Imagine It’s You - By: Ellen Harley, M.A., Guest Writer and Adopted Mother of U.S. Citizen Spouse Harlon J. Wilson

U.S. Citizen Spouse - Harlon J. Wilson &
Guest Author and Adopted Mother - Ellen Harley, MA.

Imagine It’s You

Imagine that you are a fifty-year-old American male living in central Indiana, the place you were born and have lived almost all of your life. Imagine that you are an educated man, a successful entrepreneur. You own a modest home that you share with your lawfully-wedded spouse and your two dogs, and you are involved in neighborhood organizations, through which you try to improve your community in various ways. You work hard. You have a real estate license, you flip houses, you remodel existing homes, and you own a couple of rental properties. You pay your bills. You pay your taxes. You play by the rules. You live comfortably. Life is good. Almost.

Now imagine that all of this, everything you’ve worked for – as well as your spouse – could be taken away from you in a heartbeat. Imagine living in fear every minute of every day that your world could be turned upside down in this manner. I’m not talking about disease, natural disaster, or even nuclear war; I’m talking about the actions of your own government, the one your taxes go to support. I’m talking about deportation to a country where you would be an outcast, a country run by gangs and hostile to you personally, as well as to your way of life. “Why,” you ask, “would an American citizen be in danger of deportation to such a place?” The answer is this: you fell in love with and married an undocumented immigrant. And because of the current administration’s immigration policies, you, an American citizen, may have to make the incredibly unfair choice between staying in your home country and being with the person you love more than life.

Your spouse is Latino, and has been here since 2005, when he was only nineteen. He’s been a model citizen – a model human being, in fact: gentle, kind, caring, intelligent, hard-working. His carpentry skills have made your remodeling and house-flipping businesses possible and profitable. He pays taxes. He doesn’t do drugs, and definitely doesn’t sell them. He doesn’t even drink alcohol. He has never broken the law. He fled his native El Salvador to escape the crime and gang violence there – as well as to avoid the gangs that were trying to recruit him – and out of a desire for a better, safer life here in America, the Land of Opportunity. He wasn’t trying to steal anyone’s job. He would never dream of stealing anything from anyone. He loves you and the life you have created together. He married you out of love on the very day that Indiana law began to permit same-sex marriage. When then-governor Mike Pence overturned that law a few days later, he went with you to Chicago and married you again. He did this because of love, not because he was seeking a green card or because he saw you as a means to gaining the American Dream. Just love, pure and simple – the soul-mate kind of love that most people long for, and far too few ever really find. Now, because he is Latino and undocumented, he faces being returned to a country that has not been his home for fifteen years, a country overrun and ruled by gangs and gang violence, a country where people fear for their lives and have had to learn how to negotiate with gangs to maintain whatever kind of normalcy they can. A country where gays (and Americans) are targets. And you know that wherever he goes, you’ll go, too, whatever the consequences, whatever the cost.

“Oh,” you say, “no big deal – get a lawyer, go to court, trust the system. Married couples – an American citizen and an immigrant spouse – can stay together, right?” Wrong; not anymore. Those laws were changed. At one point, he was oh so close to becoming “legal” but then a new president with a zero-tolerance approach to immigration took control. Laws changed, programs ended. Marriage and model citizenship no longer mattered. And so, after literally thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, and four years of court dates and trying to work within and “trust” the system, the answer is always the same: NO. Your spouse cannot stay. He cannot have a green card. He cannot get a driver’s license. He cannot become a citizen. And on and on and on.

I’ve asked you to imagine this scenario, but this is by no means an imaginary situation. The couple here is real. They are real people with names and faces, emotions and fears, friends, pets, jobs, lives. A forced relocation in El Salvador may well be on their horizon. They will have to give up everything they own and everything they have worked for and they will not be safe there. They are gay; one of them is American; both are gang targets. It could happen next month, during their immigration court appearance. It could happen next week if ICE agents decide to visit one of the couple’s job sites. It could happen tonight as the couple sits down to dinner. Or tomorrow at breakfast. Or in the middle of the night. It could happen any day, any time. This is their precarious situation. This is what keeps them awake at night and constantly looking over their shoulders in the daytime. This is their reality. And this is America’s reality, too.

Ellen Harley, M.A.
Adjunct Instructor of Technical Communication, IUPUI
Adjunct Instructor of English Composition, Ivy Tech Community College