America’s Undocumented Immigrants Make Their Voices Heard Online
Living as an undocumented immigrant in America is a struggle, especially in this time of heightened xenophobia and racism. However, thanks to social media, undocumented immigrants across the country are now finding new avenues of support and solidarity, and America’s undocumented population at last count was well over 11 million people.
Basically, “undocumented” in reference to people means immigrants who don’t have official paperwork or documents granting them legal permission to reside in the U.S. The term “undocumented immigrant” has begun to take the place of “illegal immigrant,” which activists argue is a dehumanizing term. Many undocumented immigrants come as children and are not able to gain documented status until adulthood due to the government’s limited eligibility options for citizenship applications; the most common options include marrying a U.S. citizen or getting sponsorship from an employer, things you can’t usually do when you’re still in high school.
While the rise of Donald Trump and his supporters has increased the mainstream visibility of anti-immigrant hate speech, it’s sadly not a new phenomenon. A whopping 44 percent of white evangelical Protestants with college degrees (in other words, the people who run the country) believe immigrants threaten the American way of life, whatever the hell that is.
As student, blogger, and undocumented immigrant Gabi Cruz told the Daily Dot, “The narrative is being controlled by other people who use fear as a mechanism of power.” To counter this, undocumented immigrants are tweeting and blogging to share their stories with the public and connect with other undocumented Americans.
These voices belong to individuals like Mexican-born straight-A student, valedictorian, and scholarship holder Mayte Lara Ibarra. Despite facing racist harassment (and temporarily closing her account as a result), she got almost 20,000 likes and over 9,000 retweets for a single tweet disclosing her undocumented status: a clear sign people want and need to hear these stories.
These voices also belong to individuals like Melissa Meza, who came to America from Venezuela and runs the blog Diary of an Illegal Immigrant. Meza writes about her experiences going through the American citizenship application process, which started in 2007 and ended in February 2016. In one entry, she writes about the trauma of dealing with immigration officials: “I am afraid of the unchecked power they have over me and my future. I know this is the end of the process and still it’s a visceral reaction to what the immigration agents represent.”
Another post reflecting on her future is critical yet optimistic: “That’s how I felt, like everything crappy that had happened to me during this immigration process was to make me appreciate the moments ahead, the beauty this country has to offer, the incredible luck I have that it didn’t go worse when it could’ve.” But other entries deal with everyday life occurrences such as romantic relationships, the holiday season, weird news, and her neighbor’s annoying dog — things many readers can relate to, regardless of nationality or residency status.
In addition to showing how social media and the internet in general can provide a voice for those whose voices might otherwise go unheard, the accounts and affirmations these women share online are reminders that there’s no one story that defines the immigrant experience. As their stories demonstrate, every immigrant is an individual, and should be treated by the government and society with the respect they deserve.