2013-04-11 20:39:20

Getting Legal Status At 28, A Whole World Opens

Adrian Avila is a 28 year old designer and artist who recently recieved legal status. He serves as art director for Silicon Valley DeBug. This piece originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

I am a 28-year-old immigrant who now finally has the life opportunities of an 18-year-old American born. I have been undocumented for 22 years, and as such, traditional America milestones have eluded me.

In this country, the milestone of turning 18 is about becoming an adult, and gaining a whole new set privileges and responsibilities. When I was 18, my friends were driving, working summer jobs, applying to colleges and some even voting. I was dreaming of those things while I sat on at the bus stop, or working under the table at a hotdog stand.

Eighteen is the age when one sets out to create the life one is seeking. For me this all is coming to me now, at age 28, when I received my legalization.

Looking at how big a change I am experiencing my personal life has let me know how profound an opportunity America is about to receive if we do pass immigration reform for the 11 million undocumented stories like mine. Having received my visa this year, I feel like a racehorse waiting for the gate to open. I know now that getting documentation was not just about the security from deportation but is about finally being able to unleash my full potential. This is the power of the transformation of undocumented to documented.

I felt this the second I got a call from my immigration lawyer a few months ago congratulating me for being granted a U-visa. After surviving as an undocumented immigrant since the age of six, I am now a current visa holder, which grants me legal status in this country for four years. I also now have a path to permanent residency and one day citizenship.

I had been waiting for this moment since I could remember, but what I didn't know was what it would actually be like to all of a sudden be allowed opportunities that had been denied me for so long.

The visa has brought a tremendous number of possibilities. Opportunities like obtaining a driver's license. When I went to the DMV office it was like being allowed into a VIP club that I had wanted to get into since I was 16. It's funny to me how many people see the DMV as a place of horror and dread it. For me, going to the DMV to apply for my driver's license was metamorphic. That moment that solidified the realness of this life-changing event. I was on my way to becoming legal in the eyes of others.

Obtaining a valid Social Security card freed me in ways American born residents could barely imagine. Without one, I couldn't apply for jobs, but it impacted me more mentally that anything because of what I was being told: Due to a number, I was not qualified for the position. Now, holding my Social Security card feels like a whole new freedom — I am allowed to climb as high as I can. I finally can understand what my American born friends were feeling when they turned 18.

Being on this side of the documentation line has reaffirmed my belief that being undocumented is just a limitation, not a condition. We are limited on what we can do, but we are not limited on who we are.

And who we can become, once the millions of us are given legalization. We will bring a new wave of prosperity, not just to personal lives of immigrants but to this country as a whole.

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