Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Life in a mixed-status family: 'People...don't believe me when I tell them he can't get papers'

Photo by K2D2vaca/Flickr (Creative Commons)

This latest in a series of first-person stories from people in families of mixed immigration status comes from Alison Gamez, a U.S. citizen in Arizona whose husband is undocumented. Now in deportation proceedings, he was unable to adjust his status, even through marriage.

It's a common misperception that this is easily done. The reality is that while those who entered with temporary visas and overstayed illegally stand a decent chance of legalizing through marriage, tighter immigration laws have made it nearly impossible for those who entered without visas to adjust their status, even when they marry a citizen.

Gamez's story joins several that Multi-American has published in the past week from members of mixed-status families, including stories from the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the legal-resident brother of undocumented siblings, and a woman born in Kansas City whose domestic partner is undocumented.

Yesterday's post shared a different perspective from a Portland man who works with public school students from immigrant families, many of them living in mixed-status households.

Gamez and her husband, who is soon due to be repatriated to Mexico, live in Surprise, Arizona, outside Phoenix. Here's what she shared via KPCC's  Public Insight Network, which has been been collecting the stories of people living in or familiar with these families.

My husband entered the country without papers over 10 years ago. We started living together about 7 years ago, and that is when I discovered that the laws had changed, and my husband could no longer become legal forever. So we did not marry at that time because we both had first bad marriages.

Then I heard on the radio that if we married, his kids (living with my husband's mom in Mexico - his wife took off with another man) could become legal and remain legal. So we got married. After that, he was stopped by Border Patrol on a highway (the 303), and we got trapped in the immigration system. He is set for deportation in January 2014, but allowed to live here legally until then.

People who don't have undocumented family members don't believe me when I tell them he can't get papers. They don't believe me when I tell them my brother-in-law can not enter this country legally to pick crops. They always tell me I'm mistaken. Or they're callous and don't understand how easy it was for their ancestors to enter, and how difficult it is now.

(In response to "What do you wish others knew about families whose members have a mix of citizenship, legal residency or undocumented/lapsed immigration status?") That we want our rights as U.S. citizens to be respected by allowing us to live with the people we love, just like anyone else. That the laws were quietly changed in 1996 to take place in 2001 and since then it's been so ridiculously unfair.

I am willing to pay whatever to have my husband here. I love him. He works in construction. He's a good man. He makes me happy. I just want my good marriage to be able to stay together in the country I was born (in).

(In response to "What steps, if any, have members of your family taken to correct visa or immigration problems?") We submitted papers. They gave him until January, 2014 to see if laws will change, then he is expected to leave, and no one cares what happens to me.


Mixed-status families are surprisingly common in the United States, where the demand for family reunification is high and the number of immigrant visas available low. It's not uncommon to find families composed of U.S. citizens and/or legal residents and undocumented immigrants, sometimes under one roof. As several of those who have submitted stories so far have attested, things other families take for granted are not done easily in these families, if at all.

Do you have a story to share? Feel free to post comments below, or view the Public Insight Network questions here.

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