I was an undocumented immigrant for eight years. It wasn’t until I was almost out of high school when I finally got my green card. This is a list of 8 tips that my family and I used in order to start our life in the United States despite being undocumented.
1. You Still Have Rights. Don’t Let People Scare You.
The first thing you need to know is that everyone is protected under the law in the United States. There is no need for anyone to be afraid to call for help if they are being abused. Your legal status doesn’t make you less available for protection from violent crimes. Sadly, a lot of undocumented immigrants feel threatened by the law and abusers will take advantage of this. They will tell them that if they call for help they will be discovered and be deported. It is quite the opposite. Undocumented immigrants that are victims of violent crimes by a citizen or permanent resident of the United States may be able to apply for a green card. In fact, there are institutions that dedicate their time to helping undocumented immigrants get the legal help they need and also their green cards if they have been the victim of a crime. The Holy Cross Ministries offers this help in Utah. Please, if you need help, look for it, it’s available to you.
2. Stay On the Good Side of the Law
This tip might seem obvious, but I cannot stress it enough. Getting in trouble with the law will ruin your chances of getting a green card or citizenship in the future. A good way to avoid problems is to learn the laws of the United States. A lot of us coming from a different country don’t know what is allowed or isn’t. Read up. Ask questions. Do what you can to not get in trouble.
Also, beware of some accepted ‘norms’ among undocumented immigrants, like buying a fake ID or social security number. This is not a good idea, and it could hurt your chances of becoming a permanent resident or citizen. Look closely at your situation and find the best answers for your specific needs. For the most part, the authorities reviewing your case are looking for reasons to let you stay in the United States, but things like illegal activity, even small things like driving without insurance or a license, are what make it hard for your application to be accepted. When it comes to a drivers license, undocumented immigrants are eligible for privileged drivers license and you can get it without a social security number. All you need is a form of ID, which you can get from your local consulate. Do not think that you can do things illegally now and later try to fix them to look good. It is always a better idea to stay on the good side of the law from the start, especially if a green card and citizenship is your goal.
3. Try to learn the language and the American Culture
If you are reading this, odds are you have already learned English, if this is the case please help pass the message onto someone who needs to hear it. This is another one of those tips that you have probably heard often; because it’s important. Knowing how to communicate will help improve your life in the United States more than anything else on this list. When it comes to learning English, the library is a great place to start. Some libraries have programs to help with speaking, reading, and writing, and if they don’t they will help you find places that can. There are also several online tools available such as FluentWorlds; a game that helps you learn a new language by immersing you in a 3D world.
Go places where you can speak English. At first, it will be awkward, and I’m not going to lie, sometimes people will be inpatient or even insensitive to your speaking level, but you can’t let this keep you down. Keep practicing. Write and read in English too. It is a worthwhile investment and if you are available to help someone you know, please do.
Learning the culture kind of goes hand in hand with learning the language. As you spend time practicing with English speakers you will notice how they live and the kinds of things that are expected of as American citizens. Knowing how things work in this country can help with job opportunities, educational goals, and other such necessities. It can also save you from arguments with coworkers, peers, teachers, or anyone in general. Remember that starting over in a different country means you have to start almost from scratch and people treat each other differently in different countries. This doesn’t mean you are abandoning your culture. you can live both, but practicing a lot will help when acquiring a green card or citizenship. You will be more prepared to pass interviews and naturalization exams if you practice early on and often.
4. Make Sure You Pay Your Taxes
As an undocumented resident, you will not be in the tax system and will have to put yourself in the system on your own. The way to do this is to go to IRS office and get an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). This number allows you to pay taxes and can also help with acquiring a driver license. Having an ITIN number allows you to pay taxes and will make you look responsible and valuable when you apply for a green card or citizenship. A common myth is that by getting an ITIN number the offices will find out they are undocumented and you will end up deported. This is not the case. ITIN numbers are specifically given to persons who are not available for social security numbers but still need to keep tax laws.
5. Think About Starting a Business
This option is helpful in many ways. First, you have to understand that as an undocumented immigrant you are not allowed to be employed. without a social security number, you cannot work for a company. However, you are still eligible to open up a business, and it is not that hard to get a business license. All you need an ITIN number and a trip to your local city office. They will help you and even offer some free lessons on how to get started. The benefit of this is that you can be your own employer and won’t need a social security number. You can also pick what you want to do. My mother took this option and she had a house cleaning business for seven years, but you can pick from jobs like lawn mowing, nannying, selling products you made yourself, pet-sitting, piano lessons, or anything you would like. This will also help with taxes, because as a business taxes will be taken out of the wages. You can also get deductions on your taxes for using your car for work, buying supplies, or other such expenses.
I repeat: you are not eligible for employment as an undocumented immigrant. This is why opening a business can be beneficial. It is a safe and legal way to work in the united states as an undocumented immigrant. However, I have to warn you that owning your own business is not the easiest option. Sometimes it can get overwhelming and you will have to keep track of papers and manage yourself appropriately, but there are many free resources to help you succeed. The city offers free classes and is always willing to answer questions. Also, community centers are good resources for business classes. Some religious denominations give counseling for business too. Another great benefit to this option is that whenever you do get a social security number you can quit the business whenever you like, especially if you were the only employee. However, if you find that you like your business and want to keep it, you can!
6. Beware of Scams
As an undocumented immigrant you are most likely to be scammed simply because there is a lot of fear. Please be careful! Be especially aware when it comes to searching for help with green cards or citizenship on the internet. A lot of places will charge you high prices for forms that you can find for free and sometimes the information they give you won’t be accurate. One of the best things to look for online is any website that ends with “.gov”. Government websites are created by the government and will not only be the most accurate but they will have all of the most up to date forms you need for free. The website you will use the most will be USCIS.gov, but there are many other resources that are free and I will discuss them in the next tip on this list.
7. Know Where to Look for Help
Besides the government websites, there are many people you can talk to or places you can visit with questions. In the USCIS.gov website, you can search for an immigration office near you. Go to the office and ask any questions you might have. The people are nice and they have the right answers. Those offices are also the ones where you will eventually go to get your biometrics interview and your naturalization test if you are applying for citizenship, so it is worth while to familiarize yourself with it.
Also, consulate offices are a good free source for answers. In your consulate, you can request original documents from your birth country, get picture ID’s, and get other general assistance. A quick internet search can tell you exactly where to find your consulate.
Hispanic centers are also a good place to go with questions. Often times they will speak Spanish there and be able to direct you to other free resources you can use.
8. Be Patient
Lastly, it is important to know that sometimes undocumented immigrants will stay undocumented for a long time. My family was undocumented for eight years before we could petition for a green card and then it took us two years to fill out our paper work and become permanent residents. It’s not a quick process and it’s easy to be discouraged, but it’s definitely worth it and once it’s done, it’s done.