Legal Immigration: Not so Black and White

by Perla Martinez, JONAH Communications

What is Immigration? “Immigration [is] the process through which individuals become permanent residents or citizens of another country (definition from” Seems like a simple definition. Yet, so many people wishing to live the opportunity to migrate from Mexico to the United States die trying every single day. People risk their lives everyday for the chance of a better life. What does it mean to risk your life for a better opportunity at life? Through my personal experience, I will share with you that the value of a new life is priceless but it will cost everything one has. I will talk specifically about emigrating from Mexico to the United States.  

There’s a lot of misconceptions of how to legally emigrate from Mexico to the United States. The biggest one I hear many people say is, “If you would have just come here legally, you wouldn’t have so many problems.” It is incredible how many people believe migrating from one country to another country is so easy, especially American people. A lot of people think that all one has to do is fill out an application, wait to get approved, and boom, one will get their “papers.” What are papers? Papers is a term used by many immigrants meaning that you have the right to legally be in the foreign country you are immigrating to. What does it mean to actually emigrate from Mexico to the United States legally?  I’ve been in the process for years and I am still not certain I have all the answers. It is a much longer process than many people think, and it is not as easy as 1, 2, 3. 

What is the process of coming to the United States from Mexico? Emigrants have a variety of options depending on their situation. You can see the full list here of 107 different types of applications the USCIS (United States Citizenship Immigration Services) provides. Which application to fill out is the question because it depends on an immigrant’s personal situation. The most common applications people hear about are the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative, and the I-589 & I-730 Asylum seekers. Are you overwhelmed yet? We are just getting started. 

I am more familiar with the I-130 application because that is the case I am currently involved in with my husband, so that is the application I will focus on. 

Let’s begin with a quick background of how I got involved in the I-130 application. I was born in California by the time I was 3 months old, my family moved to Wisconsin. After a few years, my parents, five older brothers, one older sister, and I ended up settling in Rice Lake. My father was able to gain permanent residency in the United States through the Reagan Administration as an amnesty was provided, (more information can be found here: The definition of a permanent resident, “Lawful permanent residents (LPRs), also known as “green card” holders, are non-citizens who are lawfully authorized to live permanently within the United States. LPRs may accept an offer of employment without special restrictions, own property, receive financial assistance at public colleges and universities, and join the Armed Forces.“ (Full definition provided by Homeland Security: As a permanent resident of the U.S. my dad was able to file an I-130 application so that my mother, brothers, and sister could be lawful permanent residents as well. Being born in the United States I received automatic Citizenship of the U.S. which meant my dad did not have to file for me. Unfortunately, not every lawyer is there to help. Two of my brothers were still underage when my dad filed their applications but the lawyer he went to conned him out of his money. The applications got lost and when my dad went back to the lawyer’s office, the office was cleaned out and he had no way to contact that lawyer. My dad then had to find another lawyer and she was the one who fought the case for my family to become permanent residents. Only my mother and sister were approved to receive their permanent residency. My mom gained her permanent residency as she is my father’s spouse and my sister was underage, still a child, which helped her case. By that time, the rest of my brothers were over the age of 18 and their applications got sent to what is known as a lottery list. It is known as a lottery list because the application is turned in, but the odds of getting picked to follow through with the case is unlikely. 

By the age of 11 years old my five brothers had been deported. My big family was now small. It wasn’t for a lack of trying to be in the United States legally. I grew up thinking it was normal for people to get deported. I did my best to behave and excel in academics so that I wouldn’t get deported but my family said I was safe because I was a United States Citizen. I didn’t understand that., Not for a long time. From as long as I can remember, I did my best to be the best person I could be. I graduated high school with honors in 2014 and I graduated from UW-Stout in 2018 with Magna Cum Laude Honors with a Bachelors in Hospitality and 3 minors in economics, business administration, and Spanish. My life was on track, the hard work finally paid off, and I was going to continue to study for an Immigration Law Degree as I had seen how the Trump administration had changed immigration laws. Five years later, I have yet to finish studying for the LSAT. What happened? I fell in love. 

Photos of my husband and I together in person but separated most of the time, we spent most of our relationship FaceTiming. We never imagined our lives together would be like this.
Photos of my husband and I together in person but separated most of the time, we spent most of our relationship FaceTiming. We never imagined our lives together would be like this.

My husband and I were living in Eau Claire ready to face life together. Our goals aligned, our careers aligned, his daughter was in our lives, everything was just right. We were inseparable, or so we thought. In my life I had already lived through the deportations of my five brothers and countless acquaintances. I couldn’t imagine that happening to the person I fell in love with as well. In September 2018 my husband faced his deportation case and by December of 2018 he was deported to Mexico. We tried to keep him in the United States. When we decided to hire an immigration attorney we learned that the lawyer is able to represent the immigrant from any state, so we were able to choose from many attorneys around the country. We felt the first attorney we hired wasn’t doing a lot for our case so we decided to hire a different attorney to file for our I-130 application. 

It took us some time to fill out the I-130 application because we needed to make sure we were filling it out accurately since just one mistake could throw off our case. Filling out the application is free but to submit your application there is a fee. Since every case is unique, we decided to fill it out with an attorney so that we wouldn’t make mistakes. Depending on the immigration case and which attorney one goes with, it will cost anywhere from $3,000 to more than $10,000, not including the application filing fees and other fees. To our dismay, we turned in our I-130 application in Summer of 2020 – yes, the year 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Little did we know that immigration offices would close all over the country, nor that many would never open back up. Usually with I-130 cases one receives a response of approval or denial within a year. It is now 2023 and we have yet to receive our first response. 

Our immigration lawyer told us that it would take about three years to get our application “approved” because we were first going to be denied, after which we would submit two pardon applications and our case would be retried. We knew we weren’t guaranteed an approval but it wasn’t going to keep us from trying. Our lawyer has submitted complaints to the USCIS office because they have yet to give us our first response. Our case has now moved to another office and USCIS is giving us an additional interview to wait for. Our lawyer has said that we just have to wait. If we want to make more complaints they cost $150 per complaint and only once a month. Any other measure to increase our fight, working with a legislator or even suing the US, not only costs thousands of dollars but complicates the morality of the whole thing.

I thank God everyday that I am a U.S. Citizen and that I have been blessed with great job opportunities soI am able to save money to spend on my husband’s petition. People in Mexico do not have the same opportunities. The minimum wage for a worker in Mexico is 200 pesos per day, from sunrise to sundown. 200 pesos is equivalent to $10 U.S.. How long would it take a Mexican citizen to raise $10,000 U.S.? It would take roughly 2.75 years if they worked every day of those years and if they didn’t eat or spend any money. Obviously, that is not doable, as they have to support themselves. And if they have a family, they have to support their family, too. 

Immigrating to another country legally doesn’t only mean money, it also takes a lot of time. People wait anywhere from 2 years to a lifetime to be given the opportunity to legally emigrate from Mexico to the United States. So even after spending tens of thousands of dollars and years of one’s life doing everything right, a person can still be denied the opportunity to immigrate legally. I know people who have received their papers even though they have a criminal record and I know people who have been denied their papers who have a clean, spotless record. Why does this happen? I am not sure. It all depends on the lawyer and how they work. It depends on the immigration judge.and most importantly, I have come to believe it also depends on God’s will. One can spend all the money in the world and still get denied, but God sees all and I believe he opens up the right opportunity for everyone in His own way. What will be, will be. 

The reason so many people immigrate to the United States illegally is because they do not have the income, the resources, the knowledge, or the time to spend on an immigration case, which case is not even guaranteed to get approved. A lot of people prefer to immigrate illegally. How do they do this? There are people called “Coyotes” who help them cross the border. I believe the price is around $10,000 U.S.. So if people can’t raise money to spend on a legal immigration process, how do they save money to spend on a Coyote? They ask a friend or family for a loan, they sell whatever properties they have, or anything they can because people know that once they are in the U.S. they can pay back the money faster. It is a risk, but there is a higher guarantee of crossing the border, or so it seems. People cross the border in all sorts of ways risking their lives everyday. For those who make it, it is the best day of their life. For those who don’t, if they’re lucky they get caught by border patrol and are deported; but for many, they lose their lives trying. People would rather take the 50/50 odds of making it to the United States illegally than to wait a lifetime of going through a legal immigration process. Imagine what could be lived in a lifetime in a better country instead of a third world country. 

What is it like living in a third world country? From my current experience of being able to live in Mexico for a few months, it is scary. Besides the obvious economic barriers of everyday life in Mexico, the scariest part is that you can’t trust anyone, not even the police. Even writing about the situation that happened so close to where I am staying makes me fear for my life and my family’s well-being. Therefore, I won’t go into much detail. The bottom line is that a man was murdered because he was accused of committing a crime. Instead of there being a police investigation, the other criminals took matters into their own hands and tortured him to find out the truth, killed him and dropped him back off at his house. It took at least two hours for the police to show up and cross off the crime scene. By then, people had been walking around the dead body, contaminating the scene carelessly. The police said they were going to investigate but everyone knows that those investigations never lead to anything. Whether the man was innocent or guilty, we will never know. If people witnessed anything, they will never come forward because they know the other criminals are always watching everyone and they will go after them as well. The man wasn’t even given a proper burial by his family in fear that the criminals would go after them as well. 

So, what does it mean to come to the United States legally? It means spending tremendous amounts of money on lawyers, application fees, and travel to go to court dates and/or the embassy So this is why not everyone migrates to the U.S. from Mexico legally. It is too expensive and too long for most circumstances. Coming to the United States from Mexico legally costs a lot of money. My family and I have already spent $10,000 petitioning for my husband to come back legally. 

My husband and I have been waiting for 5 years already to be reunited. We chose the legal way because we wanted to do things right. We didn’t want to live a life having to look over our shoulder constantly. Did we make the right choice? I’m not sure anymore because we weren’t prepared to live so much time apart. We had the illusion that everything would work out in 3 years, or that at least our case would be more advanced than it is now. In these past 5 years we could have accomplished a lot with our lives. We aren’t getting any younger and we both are stuck in lives we did not see coming. What has the legal way cost us?

Behind all these smiles there were a lot of sad and hopeless days. There is depression. There are traumas to overcome.
Behind all these smiles there were a lot of sad and hopeless days. There is depression. There are traumas to overcome.

Like I said before, the value of a new life is priceless but it will cost everything one has. It has cost us money, time, and most importantly, our mental health. We are emotionally exhausted by the way our lives have changed. My husband and I have gone through all of this trying to overcome our depression of family separation. I lost my husband and he lost his wife and daughter. Through our depression, we have lost ourselves, who we used to be, and it has cost us the relationship with our marriage, his and my family, and friends. There’s a lot of regret in our lives but we can only learn from our mistakes. A prayer that keeps me going is, “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

In the meantime, we have regained our hope and faith that everything will work out for the better. It may not be the happy ending we desire but we have learned that everything happens for a reason and we are thankful to have been brought together to face this challenge together. Afterall, we are human and we are not perfect. The mistakes we have made have helped us grow as individuals and have taught us to be and do better everyday. 

Do you still believe that emigrating from Mexico to the United States legally is what you thought it was?  You can check out this year’s Immigration Policy predictions here. Like everything else, the application fees are going up in price and it will now cost you more money to come to the United States legally. There is a high need for immigration reform and there are a lot of people and groups willing to fight the fight.