Watching the TV series “The Fosters” on Monday night, I heard the three words that all illegal immigrants fear - “You are undocumented” BAM! It hit me like a bucket of cold ice water. A teenager about 16 years old was told by her boyfriend and her best friend that her family was undocumented. I put myself in her shoes and felt my world crashing with those three words. Like many teenagers, she had grown up all her life thinking that she could too have all American rights. Suddenly, she was faced with the truth.
Growing up without knowing you are undocumented is the reality that many illegal immigrants face. So, how do we solve this? How do we tell a teenager “No, you can’t apply to college or a job because you don’t have papers”, or “No, you can’t drive a car because you can’t get a driver’s license”, or even “No, despite that you were raised in America, you are not legally supposed to call yourself American”
My answer is, “I don’t know”
I don’t know how to tell hard working parents that they can’t stay in a country they have invested their lives in because of their legal status. I don’t know how to tell teenagers to go back to a country they don’t remember having ever been and to speak a language they can’t understand because their parents weren't supposed to bring them to America. While illegal immigration is a crime, I am nobody to judge.
However, as a counselor it is my duty to support those in crises. Having moved to the United States at the age of 16 was one of the most painful but growing experiences I have ever gone through. Fortunately, I never had to worry about my legal status. However, being bilingual has enabled me to listen to the worries of others that weren't in my situation. I heard their struggles, their helplessness, and the abuse they had suffered because of their status.
Immigrating is difficult. An individual experiences loss, feelings of incompetence, frustration, and loneliness. It is a time when support is highly needed. Therefore, I invite you to reach out to others, to listen to other immigrant stories no matter if they have lived here for days or fifty years. Additionally, I invite you to check with international students about their struggles and to learn about their cultures. Step out of your comfort population and be “the foreigner”. Not only will you grow as a counselor, but also as a person.
Alejandra Delgado is a counselor-in-training at the University of Florida. She volunteers as a Crisis Line Counselor and works as the School-Based Program Specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida.