A Story: From a Illegal Migrant to US Citizen.

Couple of years back, while on a visit to USA , I met Prem Singh (name changed) somewhere in Baltimore area. One evening we had gone to eat dinner in a good Indian restaurant. Prem Singh was the owner of the restaurant and belonged to Jalandhar, Punjab, India. While we  were having dinner he sat down with us and started talking in Punjabi. I liked him very much. Out of curiosity I asked him about his success story. What he told me, made me cry.

Prem narrated, “I had come to USA 30 years back. I was just married for two years and had been blessed with a daughter. I was teaching in a school back in India. All of a sudden, I started dreaming of settling down in USA. I contacted some travel agents and applied for visitor visa to USA, which was refused. The agents then advised me to travel to Mexico, from where with their contacts, I could cross over to USA. Agents demanded plenty of money which I did not have. So I requested my father to sell his land. My wife and parents were not in favor of  my going abroad as we were doing reasonably well in India. But somehow the American dream weighed very heavily on my mind. My mother was very sad on the thought of loosing his only son. Anyway, I prevailed upon my parents and also painted a rosy picture to my wife that soon I would get her also here.

My father sold his land to pay the travel agents, who organised my travel along with others to Mexico. On reaching Mexico, our group was left to fend for ourselves. We were out of job, hounded by their police and had to hide ourselves. I then ventured to cross the border and enter USA. Many others who tried were not successful and I do not know about their fate. I somehow managed to cross to the US side and traveled to New York, where I had some Punjabi friends from our area. I had to sleep in the open for many nights. Thereafter we found shelter in a Gurdwara in NY where many others were also lodged. We stayed in the Gurdwara (Sikh temple) basement and went up to Long Island where construction labour was required. We would daily find some job and in the evening return to Gurdwara and have food from their community cook house (langar). For two years we followed this routine. I would ring up my parents and wife once a week from a pay booth. I started missing my young daughter and wife now, but I could simply not go back as re-entry would be very difficult.”

What about your medical treatment when you fell sick, I asked, Prem replied, ” We had no insurance, firstly we could not afford and secondly we did not have the proper papers. So some one would get us medicine from their contacts at exorbitant rates.” What happened then,” I asked him. Prem replied, ” Some friend was working in a restaurant in Baltimore area, so he called me over as a waiter. This was definitely better than the labor’s job. I had a small place to live also and I started saving some money which I would send to my parents and my wife. I got information that my mother was very sick and she was remembering me. I spoke to her on phone and sent some money for her treatment and assured her that I shall visit her soon, which I knew was not possible as my entire effort would be shattered. One evening I got a call from my father that my mother had died and right till her last moment she was remembering me and looking towards the door expecting that I would come. That evening I cried and could not eat my food. Anyhow I composed myself and visited a local Gurdwara and prayed for peace to her soul. Anyway years kept on passing, it was about 12 years since I had come to USA. I was in touch with my wife and daughter only on phone, I missed them very much. By this time due to some legislation, illegals were told to file their papers for work permit and I was hoping that the relief would come soon. In the mean time my father became very sick, he wanted me to come and meet him at once. I kept on waiting for being regularised so that I could travel, but it was too late and my father also died. I again visited a local Gurdwara and prayed for his soul and consoled myself. Finally after 16 years of my stay, I managed to get a proper work permit. This led to grant of a Green card after another three years. By now I had saved enough money and bought a small restaurant. I also visited my family in India and met my wife and daughter. My daughter was now 20 years of age and was very pretty. She was overjoyed on seeing me. My wife and daughter requested me not to go back but I promised that very soon I would get them there now that I had the green card. So I filed petition for them, which took another five years, by which time I had become a citizen. I then went to India and brought my wife and daughter here. My wife had turned about 50 and daughter 25 now. On professional side, I did well; sold my small restaurant and bought a big restaurant. Soon I added another restaurant and also bought a house. My family is happy now, but my wife had to share separation for 23 years and her youth had withered. My daughter never saw the love and affection of her father for a long time. I do not what answer would I give to my parents when I meet them in Heaven.”

Every success has its price. Perhaps, Prem’s next generation would definitely enjoy the American dream. I was imagining the feelings of his parents at their dying moments and my eyes were wet with tears. There are still many Prems in USA waiting for a miracle to happen with their families silently suffering back home.

Guchi

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