, she could die in nigeria. and she is an orphan, so no family support like that in nigeria.
    for some their illegal life here is waaaaaay better than the impoverished life they lived before they got that chance to come here.
    the reasons are varied and the worst thing is to judge in a blanket manner. yes they are living a lie against the system, against the law of the land but its unfair to treat them with suspicion like someone said above. lots of illegals have the best morals .......
    And to the person who said what about the people lining up at Ikoyi - u can line up at Ikoyi and still become illegal if u over-stay.
    funny thing is that i know lots of people who were once illegal and now are legal. how do u reconcile that? they were once immoral now are suddenly moral?

  27. Nice topic and from my own view since I've never being an immigrant is that as much as we can think of many reasons to be illegals, it is still not valid. Yes, there are health challenges that can;t be solved in Naija,nepa issues,no jobs etc but at least we are 1st class citizens and are free.
    I have also realized that like Abi Tobi said,it is more a 'matter of class' and those that are really poor(street cleaners,bus conductors,market woman etc) do not strive to live abroad as much as we the educated one who know better and can afford the visas and flight tickets.
    Whatever, nothing beats being legal as they are no looking over your shoulders.

  28. Hi Myne, just seeing your post since I've not been on blog thro the weekend. I'd like to read through other comments and know people's thoughts.

    Truly,your post makes a whole lot of sense. A LIE Lie lie lie and lies to go by? When I should be so free to walk around,live where I choose to live,go where I want etc. I have met and heard of people who in the bid to enjoy "western life" live what the call suffering to pick gold on streets in the US and UK (most times) and other countries only to get stuck. I may just be reiterating your post but I sincerely really feel for such folly. Some choose to run away with a two weeks VISA etc. SHAME!
    I can't say more but I think we need to do things if ‎​you can but don't abscond for what we call greener pastures only to dodge from Police and ‎​​home affairs dudes. Its not life I think... Enjoy your hols,will read thro comments :)

  29. Hi Myne, just seeing your post since I've not been on blog thro the weekend. I'd like to read through other comments and know people's thoughts.

    Truly,your post makes a whole lot of sense. A LIE Lie lie lie and lies to go by? When I should be so free to walk around,live freely in maybe this failed looked country,go where I want etc. I will in no way look down on legal immigrants or condemn Vargas BUT let's call a spade a spade,and a white sheet white not black. Illegality for whatever reasons a lot have stated above is wrong. Is it worth the trouble running away from the failures to live in a continuous hiding?
    Like Vargas,its not so much of his fault but for those who pack their bags and live just like that,what's the rational?

    I have met and heard of people(I even know some) who in the bid to enjoy "western life" live what the call suffering to pick gold on streets in the US and UK (most times) and other countries only to get stuck. I may just be reiterating your post but I sincerely really feel for such folly. Some choose to run away with a two weeks VISA etc,No now!
    I can't say more but I think we need to do things if ‎​you can but don't abscond for what we call greener pastures only to dodge from Police and ‎​​home affairs dudes. Its not life I think...

    Enjoy your weekend,will read thro comments :)

  30. Btw I don't mean to condemn Vargas and the like,cos his case is very peculiar. BUT let's not justify wrong with many excuses.
    Nigeria for one may have a lot of issues that has made people choose the easier life but what's that ease at the expense of our freedom? I'd prefer to get my papers,yes walk around without looking over my shoulders oh no certainly not ‎​​me cos I love my freedom :D
    Myne you're still so right on point please!!!

  31. Jeez! am late to this party.. a thousand apologizes sister... a very interesting post....& i agree with you on being FREE... & i had always had an indifference attitude to the abroad to read comments to learn a thing or two.

  32. I honestly don't agree in illegally moving to a country or overstaying your visa. I personally think that once yu do that, you choose to lower the quality of life you live, you choose to limit yourself in life. Why do that? you will keep having to look over your shoulder..., when you hear the police siren, your heart beats twice as loud as it should. You are also dragging your innocent kids into this cherade you decided to play.

    Okay you change your name and identity - erm nothing is hidden under the sun - when you get found out... the shame that comes with it, plus the effect it has on your life So not worth it!

    The same way it amuses me when people come to nigerian churches in the UK to give testimony about staying illegally and then getting married and then finally getting legal status... I don't know mehn!

    When you get found out you leave with nothing - zilch! Back to the beginning.. i am an advocate of doing things right o..

    having said that, i have never been in a situation where that was an option and I pray never to be.

  33. Hmm. I also think freedom is important. It's not worth it always looking over your shoulder wondering when you will be caught. I mean, once you lie by overstaying your visa, you keep lying by procuring fake documents (which you'll have to spend so much money on but doesn't guarantee your freedom or rights). You probably may never be able to ever travel out of the country. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately so many people are willing to take that risk. Because others have done it, they also want to do it. Most people usually do not want to go through the normal process anymore and there's a sort of widespread belief too that its very difficult to get visas. Well mine is a testimony which is for another day but personally i'ld say (mba)lol i.e no in Ibo...


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