Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Illegal Immigrant

I have been an illegal immigrant. If you are picturing me struggling across the Rio Grande or jumping on top of a train to cross from Mexico, you're wrong.

I also did not risk my life in an overcrowded boat.

I'm not hiding on the underside of a truck crossing the Channel.

I was not forced off my land by my northern neighbor dumping produce so I could no longer sell what I grew and I had to find an alternate way to feed my family.

My home was never bombed.
None of that matters.

Because of my appearance I was not likely to be harassed. In those pre-computer days, It was easy to walk through customs at Charles de Gaulle.

I am a highly educated, white privileged woman, but when I overstayed in France where I wanted to live I was illegal and always afraid I would be deported from my dream.

My job search was not productive. Because the companies needed to get working permission, few bothered to even look at me. I came close to an Assistant VP for a major multi-national but was beaten out by an internal candidate...fair. A direct mail company wanted to hire me, but my French was too poor to handle part of the job and I could not guarantee fluency fast enough.

It all came to nothing when my mother developed cancer and I returned to the states.

You might ask why I wanted to leave the States: even in the 80s: it was health care, education, infrastructure, vacation time, culture, violence although it is much, much worse now.

Legal Immigrant

When my mother died, I started sending CVs (resumes). With no internet, I flew to France for want ads. I mailed CVs to companies found in a directory. I used European addresses for members of two professional associations I belonged to. Over 800 went out within a few weeks. I was like a machine.

I became friends with the man at the post office as I dropped off my stack of job hopes daily.

Then a response to an ad that said: "Sales person, knowledge of Digital Equipment Corporation, French, German, English. We'll get working papers." It was in Switzerland, where I hadn't tried being told it was impossible.

My German was rusty, my French below basic,  That I disliked sales wasn't important. They said they would get working papers.

I answered.

Two months later I was at my desk in Peseux, Switzerland, a Permis A in hand until my Permis B could be processed. I was legal. It was probably the worse job I have ever had, but they held my permit. And it would be cruel to compare it to a laborer picking tomatoes in the blazing sun. The permit was not transferable to another company and it took almost three years before I found a company that would sponsor me (I should add with the help of my first boss--no one is all bad).

The company that hired me had to interview local candidates first. In my case, I had a unique combination of skills that would have been almost impossible to find along with the writing ability. I feel sorry for those that didn't get the job that they wasted their time. And if I took a job away from a national, I brought something to the company that they couldn't have found locally. I paid my taxes and spent my money locally. I participated and contributed to the Swiss society even although I had been born 3000 miles away.

At that time to get a Permis C, the equivalent of a full green card it took 10 years for an American, Africans and most Asians. However, it was reduced to five. 


On the 12th anniversary of my arrival to the day, I applied for citizenship. I took another three years, three months and five days to be processed. I had been rejected once, but was accepted on appeal.

I say the day I stood in the Hotel de Ville, raised my hand and took the oath was the third happiest of my life: (my daughter's birth and my marriage are the other two).

Immigrants, legal and illegal

My heart goes out to immigrants, legal and illegal. I did not suffer even a nano-fraction what a majority of them suffer because an accident of birth put me in a place where I could maximize my natural abilities. The color of my skin lets me meld in with the crowd as long as I don't open my mouth and they hear the accent. I have been able to marshal resources to risk changing countries, cultures and languages while always having a roof over my head and enough to eat. I am well aware that others are not so lucky. Yet, we immigrants are the same--we want a better life.

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