Immigration debate often overlooks personal costs
The bitter cold felt this past Jan. 29 wasn't an obstacle for the 99 individuals who attended their naturalization ceremony in Chicago.
Among these new citizens was my 23-year-old daughter.
Seeing her standing there, waiting impatiently for her turn to receive her certificate of citizenship, I couldn't help recounting the long road she had to travel to reach that goal.
First, at the age of two and a half, she saw me leave Peru not knowing that, because of the bureaucratic immigration process, she would wait seven years to see me again. I remember the many times she asked me on the phone with her innocent voice, "Dad, when are you coming back?"
If I traveled back to Peru then, I could have lost several years of preparation working through the system to establish my own legal residence. I had no option but to wait my turn in the long line of people ahead of me.
I tried to explain to her why I came to the United States. I explained that at that time there was no work in Peru, that the economy was very bad and that the terrorist attacks were a constant threat, so I came to the United States to be able to bring the whole family later. But at the end of my detailed explanations, she would repeat the same question, "Dad, when are you coming back?"
That was a question I couldn't answer and one that put a lump in my throat.
When I finally was able to return to Peru, and went to the U.S. Embassy in Lima to apply for residence for my children. They said I needed to get a DNA test to prove I was their father.
Birth certificates were suddenly not enough for the immigration officer, despite having them translated into English by authorized institutions.
I extended my right arm and told the immigration officer, "Do the test now."
"No," she said. "You need to test in the U.S."
Shouldn't they have told me that before my trip to Peru? This shows that the system is inhumane and inefficient.
When at last I was able to bring my three children to the U.S., we still had to wait five more years of endless paperwork for my wife to obtain residence and join us. When the debate on immigration laws takes place, the emotional toll of immigrants is seldom mentioned. There is no exact way of measuring it.
In the hall where my daughter's citizenship ceremony took place, there were families from 30 different countries. All of them, regardless of their different physical features, color, language or nationality, came to this country to improve their family's living condition.
And there they were, triumphant after a long battle of tiresome immigration red tape.
There were their children receiving their certificates of citizenship as a testimony of their effort. And there stood my daughter, as a testimony of our story.
"All good things require sacrifice and today is not an occasion to mourn but to celebrate the goal accomplished," I thought.
My other two children, ages 26 and 27, are waiting for their citizenship exam and will soon be naturalized. My wife will follow.
Our story has a happy ending, but much of the suffering could have been avoided if immigration laws were more humane and would promote family union.
I hope a comprehensive immigration reform comes soon that changes the current inefficient system, so that other families don't go through harrowing experiences that can be avoided -- to finally end, in addition, the deportations of fathers and husbands who involuntarily leave children and wives on this side of the border. So everyone can have a naturalization ceremony that allows them to integrate into this country as productive citizens who can contribute freely to the development of the U.S., their adopted country.
Because even though the immigration system made our lives more difficult in the past, we have learned to love this country that opened its doors to us.
Marco Ortiz is content editor for Reflejos, a weekly newsmagazine for Latino readers published by Paddock Publications. He came to the United States in 1994 and completed his citizenship in 2006.