Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien) #2

Beyond Deadlines is proud to serialize Mr. Romy Morales’ first book “Time to Breathe (Confessions of an Alien).” It is a personal account of a Filipino immigrant in the United States. It is a must read for those who wish to migrate to the U.S. Come let us join Romy in his journey and see what is in store for us.

romy morales

(2nd installment)

CHAPTER 1

I am an ALIEN!

Do not be surprised that I have decided to expose myself with this confession. I know what you’re thinking. No, I am not an alien from another planet, that freakish, wide-eyed green virtual creature you see in comic books or Hollywood movies.

According to Miriam-Webster dictionary, an alien is someone (a) belonging or relating to another person, place, or thing; and (b) relating, belonging, or owing allegiance to another country or government.

Yes, I’m an alien here in the U.S.A. Someone like me, who came from a foreign state is technically an alien here in America. An alien could be legal or illegal. Under U.S. law an alien is “any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” Those who have overstayed and had accrued illegal status are usually referred to as illegal aliens. Who wants to be called alien? No one! Perhaps, even the aliens from neighboring planets, if they do exist, would not want to be called as such. It is a demeaning tag. But this is how U.S. immigration personnel refers to immigrants, who are legalizing their status or have not obtained their green card after their legal status has expired.

Nevertheless, it is to their credit that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services had come up with ways to lessen the impact of that dehumanizing tag, by “sugar coating it.” They now brand illegals as undocumented immigrants.

With the bipartisan approach of Congress in fixing the broken immigration problem, the Associated Press has initiated a move with the way the words “illegal, illegal alien, illegal immigrant, undocumented immigrant, or undocumented alien” are used in their stories to avoid further dehumanizing or marginalizing people in this status. The news agency is trying to be more specific in describing people without legal documentation. It is trying to be politically correct.

Getting married to an American citizen is one sure way to be legal and I took that “express” route. After years of struggling to survive, I no longer thought is is possible for a Juliet to arrive and find

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this Romeo. From the start, I am uncertain that I will find someone to marry. I am not a macho good-looking guy that women would swoon over me. More than that, I had my own insecurities as baggage.

I am no Adonis or a Valentino that would attract women physically at least. And I didn’t have anything in the way of wealth, talent, or height to boast. I just happen to be a man that is all about it—short, five feet tall or maybe less depending on my heels and always sporting a serious look due to the heavy burdens I had on my shoulder. Nevertheless, I easily releases a smile when the situation warrants it. My friends keep telling me that I have a slight similarity with Serpico, the main character, played by Al Pacino, in a movie with same title. Maybe during my younger days with my long hair and untrimmed mustache but I didn’t really believe my friends. I am ordinary in appearance and not even a good dresser. In short, I am nobody. Everything about me is obvious, but not necessarily ugly. I am hardly a marriage material. Sad part of it, I am an illegal alien or as the politically correct would say—an undocumented immigrant!

What would a woman want with an illegal immigrant? “He probably won’t be in this country too long in the first place, let alone find work”—this is what she would no doubt be telling me. Being illegal, one is marginalized. It limits one’s opportunity. But let me get this straight—I am not complaining. Even illegal immigrants should not complain of being marginalized. If I became miserable, it was my own lookout. I am just stating a sad fact of what normally happens to an illegal immigrant—always at the lowest receiving end, vulnerable to exploitation and more often than not could hardly get the right work and the right pay. There may be some who are luckier but they are the ones who defied the odds—getting employed of all places even in the federal government, holding executive positions in private companies, getting paid more than a U.S. citizen does when they, too, have no legal papers to speak of or are on illegal status.

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Even to find someone to tie knot with either for a legitimate purpose or convenience often becomes frustrating for an illegal. With my status and nothing to offer apart from being saddled with a physical infirmity— another drawback I would say—I have my doubts whether there would be someone who would take me as a partner. Even for money, women would have second thoughts—and worst, I don’t even have the dough! Maybe if I were a moneyed guy, it would be different. Because of my baggage, whenever I see a chance, I never feel I have an equal opportunity. I always find myself disadvantaged. An apt word to describe my predicament would be an “underdog.” Many times, I was amazed by the odds against me. What fighting chance do I have with one hand always tied behind my back? Yet I have learned to live with it and much more….I survive! Yes, there were accomplishments and it made me forget the baggage I have.

Supposedly, finding just any woman is not difficult. Women outnumbered men. What is challenging is finding a U.S. citizen, who would be a marriage partner. You don’t ask a person if she or he is a (U.S.) citizen or not. You never do that! You got to be creative in finding out whether one is a citizen or not — like asking: “Did you vote in the last election?” “Have you been a jury?”  — Of course, only U.S. citizens vote and render jury service. If the answer is no, you need a little more sleuthing. But the problem doesn’t end there; one has to win the heart of that U.S. citizen. That’s the prime consideration. It could be tough, especially if one has no legal paper to speak of because it might give the wrong message that one marries a U.S. citizen only for immigration benefit. Before, back home, I had some women. It was no problem wooing them. I never felt I was at a disadvantage despite my disability. All I did was be myself. But it’s different here, and with the baggage I had, I had somehow

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lost my confidence. I never shy away from women before. Never! But being an illegal, my self-esteem had disappeared. Sometimes, I quickly chickened out even before I could approach a woman. There was this young woman I dated for years but had been unable to express my feelings. I was so worried about my status that she would not understand me. Until she married another man when she got tired waiting for me to speak up, which I never did. I felt so stupid.

In a discussion of marriage, it is common to hear from some Filipino-American citizens such revolting statements as: “Baka papel lang gusto nyan, pag nakuha na niya ang berde, iiwanan ka na.” Translated it means he might only be interested in the paper, that is, once he gets the green card he would leave. Although there is a semblance of truth to their apprehensions as it happens sometimes, the generalization is unfair as if all illegals would do the same.

A Thai friend told me the same thing is also true with them. Even my Chinese buddy in L.A. had said the same thing about their apprehensions of marrying their own kind. When one proposes love to a citizen, sometimes the people around intervene to prevent the relationship from blossoming into anything like marriage. “Bakit sya  pa, wala naman papel yan, buti pa singilin mo,” many will say, which amounted to saying, why him when he doesn’t have the paper, you might as well ask him to pay.

Even when one is sincere with the marriage proposal and is truly in love with the citizen, there could be doubts on the part of the “legal” simply because of the idea that the marriage proposal could just be for convenience, so the illegal would be legalized. I have heard, some local citizens in the suburbs are not that much concerned about a person’s status. You woo them and if you’re lucky, they will go with you. What matters to them, I was told, is trust and love, and if you could just simply sustain them, that is already acceptable to them. And marriage could be the culmination of that relationship. If you could watch the Jerry Springer show please do so and you will have an idea what I am talking about.

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I guess the apprehension of a U.S. citizen in marrying an alien could be equally true to anyone anywhere else in the world. However, my experience in this country, where U.S. citizenship in some respect has almost become a commodity, tells me I may not find what I am looking for. I haven’t gone to any rural areas yet or in places where it would be easy to win a woman’s heart. I still have to experience pursuing lady luck there. I don’t know.

While many Filipino-American citizens might consent to marrying an illegal for love, there are also quite a number who would turn down marriage to an illegal. Some who agree to tie the knot for convenience might demand payment in return and the amount could be enormous. This is why many Filipino illegals would rather cast their eyes on other nationals than with their own kind to avoid the need of paying huge amount of money or the verbal abuse and raw treatment they would likely get for having pinned their American dreams with them.

Familiarity breeds contempt or simply stated: “marrying a Filipino or a Filipina should be the last thing that an illegal Filipino should do if the purpose of the marriage is to fix their status.”

Some Filipino-American citizen could be an abuser, a nagger, a dictator, a slave driver or an opportunist when it comes to their relationship with an alien or an illegal immigrant. They know the helpless alien badly needs their help that they would take advantage of the situation to extract the most benefit out of the misery of their illegal partner. I learned all about these from the other undocumented immigrants as they relate to me their experiences be they Filipino or not. Unfortunately, I had also experienced them. Marrying other nationals other than Filipinos, who are U.S. citizens doesn’t look that easy either. There would be the language problem, cultural differences, low income, as most illegals are underpaid; and the height problem to some extent.

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The enormous hindrances that entail marriage to a person with another nationality forces some Filipino illegals to seek marriage with fellow Filipinos/Filipinas, even if it means parting off with  hard-earned money; swallowing pride, and sometimes bearing with the attendant humiliation from the unexpected abuse (verbal, mental or physical) from the said partner. You should know that most Filipinos here who were naturalized are more American in their character and attitude than the so-called White Anglo-Saxon People (WASP). “Yeah right!” as the common expression among Filipino-American reverberates loud and clear.

For an illegal, marrying a U.S. citizen could be  the surest and fastest way to get out of the rut. No wonder some U.S. citizens have put a price tag on their status—$20,000, $25,000 or even as high as $50,000. It’s a new form of prostitution!

So, when I started looking for a partner, it was no easy job. I had a hard time finding a woman who is a U.S. citizen and who didn’t ask for money in return. I tried the Internet, but most of the women in the game were much, much taller than I, that I almost felt I was in a wrong place, maybe in the land of the giants, I was a Lilliputian. Scrolling through their qualifications only increased my feeling of helplessness. I realized the more I continue using the Internet to look for a partner in life, the more disappointed I will be. I also tried the bars, the clubs and coffee shops but I am not the person who easily finds a mate in those places. Many times, I almost wanted to go back home, in an even worse situation than the one I had here. But the deplorable condition at home only strengthened my resolve to hang on.

Then the unexpected happened. Having adjusted myself completely to my new environment and having absorbed the cultures of the people around me, I realized I still have with me the charms I had which attracted women back home. Through various twists of luck and with a firm  determination coupled with a thick skin, I found what I was looking for—not just one but several

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U.S. citizens, a green card holder, and even an illegal alien like me.

There are more but they are asking to be paid. Outright, I ignored those who demanded payment. With the illegal, it was no problem for when I pursued her, she fell in love with me. I supposed she thought I was a U.S. citizen. It happened. Yet, I didn’t take advantage of her vulnerability, knowing very well she too, was looking for a U.S. citizen. Being in them same boat with her as an an illegal, I know I couldn’t help her and it wouldn’t help me either so I just faded out of her life to allow her to find her own U.S. citizen savior.

Of the U.S. citizens whose trust I won, I managed to successively live with two of them for almost a year while the other one we had lived together for more than two years. Eventually, the relationships failed either due to the machinations of those who wanted us separated or because we were incompatible or both. I couldn’t imagine there are people who could be so mean. I’ve heard this so-called crab mentality— where people pulls one down to prevent another from going up. These people said the nastiest things about me. In effect, they destroyed me. How could they be so vicious? Overwhelmed by the negativity of their machinations, especially about my illegal status, the families of the women I had a live-in relationship started to have reservations about me and my intentions.

My first relationship with a U.S. citizen was almost in the bag but because of the protestations of her children, I decided to break up with her, to let her go even after she vowed to marry me. I was hurt and very frustrated.

The other two relationships that followed were different. There was love in these relationships and in both instances, we literally lived as husband and wife; but just like what happened in my first relationship, the families of these two and their circle of friends are also against our relationship. Yes, same old story—boy likes girl, girl likes boy but the people around didn’t approve. These two succeeding relationships did not survive.

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With the last two women that I had a relationship, I got married with the first one but we later had our marriage annulled.

As with my second relationship, I almost married her but decided not to because of the pressure. Marriage didn’t happen because she had an attitude—a misplaced superior attitude—that made herself believed she is always on top of everything. If I married her, she would have dominated every aspect of my life, turning me into a virtual henpecked husband in the process. With her, I wasn’t sure of myself anymore. I would have been a “yes man” if I wanted to preserve our relationship. We were so close to getting married but somehow I chickened out when red flags keep appearing before me, frightened of what I was getting into. I decided it is better that we don’t get married. She too felt the same, I guess. We decided to call off the wedding, remaining friends instead for as long as we could until we slowly drifted apart. The parting, in some aspects, could have been good for both of us. The best part of it is we had saved the sanctity of marriage, which in all likelihood was going to fail.

For a while, I thought I was headed for depression with the breakups I had from one relationship to another. Only the moral support of some friends and their continued encouragement enabled me to overcome my disappointments.

With the one I am currently married to, it went this way. A common friend had introduced me to her, I courted her relentlessly, called her on the phone almost every night, the same way I did with other women. When we met about three weeks later, it was as if we had known each other for a long time. There was no ice to break when we found ourselves face- to-face; we almost said nothing except “is it you?” and “it’s me, hi!” and the next thing we knew, we were lying in a bed of love whispering sweet nothings into each other ears. Sounds like a movie!

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Soon we decided to get married. I told her I didn’t have the papers; she said it does not matter. She thought getting married would help me, and I was moved by her affection. There was no denying her concern could be an offshoot of love. There was no money involved. It was something I valued so much. It gave me hope for the first time.

Going home to see my mother was the next thing in my mind. As a bonus for the immigration benefits I would get for marrying her, my fiancé suggested that we send for my daughter, from whom I withheld my presence during her formative years. I couldn’t believe when she said, “Yes, let’s bring your daughter here.” As she uttered those words, she made those beautiful smiles. It was the nicest statement of love I had heard in my life. Getting my daughter to join me was something I had wished so much. I had shed tears whenever I thought of her. Having her around would be the culmination of my dream.

Although I eyed marriage as the best way to a green card, I had initially opted for an employment-based petition—a process of hiring a foreign worker when no U.S. worker is available to fill a vacant position.

 

A law firm had filed a labor certification for me through the traditional method. It would later be withdrawn after I had a falling-out with my would-be employer-petitioner but the filing itself of the application before the April 30, 2001 deadline had made me eligible for the grandfathering of the 245(i) Immigration and Naturalization Act (3). This means that when I would have to adjust my status to that of a lawful permanent resident, I wouldn’t have to go back to my country to get the green card.

 

(3) Adjustment of Status under the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (“LIFE Act”). Under Section 245(i) of the Act, adjustment of status was available to alien crewmen, aliens continuing or accepting unauthorized employment, aliens admitted in transit without visa, and aliens who entered without inspection. This law sunset on January 14, 1998, but was revived under the LIFE Act, which extended INA Section 245(i) to April 30, 2001.

 

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With the withdrawal of the first labor certification, another law firm came to my rescue, filing again a labor certification for the same position through a Reduction in Recruitment, a much faster procedure than the traditional method of getting the green card.

With the RIR, as it was known in the immigration industry, it took about two and a half years to get the green card compared with five years or maybe a little more with the traditional manner of filing labor certification.

There is yet another process even faster than the RIR that had been introduced, replacing the RIR and the traditional method.

Known as the Program Electronic Review Management or PERM, it cuts the waiting time from 45 to 60 days from the time the application for labor certification was filed. But something went wrong with my second labor certification as filed by my new would-be employer-petitioner. A year after it was filed, we noticed a possible error.

In the published advertisement, it had wrongly included a restrictive requirement.  Instead of “law firm seeking technical writer…” it was published as “Filipino law firm seeking a technical writer…” A restrictive requirement that calls for only Filipinos as applicants could be doomed and lead to a denial of the labor certification by the Employment Development Department. Fortunately, our apprehension was misplaced for the EDD didn’t even bother touching it or they just let it go.

But one concern they raised that placed me on edge was our apparent failure to have complied with the submission of the advertisements. They said we didn’t submit the required newspapers. Without the ads, the EDD could only assumed the employer did not conduct the required recruitment campaign, when in fact, it did and had submitted the newspapers where the advertisement had appeared.  However,  my  petitioner  had  contacted  the newspaper publication that ran the ads for

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copies to rebut the EDD findings but the cost was so much to bear.

The petitioning law firm  decided to just convert the application from RIR to the traditional manner so as not to unnecessarily risk denial, hoping to later switch the labor certification to PERM or if that would not be possible to file a new certification under PERM, which would fast track the process. Its approval though was still no guarantee and it could prolong my agony much further.

Looking at it objectively, the boo-boos committed in filing the labor certification and development in the immigration industry because of the 9/11 tragic incident in the American history conspired to dim my chances of legalization. An amnesty was far-fetched. Marriage to a U.S. citizen remained my only best alternative.

To be continued…

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