Jocelin Garfio, student, sat alone in the food court, scrolling through her phone as students bustled around her, and with her straight dark hair, braces and the cellphone in her hand, she could’ve been anyone.
In many ways her life is entirely normal: taking naps when stressed, listening to all music except country, reading romance novels for fun. There’s just one thing — for many years, her parents were living in the United States illegally.
She was born in the United States after her parents immigrated here from Mexico approximately ten years earlier on work visas. A work visa is an authorization by a country allowing a person to live there for a specified period of time, and live and work in that country until the end date arrives.
“People always say, ‘well, come here legally and you won’t have these issues,’” Garfio said. “But they don’t know how hard that is. My dad originally came here on a work visa, but he stayed here because my sister was born. That’s how a lot of people end up becoming illegal immigrants [sic].”
It’s true — according to the Center for Migration Studies, an organization cited in the New York Times and on NBC News, “overstays,” or immigrants with expired visas, accounted for about two-thirds of people living in the country illegally in 2014, and overstays have consistently exceeded immigrants who cross the border illegally since 2007.
Garfio’s parents came to America together legally in the early 1990s, but rather than go back to Mexico once the visa expired, they stayed illegally in the United States with their children, who had been born and raised in America. Originally, her parents moved to the U.S. to send money to Garfio’s grandparents in Mexico.
“My grandparents were going through a hard time in Mexico,” Garfio said. “There was a really bad gang in their little town who were just harassing people for money, and they ended up not having enough money to support themselves and their kids. My dad has seven siblings, and some of his brothers had already migrated, and he was like, ‘okay, I’m going to do that, too, I’m going to send money, I’m going to help out.’”
Over the years, Garfio taught her mother English, leading to Norma being awarded full U.S. citizenship (the interview for U.S. citizenship must be done in English, a problem for many Spanish-speaking immigrants).
During this time, Garfio was accepted into Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, a prestigious magnet school in Kansas City, Kansas. However, after five years of advanced classes and loads of homework, she discovered that the International Baccalaureate classes offered at Sumner don’t transfer to many colleges.
“What I’m most proud of in my life this far is graduating,” Garfio said. “I saw that kids from other schools didn’t have as much of a workload, or barely showed up to class and still had straight As. I had to show up, I had to take notes…it was hard. But, even though my test scores were good, none of my credits transferred. But, even though I don’t get any of the credits, I feel I’m more prepared than some other people for college.”
The issue with credits led to pursuing a Liberal Arts major, at the college and regaining the credits she lost. Afterward, she intends to go to school for a criminology degree and eventually work in forensic criminology.
Garfio realized she was interested in criminology after being involved with the police and detective investigations into her father’s case from the age of seven, when his illegal immigration problems began.
Before that, the situation was fine: her father, despite being here illegally, had continued to live and work in America without trouble. That was until one of her aunts who “tends to hold grudges,” got into an argument with her father, and eventually called the immigration police to report his illegal status.
Garfio’s family lived in a home connected to her aunt’s house, and the situation compelled her parents to move to Kansas. While here, her parents divorced, and her father moved to Chicago. That’s when immigration problems started to arise yet again, and he was eventually deported in 2013.
“I think I was in seventh grade,” Garfio said. “I was lost. Everyone looked at me like this child that they were trying to hide things from, but I figured it out. No one wanted to fill me in, so I had to fill in my own pieces and make my own reality out of it. That was hard for me, but what was harder was not knowing what had happened to him, or why he wasn’t talking to me. He had tried to get his residency, and follow the process, and do everything right. He hoped everything would turn out well because he’s been a good citizen.”
Her father came back to America to attend a court date and has been living here since. However, after the time and date for his interview was sent to the wrong house, the Immigration Department refused to reschedule the interview and declared that he could be deported at any time.
Rather than go through the deportation process again, Eleazear plans on returning to Mexico in November to leave on his own terms. As her father’s struggle for citizenship comes to an unfortunate end, Garfio relates her relief at being born a full U.S. citizen.
“I’m very grateful that I have the opportunity to be here,” Garfio said. “A lot of my friends have lived their whole lives here, but they weren’t born here. So, they’re being restricted from scholarships and can’t get any type of help, and so anything they do, they have to do out of pocket. It’s ten times harder for them. There are things I don’t really think about until I think of my friends. They can’t even drive without being in fear of being pulled over, and I drive freely. I’m very, very grateful to be [born] here.”