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Tony, an undocumented immigrant, reminds us all that we are human

In this Sept. 2017 file photo, a flag is waved outside the White House. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

New visa restrictions for some Asian and African countries started Friday as part of the Trump administration’s expanded travel ban.

While the Department of Homeland Security is preventing most immigrants from these countries from getting visas that lead to green cards, there are still people who are able to get around the restrictions.

A guest on KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show, going by the name Tony, is an undocumented immigrant who spoke openly about his life in America, how he got here, and the common misconceptions of the media and general public.

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This is Tony’s 20th year in America. He came when he was a teenager with a tour group, and then stayed with paid help from people who connected him with someone who could take him in until he found his own way.

Tony says his reason for leaving his homeland is simple.

“Just for a better life, better opportunities, and the safety, not just for myself, but for [my] kids, family members, and our loved ones,” he said.

In terms of what media get right about undocumented immigrants like Tony, he admitted they get a lot right. He said there are many people who come here just to have children so they can be American citizens, or people who come for the benefits.

As for what media gets wrong, he pointed to the hate.

“It’s like they look down on me or people like me because we’re trying to make this country somewhat less, or we’re just trying to hurt American people or take advantage of them,” Tony said.

That’s not the case, he said. Tony is here for his kids, his loved ones, doing everything he can, as he believes every parent would do for their own kids.

The other misconception is that there is a “proper channel” for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status in the United States. If you cross the border or overstay a visa, Tony said there is still no legal process. The only way, he said, for someone in a case like his to get legal status in America is to marry someone who is a citizen, which he personally refuses to do.

If you do try to apply for a visa and come to the country legally, there’s no guarantee. A Russian friend of Tony’s has applied more than 10 times, and has been denied more than 10 times, he said, and each application costs about $250.

Given the current political landscape, Tony said he doesn’t see this process changing anytime soon.

“I think there’s some sad reality in America right now,” he said. “I really don’t think there’s going to be immigration reform any time soon. Maybe another 20, 30 years.”

Even with the everyday fears of getting caught, the difficulties and discrimination he’s faced in trying to get jobs over the years, and the lack of hope he has for the near future of immigration, he doesn’t want to live anywhere else.

“I love America, I love American people,” he said. “Despite what’s happening in this country right now, despite all the crazy things happening, despite all that, America is still, in my opinion, the greatest nation on this planet, the greatest nation that has ever existed.”

People come to the U.S. because they love this country, he said, and because this is where they want their children to grow up, not to “rob America of its wealth.”

Tony left listeners with a powerful message: “We’re all humans. Whatever we are. Black, white, Latino, or whatever. Man or woman, documented or not. In the end, we’re all just the same: human beings.”

Ursula: A message of gratitude to our listeners

Gee Scott echoed Tony’s sentiment in his own reflection following the interview on air.

“So often we hear about everyone’s opinion about [undocumented immigrants], but rarely do we hear from them. We asked him about what we media get right, and what we get wrong. We asked about the process of becoming a citizen and what his plan is going forward.”

“No matter your opinion, documented or undocumented, these are still human beings,” Scott said. “The goal of our show is to hear from everyone, including you.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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