For the past few months, we’ve been working to support Rachel as she prepares to self-deport. We asked her to write a guest blog post about her experience of learning that she is illegal and sharing her plans to self-deport with her family.
This Thanksgiving was the worst in my memory. I went to visit my daughter Rose and her husband Guy in Pennsylvania. He’s a lovely man. Conservative. Patriotic. They have the three most adorable children aged 6 months to 5 years old. I love them—playing with them, reading to them, just being with them. Eva, the middle one, reminds me of my mother—the silky fine blond hair, the pale blue eyes.
Still, I dreaded the event. I was almost sick with worry. My daughter and son-in-law know of course that I was born in a refugee camp at the end of WWII. My mother had survived the war and the Nazis. My father hadn’t. A very charitable family helped my mother (and me) emigrate to the United States. Entries into America were at the highest premium. Everyone wanted to come here, though many ended up taking boats to nowhere, to countries they didn’t know existed. But we were lucky. We came here. I was a baby. I don’t remember anything until I was a child in New Jersey, going to school, middle school, high school. The year I started middle school, my mother died. I was nine years old. She was so young still. Not even 40. But the war took its toll on her and she had always suffered from weak lungs. I didn’t really understand what was happening but she had some sort of pneumonia. Her best friends next door took me in. I had no family, and they became family. Aunt Marg, Uncle Jim, I called them. I was very lucky to have them in my life. Even after I married and had my daughter I went to visit them often.
So life went. We worked in a factory that made springs for sofa beds. We had a stable life. We made enough money for a little house, a nice car. Rose went to college at Rutgers and loved it. My husband George had fought in Vietnam but had put the war behind him. His sister Peg became my best friend, and almost a real sister to me after George died two years ago. Peg’s lively, full of fun and energy and curiosity. Early this year she suggested we take a tour to Europe—see some sites, have some fun. It was such a great idea—I’ve never traveled. I was excited. I started the paper work for my passport. I’d never had one. Why did I need one?
Well. I needed to fill in the forms and send in proof of citizenship. Proof? I was an American. What kind of proof? “Well, a birth certificate, for example,” said the woman from the Passport Office that I was finally able to get on the phone. “I was born in a refugee camp,” I told her. “Well then, naturalization papers,” she said. I didn’t have naturalization papers that I knew of. I promised to ask my Aunt Marg. Aunt Marg is in her eighties but sharp as a tack. “I don’t remember any papers,” she said, though she pointed me to her attic and the boxes she had inherited from my mother, still stored there after fifty years. I searched everywhere. Finally I found my mother’s naturalization papers, but not mine. I went to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Nothing. There was no record of me. My mother, yes. Nothing about me. How could that be? I asked the clerk. “It happens,” he said. “Sometimes parents think that once they’re naturalized their kids are too. That’s not how it works.”
I was illegal. I was an alien. I couldn’t believe it. I had worked hard all my life. I had paid taxes. I had a social security number and a driver’s license. My daughter had gone to a public university. How could this have happened?
After a couple of months searching for answers, I stumbled on the Patriots for Self Deportation website. Reading the testimonials and emailing some of the members, it became clear I had to self deport and apply for naturalization and citizenship the legal way. Where would I go? I was not a citizen of any country in the world. Just as painful, I had to tell Rose. I couldn’t just call her, I had to explain this face to face. So, Thanksgiving.
I dreaded it. All the way from New Jersey to Pennsylvania on the bus I thought about how I would tell her. I couldn’t live in America illegally. I couldn’t just wait to receive my social security pension knowing I didn’t belong here. I wasn’t that kind of person. But what would this information do to my daughter? She was now the daughter of an illegal alien. Guy would explode. I couldn’t think about it. And those children, my adorable grandbabies.
I can’t even describe the looks on their faces when I told them. Rose’s face blank with incomprehension. Guy turning red on his neck, and the red spreading up his throat to his face. He ordered me to leave immediately. Rose was still blank as she watched me go. I left quietly, giving them time to think. I know this kind of shock takes time to process. All the way back to New Jersey on the bus, I cried. But I knew I had to tell them. How could I not? So now, what? I’ll leave to a place I’ve never known (How? When? With what papers?), leaving behind the only family I have in the world. Where will I live, what language will I speak, how will I support myself? Now it’s my turn to take the boat to nowhere. I will look through the Patriots for Self Deportation, looking for solutions, looking for strength. Right now, all I have are questions. That’s all I have left.
If you, like Rachel, need help self-deporting, please contact us at email@example.com. We have a network of mentors who have already self-deported, and they can help you make this big decision.
While I appreciate my grandmother’s desire to assimilate to American culture and society- she never wanted to draw attention to her heritage and purposefully did not use her Italian or teach her child, my mother- I cannot ignore her illegal beginnings. We never should’ve been here in the first place.
Now, as I can’t trace the Irish side of my family back far enough to definitively say if they were naturalized or not, and as my Italian genealogy is so clearly full of legal inconsistencies, I can only conclude that I must be deported back to the island of Sicily, now a fully annexed part of the country of Italy. Luckily for me, Italy is a country with a shrinking population and accordingly has very relaxed citizenship requirements.