A Young Man’s Story About Being an Illegal Alien (With a Happy Ending)

One of the things I like about being an immigration lawyer is that I get a chance to make a difference in other people’s lives.  It sounds corny, but there is great satisfaction in knowing that you helped another human being achieve their dreams. I am always happy to hear from old clients, if only just to touch bases to let me know how they are doing.  Most of them are doing better than what I hoped for.  Some of them, like Rob Rosas, are truly thriving. 

I met Rob over two years ago when he was still in high school. Although he appeared to be an “all American” kid who happens to have a Latino last name, Rob was not the average teenager because he was in the country without papers.  Despite this situation, what impressed me right away was his fantastic attitude.  I saw a young man who had dreams and ambitions, and was unafraid to reach for them.  He was willing to work to make his dreams come true.  Despite some setbacks, he remained hopeful that his situation could change for the better.  Seeing this made me want to try harder for him, because I did not want his gifts to go to waste. 

Due to the draconian nature of the immigration laws, most people in Rob’s situation would have no hope of ever being legalized.  He could go to school and excel, but even so, he had no real prospects for a meaningful future because he could not legally stay and work. I know many young people who face this bleak outlook.  The reality is that there is not much I can do for them.

Lucky for Rob, though, there was a small loophole in his case.  Everything hinged on this loophole.  I never told Rob this, but there were many moments when I wondered if his application would be approved.  It was not a “typical” application, and USCIS doesn’t like anything out of the ordinary.  Despite his mother being a U.S. citizen, his case was not a slam dunk because he did not come to the country with an approved visa.  Nonetheless, we had to push forward, because not doing anything would mean that Rob would languish in a twilight world indefinitely. 

Sometimes, happy endings do happen.  USCIS agreed with my position and granted Rob Permanent Resident Status through his mother.  The rest is history. I don’t know what Rob will end up doing in life now that the doors have opened for him.  Maybe he will become a great scientist who invents the cure to a deadly disease.  Maybe he will be a political leader who will make history.  Or maybe, he will lead a quite life like most of us.  Whatever the case may be, at least he was able to achieve one dream.  Rob’s case reminds me of a Langston Hughes poem I memorized many years ago about a dream deferred.  This poem guides me in my work.

Not long ago, Rob sent me the email below to tell me how his legal status has changed his life for the better.  He has graciously allowed me to share his story.  I hope it will make others understand that immigration is not about numbers or statistics, but about our shared humanity.

“I always love being asked, “Where are you from?” I go on to explain how I was raised in Mexico and moved to the United States when I was 11 years old.

I take pride answering the follow up question: “Wow, I would expect you to have an accent, how did you learn English?”

Of course I explain how I taught myself English, and made it an emphasis to learn pronunciation from my peers rather than trying to pronounce the words the way I read them.

What I don’t tell them, however, is what drove me to attempt to master the English language. I was an illegal alien, and as a child, learning to speak English “the right way” was my attempt to conceal my immigration status.

I did not enter the United States illegally, but a set of unforeseen circumstances left me in this country without proper status. As a 13 year old, it was not difficult for me to comprehend the wrong I was, unwillingly, committing. I had always heard about how great this country was, and I am thankful that I got to find out from firsthand experience. I was not about to let this opportunity slip away, and always assuming that the immigration process would work itself out, I tried to excel at everything I did.

I was lucky enough to earn straight A’s through middle school, leading me to being accepted into one of the best private schools in San Diego with full financial assistance. I also picked up golf, and found myself on the varsity team my freshman year of high school. I worked steadily through high school, and by my senior year I found myself the captain and best player on a championship winning golf team, a two-way starter on a state runner-up football team, but most importantly I found myself applying to some of the best Universities in the U.S.

However, I always felt a huge weight on my shoulders through this process. I knew that this could be stripped away from me at anytime at the will of the immigration services. The word difficult does not do my situation at the time enough fairness. I had not seen my family for nine years because they lived in Mexico. I was also unable to do some of the things that a high-schooler looks forward to, for example, getting my driver’s license.

The biggest challenge of all was not being able to finalize the application process for college because I found myself in a unique situation: I could not apply as an “international” student because I was applying from within, and I could not apply as an “American” student because I had no immigration status. I was beginning to see all of my hard work go to waste.

My mom as a legal resident, and she was working through the process of becoming an American Citizen. Once she was an American Citizen, she would be able to work through my process with much more ease. 

Unfortunately, an erroneous change of address kept her from receiving a notification for an important court date. She was unknowingly failing to follow up, so her application was terminated.

Through a friend, I heard of a good immigration lawyer that could perhaps help us restart her application. However he was much too slow. 

His only answer was for me to leave the country before I turned 18, which would make my being in the U.S. a felony. I could not imagine leaving the country before graduating from high school because it would erase everything I had accomplished.

When all hope seemed lost, I heard of another law firm: King & Ballow in San Diego. Sherie Johnson, and Max Nuyen, the immigration specialist at the firm, quickly impressed me by their willingness to get things done. Their sense of urgency towards my case gave me the little push I needed to stay inspired to finish my senior year strongly.

Within months my mother was getting sworn in as an American Citizen, and once this was done, we were finally able to initiate my case.

We applied for a work permit, as well as for my legal residency. One month later I received my work permit, which allowed me to be here legally for a year as well as to get my license. However, I still could not finish the college application process.

On January 10, 2010 I received the news I had been waiting for my entire time in this country. I received an email from King & Ballow notifying me that I had been approved as an American Resident. I was in the middle of physics class, and for some reason I started sobbing, leaving my classmates to wonder whom in my family had died. 

Fortunately, they were tears of joy.

Three months later I found myself not in Mexico, but having to choose between UC Berkley, USC, Georgetown, and Columbia University. To the dismay of my lawyer Max Nuyen, a proud Golden Bear, I chose Columbia University in New York City [I still think Rob would’ve had a great time at Berkeley, but Columbia is not too shabby-Max.]

Sitting in Butler library at Columbia, I cannot help but wonder what would have happened with my immigration application was not taken care of. Becoming a Lawful United States Resident has been the one challenge that has changed my life forever. I find myself more mature for having to go through that obstacle. I was forced into an adult situation early in life, but being able to stay grounded through the process gives me the feeling that I will be able to tackle any problem life throws at me.

As I mentioned above, this is the one instance that has changed my life forever, so I will never go a day without thinking about the people that made this possible. More specifically Max Nuyen, Sherie Johnson, and Sandra Vargas at King & Ballow. Enduring the immigration application process is a difficult task, but they made it possible.

I am almost done with my first year at Columbia, and I plan on doing the most with the golden opportunity that has been handed down to me. 

Thanks for everything Max!


Roberto Rosas

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One Response to “A Young Man’s Story About Being an Illegal Alien (With a Happy Ending)”

  1. Thanks!…

    Thanks for all your insight. This site has been really helpful to me….

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