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A sister and brother,

one undocumented, one legal,
live starkly different lives


By Remy Sc a l za Gustavo is legal now, his mom could soon have
her green card. But for his younger sister, Julia,
But I can’t go to school. I can’t work. I can’t do
pretty much anything.”
Julia is applying for a scholarship that would
pay for tuition at Duke and other universities.
who graduated from high school last June, the PHOTO BY DEREK ANDERSON
Editor’s note: The names of the family members
have been changed to protect their identities.
situation is more complicated. Without the proper
documents, Julia, 18, can’t get a driver’s license, Living ou t side

S ince getting his green card, Gustavo likes to

board an airplane or apply for a decent job. And
because undocumented students are charged out-
t he l a w American friends and classmates. Reluctant out-
laws in their own communities, they lead lives rid-
make jokes. Bad ones. He’ll say something of-state tuition at North Carolina colleges and Nearly 270,000 undocumented immigrants, dled with uncertainty. A routine traffic stop along
like, “What are we gonna do with all these universities, her education plans are on hold. the majority from Mexico and Latin America, Interstate 40 could mean deportation. A knock on
illegals?” and smile. In 2001, the 25-year-old from Though they came to the United States on the live in North Carolina. While more immigrants the door during breakfast could be immigration
Colombia entered the country on a six-month same flight, Julia and Gustavo have adapted to the arrive each year, increasing numbers of them have officers, waiting with handcuffs.
tourist visa and spent a long time on the wrong caprices of immigration policy and undocument- grown up in the state. “They speak English with Choices, too, are painfully limited. Jobs tend
side of the law. He knows all about the sacrifices, ed life in starkly different ways: she, by working a Southern accent,” says Marisol Jimenez-McGee, to be low-paying, menial and sometimes hazard-
the hustles, the dead ends. So it’s OK, he says, to hard in school and trying to attend college; he, by advocacy director at El Pueblo, a Latino-rights ous: roofing houses, picking tobacco, washing
laugh about it now. marrying an American citizen. group in Raleigh. “They don’t even remember dishes. College is out of the picture: Like Julia,
Tonight, however, at the Carrboro apartment And while Gustavo can laugh about it, Julia is what their country of origin is like.” few immigrants can afford out-of-state tuition.
he shares with his mother and younger sister, his looking for someone to blame. “I know other kids, Though undocumented students often attend Undocumented immigrants can’t legally drive
jokes aren’t going over well. The problem is that American kids, they’ve been here all their life,” she public schools, play on sports teams and go to in North Carolina, since to obtain a license they
both of them are still undocumented. Because

says. “They could care less about going to college. prom, legally they remain separate from their must have a valid Social Security number.

Edited by Foxit PDF Editor
Copyright (c) by Foxit Software Company, 2004 - 2007
For Evaluation Only.

North Carolina’s undocumented com- Gustavo became a legal U.S. resident

munity inhabits an uneasy limbo. For after marrying an American.
many, home countries are a distant memo- PHOTO BY DEREK ANDERSON
ry. But once inside the United States, there
are few good options and no easy exits.
Some choose to wait and hope for laws to
change, attitudes to evolve, a door to open. But by her senior year, Julia was ready
Others, however, are not so patient. to put it behind her. Talk had turned to
colleges, and she had a transcript many
Home fr ee of her classmates could only dream of. By
the time she graduated, Julia, a member of
“Wanna see it?” Gustavo asks. He National Honor Society, had earned credit
reaches into his wallet and pulls out his for seven college-level classes, or almost a
green card. Actually, it’s white. His picture whole year of university coursework.
is on the front, next to his thumbprint. On Those accomplishments were listed
the back, an official-looking magnetic strip in Julia’s application for admission to
holds his personal data and immigration UNC. Julia dutifully filled out the 15-page
history. The card is real, not one of the application, wrote the essays, signed the
$100 fakes. honor codes and got the references from
“It’s a big door that opens,” he says. her teachers.
“Everything looks different. You get a taste Yet the most important part for
of what everybody else has.” undocumented students is the first page.
With his permanent resident card, Below the spaces for name and address
Gustavo is relatively home free. Provided looms a section titled “Citizenship.”
he doesn’t commit any major crimes, U.S. citizens check one box. Permanent
cheat on his taxes or try to overthrow the residents, i.e. green card holders, check
government, he can live here as long as another. For undocumented students,
he pleases. He can apply for any job and there’s a third box: “Non-Resident Alien.”
enter and leave the country at his leisure. Though everything I earned went to pay expenses.” He had long, light brown hair that she often wears pinned And, right underneath her name and her
he’s not a citizen yet, with enough money and the other things to worry about, too. Plans to seek back. With her rimless eyeglasses, the hairstyle address, she checked the box for non-resident
right lawyer, Gustavo could be an American in political asylum in the United States had fallen gives her the look of a librarian or a scholar, alien. In the space provided, she wrote that she
just a few years. through. A lawyer explained to him that since which is not too far off the mark. Julia, according was Colombian.
Securing the card wasn’t easy. “If there was he was in no immediate danger back home, he to everyone in the family, is smart. “I didn’t see a reason for me to lie,” Julia says.
something I regretted,” he says, “getting married wasn’t eligible for special status. Gustavo was just “She’s always been the intellectual one,” “If anyone asks me where I’m from, I’m gonna say
would be the part.” another illegal. Gustavo says. “I like to go out, to party. She likes I’m from Colombia.”
“But I wasn’t given much to deal with,” he He was ready to give up and go home. “I real- to stay in with the books and read.” Julia carries UNC accepts applications from anyone,
adds, shrugging. “Those were just my options. It’s ized it wasn’t going to get any better here,” he says. herself with impeccable posture, chooses her regardless of their legal status. But undocumented
like you’re waiting for a bus, and that’s the bus Gustavo broke the news to his girlfriend, Erica, students—no matter how many years they’ve
you have to get on. If you miss it, you don’t know over the phone. lived in North Carolina—are treated like out-of-
when the next one is gonna come.” It wasn’t a great match, he says. Her par- staters. This means it’s harder to get in: Only 18
ents, white-collar professionals, didn’t approve percent of spots go to people from outside North
Find a wi f e of him. And, he thought she was too young to
be trusted, too wild for a serious relationship. If anyone asks
Carolina. Tuition is also considerably steeper. For
example, at UNC-Greensboro, for out-of-state
As usual, this afternoon, Gustavo is busy. He He phoned that night planning to break up. residents yearly tuition and fees—not including

me whe r e I’m fr om,

just finished his shift, working part-time in a lab “I told her I wanted to go to school,” Gustavo room and board—total $15,246, almost four
at a local university. He is only a tech, but it’s a says, “but I couldn’t because I didn’t have the times the in-state rate of $3,978. (Annual tuition
step up from his previous jobs: Think deep fryers, papers.” At least in Colombia he could get into and fees for UNC-Chapel Hill are more expensive:

I’m gonna say I’m

not test tubes. college and find a real job. The more they talk- $20,824 for out-of-staters, compared to $5,176 for
Gustavo has set his sights on medical school. ed, though, the more Gustavo thought about North Carolina residents for the 2007-2008 school
But now, he’s concentrating on being accepted something a lawyer had once said to him. year.)
into UNC-Chapel Hill next fall as an undergradu-
ate. A partially filled-out federal financial aid form
After ruling out political asylum, the lawyer
had suggested another option. “Why not get fr om Co l ombia.” Yet even the $45 application fee to UNC-
Greensboro was a luxury she could hardly afford.
is in his backpack. married?” he asked. “Find yourself a wife?” “I couldn’t see myself spending all that money

A few years ago, his prospects looked consid- Gustavo doesn’t remember how the phone just applying to college,” she says.
erably less rosy. “For the longest time, I was so call with his girlfriend ended that night. They She knew, however, that finding money for
bitter,” Gustavo says. “A lot of doors shut in your didn’t decide to get married then. But by the tuition could be a lot harder. Julia says she had
face if you go knocking on them according to the time he hung up, he knew he wouldn’t be a mantra: “As long as I work hard, paying for
protocol.” To help explain how he opened those returning to Colombia. words carefully and is as comfortable talking tuition’s not gonna be a problem.” There was
doors, Gustavo begins sketching a timeline on a A year later more or less—Gustavo doesn’t about cell biology as social justice. “She’s always financial aid, after all. And scholarships for the
piece of paper: recall the exact date—he was standing in the been real mature for her age,” Gustavo explains. best students. More important, she knew that
2000—arrived Durham courthouse with Erica at his side. No Still, her braces give away her age. Julia is just without college, her prospects were dim. “I was
2001—met Erica friends or family attended; the wedding was a out of high school. Her dreams change with her afraid if I didn’t give the effort, I’d stay like this,”
2003—got married secret. As Gustavo and Erica prepared to exchange moods. She wants to travel, to be a lawyer, to own Julia says. “That was one of my biggest fears.”
2004—filed for green card the rings, the judge made their union official. her own business, to act. And like lots of teenag- Julia was accepted into UNC-Greensboro,
They met at work. Gustavo was waiting tables “It was like, ‘Do you accept so and so for ers, Julia can be moody, anxious and defensive. but she didn’t celebrate. Just a few paragraphs
at an Italian chain restaurant in Durham. Only a the rest of your life?’” Gustavo says. “The whole Sometimes, she says, the whole world seems below “congratulations,” the acceptance commit-
year into his life in North Carolina, he had already speech.” against her: close-minded teachers, uncaring tee explained that as an undocumented student
worked at a half-dozen restaurants. Employers A few months later, Gustavo started the paper- guidance counselors, cruel classmates. she had no access to federal or state financial aid.
rarely demanded documents, often accepting work for his green card. Because she is Colombian, Julia was teased Where was she going to get the money?
bogus Social Security numbers, no questions a lot. Kids would ask her if she had cocaine or “I have to think in a cold way and kind of cal-
asked. Starting off making biscuits for minimum
wage, he worked his way up. Waiting tables at the Oppo r t uni t y marijuana to sell them, or if she knew Pablo
Escobar, the Medellín drug kingpin. Even praise
culate things,” she explains. “I asked myself, ‘Do I
want to get my family in a debt like that right now?’
Italian restaurant, he could bring home $200 on a
good night.
denied veiled prejudice.
“I used to hear all the time, ‘Wow! You’re Latin
Faced with few opportunities, Julia was no
closer to being a U.S. citizen than when she got off
But he was burned out on restaurant work. Whereas Gustavo is dark, with close-shaven American and taking AP classes,’” Julia says. “Is the plane in Raleigh six years before. In her own
“People treat you like shit,” Gustavo says. “And that a compliment, an insult or what?” mind, however, she was more American than

black hair and deep brown eyes, Julia is fair, with

Edited by Foxit PDF Editor
Copyright (c) by Foxit Software Company, 2004 - 2007
For Evaluation Only.

Colombian. She hadn’t been back to Colombia. She

had no friends left in Bogotá. She had no idea what
music was popular, or what kids her age talked
about or what they watched on TV.
And there were all the milestones, the note-
worthy and routine, that Julia had lived through
in North Carolina: trips to the coast on her
birthdays; a broken wrist in the ninth grade; the
Thanksgiving the family spent in Washington,
D.C.; acting classes; middle school graduation,
all grown-up in a black dress and make-up; high
school phys. ed.; the SATs.
And, of course, all the late nights spent in her
bedroom cramming for biology and chemistry
and statistics and English and psychology. As Julia
recounts her time in America, it’s clear that many
of her memories are from the classroom.
Suddenly, the long days of cramming for tests,
applying for colleges and racing from one after-
school activity to the next, ended. Without college,
Julia has been plunged deeper into the shadows of
undocumented life.
“During the week, sometimes I stop and think
that everyone from school is in college right now,”
she says. “And it’s kind of weird.”

Bogo t á t o RDU
Julia and Gustavo first glimpsed North
Carolina on an August morning seven years ago.
They had boarded a plane together in Bogotá,
their lives winnowed down to a
pair of suitcases. Julia, only 11 at
the time, brought a book of fairy
tales. Gustavo, then 18, found
room for a tennis racket.
On that first drive from the Above: Raised Catholic, the family moved from across town because elec-
Raleigh-Durham airport every- Ana now sporadically tric bills were too high. There are few furnishings
thing was new and strange: the attends church because in the new place: a couch, a coffee table, little on
smells of summer flowers in the she feels like an outsider. the walls. Ana explains that they’ll buy real furni-
South, the deep-green forests Left: Violence forced ture once they settle down.
bordering the interstate, the maze Julia, Ana and Gustavo to But it’s been seven years.
of lonely highways leading into flee Colombia. Once upon a time, Ana had plans for herself
Carrboro. PHOTOS BY DEREK ANDERSON and her family. She was going to get a job, save
But Gustavo’s strongest mem- money and get her nursing license so she could
ory is wondering who the woman work in a hospital like she did in Colombia. But
in the front seat was. It had been almost from the moment Ana set foot in this
three years since Gustavo and work and a place to live. country, her life has lurched along on its own
Julia last saw their mother—since She would send for Gustavo course, and she has struggled to hang on: pay the
Ana fled Colombia seeking refuge and Julia when the time was bills, keep the family fed and find time to go to
in a country she’d never visited. right. But weeks turned to church.
“I remember feeling like I months, then years. Ana nannies five days a week and cleans
really didn’t know that person “At times,” Gustavo house; she’s paid in cash, under the table. This
waiting for me anymore,” Gustavo says. There private enclave nearly half the size of Rhode says, “we wondered if we were ever going to see routine has become the rhythm of her life. She
were few tears on that first ride, no desperate Island. Along the way, he earned a reputation as her again.” worries about Julia finding a way to go to school.
embraces. In fact, Gustavo remembers they hardly a “matón,” a killer’s killer who brutally dispensed But, speeding west from the airport toward a “Sometimes, I’m very sad about my daughter’s sit-
spoke at all. with enemies. Eventually, the government caught new life in Carrboro, the family was finally reunit- uation,” she says. And she worries about Gustavo’s
Ana, the matriarch of the family, has a kind up with him. Ana’s father was killed, along with ed. And, maybe for the first time, they were safe. marriage. “He doesn’t talk a lot about the things
face and smiles easily. She likes to wear bright- most of his family, in a violent showdown at his Ana thinks about Colombia often. More than he had to go through,” she says.
lycolored dresses and makes excellent arepas, jungle plantation. her children, she’s a product of the country. It Ana is taking English classes but will probably
Colombian hotcakes made from corn flour and Ana and a few siblings survived and were comes out in her accent, thick and lyrical, filled never lose her accent. She fought to get out of
filled with cheese. raised by relatives, but their family heritage with pauses and improvisations. “I like to care for Colombia, and she fought to get Julia and Gustavo
The problem is that Ana, and Julia and proved to be dangerous. Ana’s first husband was children,” she explains, “but medicine is what I’m here. But in a country where she’s still a stranger,
Gustavo, too, bear a stain so indelible they had to gunned down when Gustavo was just a baby. apasionado for.” Colombia also lives in her memo- Ana is no longer in control of her destiny.
come halfway around the world to escape it: their Authorities called it random violence; Ana sus- ries. Earlier this month was the anniversary of “I’m very confused sometimes,” she says. “I
own blood. “My family belongs to the history of pects otherwise. Around the time Julia was born, her first husband’s murder. Ana keeps a picture of ask, ‘Did I do the best or no?’”
Colombia,” Ana begins. Depending on whom you a brother of Ana’s was assassinated. Another him in small a silver frame. He looks like Gustavo,
talk to, her father was either a Colombian revolu-
tionary fighter or a bandit. What’s clear, however,
brother was shot in a small town outside Bogotá.
When Ana traveled there for the funeral, she says
only a little younger. Ana has another daughter
back home, too, older than the other children and
Ma r r iage :
is that by the time he died, Ana’s father had made
enemies, inside Colombia and out.
the taxi driver warned her: “Why are you here?
They’re going to kill you.”
with a family of her own now. She worries about
her and wonders if her grandchildren are safe.
t he t icke t ou t
During the 1950s, a time in Colombia’s Ana was running out of options. In October “When you’re young, you don’t care about the Gustavo has one more item to add to his
history known as “la violencia,” Ana’s father 1997, she bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles. dangers,” Ana says. “But, when you have children, timeline: the next milestone. “The whole fact of
defected from the Colombian army with a small She had no time to worry about visas or political you’re not only thinking about you.” us being young was hard,” he explains. But it’s
band of soldiers. In the lawless countryside, he asylum or bureaucrats at the embassy. She entered Ana’s apartment is cluttered with boxes and the right thing to do, he says. Then he cuts a new
built a 20,000-strong militia and carved out a the United States as a tourist, planning to find suitcases and stacks of papers. A few months ago, slash through the line: 2007—divorce.

Whether the marriage was for real—or a mat- While Julia waits for word on her scholarships,
ter of convenience or a favor between friends—is she works with her mother, cleaning houses
hard to tell. “Before we got married, we talked and caring for children. PHOTO BY DEREK ANDERSON
about it as an agreement,” Gustavo says. “So I
could stay in the U.S.” But like so many aspects of
undocumented life, the marriage itself is murky
and rife with contradictions. increased. “I just don’t want to stop,” she
Erica and Gustavo loved each other, for a little explains. “What else am I going to do?” On
while. She moved out of the dorms at UNC and the table next to her is a book the size of a
into his family’s apartment. And her parents even- Bible with big block letters across the front:
tually warmed to Gustavo, helping pay the $2,200 SCHOLARSHIPS. Her college counselors said
in application and lawyer’s fees for his green card. there was no money for undocumented stu-
But Gustavo can’t remember his anniversary, and dents. She’s determined to prove them wrong.
when talk turns to his wife, and whether he took Gustavo finishes the dishes and sits down.
advantage of her, he quickly clams up. He has a new $400 toy, the latest cell phone.
One thing is clear: Gustavo’s life improved Talk at the table turns to phone plans, then
when he got his green card in 2005. With the weekend plans, then veers to politics back
right documents, he could enroll in an associate’s home. Gustavo thinks Hugo Chavez is good for
degree program at a community college where South America. Mom doesn’t and lets her son
undocumented immigrants had been barred from know it.
all but a few English language and vocational Ana is halfway through a tirade in Spanish
classes. A reference from a friend helped him land when there’s a knock on the door. The room
an internship at the lab. And he found a good- falls silent. Eyes turn toward the sound. It’s
paying job at a family planning clinic, counseling late for visitors, and unexpected guests aren’t
couples on birth control.
None of it, he says, would have been pos-
No easy answe r s experiences haven’t been the best endorsement for
marital bliss. So she tags along with mom, helps
a good sign. Another knock. Finally, Gustavo
rises and quickly, quietly tiptoes to the front
sible without the green card. “Something where Back in the kitchen of their Carrboro apart- clean up after the kids and plays teacher. “At this door. Craning his neck, he brings his head
I was challenging my intellect?” he asks. “No ment, Gustavo is standing at the sink doing the point, we’re teaching them numbers,” she says. closer to the peephole. He holds his breath and
way. Those jobs are hard to get if you’re not dinner dishes. Julia sits with her mom at the Every free moment is spent on the Internet, squints.
with the system.” table. Ana puts her head in her hands and holds researching colleges and filling out applications. Then he smiles and brings his hand down to
But Gustavo and Erica fought often. He chalks it there. Seconds pass. It’s been a long day at “That’s what really sucks right now,” Julia says. the lock. The door opens, and a neighbor pokes
it up to cultural differences. Erica couldn’t under- work with the kids. Julia looks tired, too. For sev- “I wrote the essays last year, and I have to write her head in. Just wanted to say hi, she says,
stand how important his family was to him. “She eral months, she’s been helping her mom with them again this year.” She’s hard at work on waving to Ana and Julia. The room comes back
felt like they were a threat to her,” he explains. And the nannying. Not for money, Julia explains: “It’s one now: If you were a fly on a wall, whose wall to life. Ana rises and wipes down the kitchen
maybe mom, Julia and Erica living together was just to go with her. I’d rather be distracted.” would it be? counters. Gustavo wanders into his bedroom.
too stressful. After three years together, Gustavo Marriage isn’t even on Julia’s radar right But Julia’s situation has not changed. She’s And Julia takes her station beside the computer,
and Erica decided to separate. now. She’s never had a boyfriend. And Gustavo’s still undocumented. And tuition costs have eager to start her next application.


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