Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Star-crossed: Love in a cross-status relationship

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A contributor to the Being Latino blog recently published a candid first-person essay about her relationship with her partner and the father of her child, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who was deported two years ago.

Nancy Sepulveda wrote:

That was two years and a thousand tears ago. Hours spent scavenging the Internet for immigration information. Wrestling with the idea of moving my children to a third-world country (Guatemala) and sacrificing reliable education and health-care systems, my own fledgling career, and the comparative safety of American life, to reunify our family. The heartache of knowing a separation of thousands of miles and a vicious border meant other romantic interests would inevitably be pursued. Our official breakup, and inability even now to stop the desperate I still love you’s whispered across endless coils of phone line.

I admit we played a role in creating our own tragedy. He chose to come here paperless and I “chose” to love him, and at every subsequent fork in the road we went the wrong way. Why didn’t we get married before he was picked up? I was a college student dependent on financial aid and didn’t want to jeopardize it by including his spousal income. I graduated two months before he was detained.

Sepulveda acknowledges the mistakes made, not only not marrying (which often doesn't help), but taking the wrong legal advice and, especially, allowing him to return illegally while they saved money for an attorney, which led to his being caught and made ineligible for any kind of relief.

All the same, it's a sad read. Cross-status relationships are relatively common in a place like Southern California, where many immigrant families are of mixed legal status and young people who were brought here illegally by their parents as children are growing up as Americans. And as life goes, this can involve meeting, falling in love with and sometimes marrying their U.S. citizen or legal resident peers.

In December, as the federal Dream Act was being considered in Congress, KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez wrote a piece for KCET after attending a panel at Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles where half a dozen cross-status couples talked about their situation. From the piece:

A UCLA student who's dating an undocumented activist talked about the beauty of sharing a trip with him to Washington State. Their relationship is approaching a fork in the road. If a vote in Washington D.C. grants him legalization they'll be able to plan. He's adamant that he doesn't want to marry her until he's legally in this country He wants to prove that he's not in love with her U.S. citizenship. But how long will that be, she wonders, and should she continue to wait if the U.S. Senate gives its thumbs down.

Marriage isn't always the trick to getting a green card, even if the occasional immigration-themed romantic comedies give that impression. U.S. citizens who marry undocumented immigrants who entered the country without inspection face big hurdles.

Most often, depending on how much time the foreign spouse has been here illegally, he or she must apply for a hardship waiver that would prove that not being admitted to the United States would result in "extreme hardship" to the U.S. citizen spouse. They must wait in their native country for a decision. The waivers are granted infrequently, and many partners have been left stranded abroad.