True Story: I’m Undocumented + Applying For The Deferred Action Program

 What it's like applying for the deferred action program? What does it mean to live as an undocumented person in America? Click through for one man's story
What’s it like to live in America as an undocumented person? How does it affect jobs? Schooling? Healthcare? Bruno shares his story.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hello, my name is Bruno Esteban Leguiza. I was born in Argentina in a city called Rosario in 1985. I am the first born of two of the most loving, Christian parents that a son could ever have. I am a 29-year-old fine artist who specializes in portraiture and exploring the subconscious using surrealism.
At the moment, I work as an artist; doing murals, face painting, selling prints, and all other sorts of commissioned work. I like to play a little guitar for fun as well.
Where is your family from originally? And why aren’t they there now?
My father is a charismatic man of Portuguese descent and my mother’s a beautiful, quirky, loving, Italian lady. My father was raised in Buenos Aires (the capital) and when he was 22 he moved to Rosario where he met my mother. In the early 1980’s, Argentina was free from military control and developed a Democracy.
Unfortunately, the country suffered from terrible economic problems so in 1988 my father finally decided that enough was enough. His first choice of immigration was Australia but our visas were denied. The United States was second on the list.
Do you remember anything about your immigration to America? How did you and your parents get into the country without the correct documents?
I don’t really remember anything about the actual flight because I was three years old and asleep, but I do remember having a strange feeling of unfamiliarity when we landed. The air just seemed different. My mother and I were granted visas to enter as visitors for a 3 to 6 month stay, which sounds funny to me 26 years later.
My father was denied entry but this would not derail his dream. He took a flight from Argentina to Mexico and from Mexico snuck into the states. Can you imagine flying to a country just to sneak into another one? He must have been so overwhelmed by all the unknown that surrounded him!
You and your parents have been living in America without documentation for 25+ years. How did they (and you) find work? How did they deal with the various aspects of American life without those documents?
My father started off small, working in an ice cream parlor in Long Beach and eventually worked his way back up in dentistry. My mother was a stay at home mom for a while but later enrolled in a community college and became a lab technician for a hospital. Back when they did all of this, employment rules were a lot different.
It’s a little harder for me to find work because now they do more background checks. But it’s not all that bad, whenever I make a serious effort I find work. Every undocumented immigrant in this country finds work – whether it’s picking fruit in the fields or managing an extremely successful company. Yes, sometimes it can be very difficult, but if you push hard enough you’ll find a way.
As for my parents, they’re able to renew their driver’s license whenever they need to because they were able to get one when they first arrived. So they just take their old one to the DMV every time it expires.
As far as going to the hospital and enrolling in school, I use a fake name at hospitals and school never really questioned, unless it’s college.
Do the people in your life know that your family is undocumented?
I would say that the majority of the people in our lives know that we are undocumented. we have no problem telling the close friends but it’s definitely not something that we tell a person when first meeting them. Trust must always be established before doing so. They eventually always find out when they ask me, “Hey, have you ever been to Mexico?” or “Who are you voting for?”
You’ve applied to be part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. What does that mean? How will this affect you if you get accepted?
The Deferred Action is a law that was passed in June of 2012 which permits undocumented immigrants to attain a social security number and a work permit. You have to be under the age of 31 and you have to have been in the States since before you were 16.
You need to have a high school diploma, school transcripts, and any other information that proves you’ve been here since before you were 16, such as previous addresses, bills, etc. You cannot have any felonies or more than 3 misdemeanors on your record (traffic tickets don’t count). You have to provide them with $465 dollars and passport photos in order for them to make the proper identifications.
I qualify perfectly for this and a whole lot more. If I am to be accepted (which I’m pretty sure I am) I will be able to attain a legal driver’s license, bank account, and not have to worry about background checks. This would change everything!!! I can immediately enroll in college and get a degree. Even though not having it shouldn’t and doesn’t discourage me, it would still be an incredible improvement to my life.
Do you think of yourself as an American or Argentinian?
I would say that I feel like an Argentinian more than an American. For the most part I sound like an American but somehow my Argentinian blood always has a way of making itself present. Sometimes I say American things but in an Argentinian format or tone. When I think or dream I’ll start off in English but then I go straight into Spanish without even realizing it.
Can you tell us about the difference between calling someone “illegal” and “Undocumented”? Why should we use one term over the other?
There is no real difference. Undocumented simply sounds a little less offensive or it sounds politically correct. I don’t really mind being called “illegal” because that’s exactly what I am but others might take offense to it so just to be on the safe side, I would suggest saying “undocumented”.
How do you respond to people who say that undocumented workers are “a drain on the system”, etc?
I don’t really have a problem with it anymore because I know that God brought me here for a reason. I know that my status will one day change so for me to be worried about people saying that would actually be a drain on me.
All I can do is hold my head up and just keep going. I used to let being undocumented affect me to a point where I was setting up imaginary boundaries in my life’s path, but no more. It took a long time for me to realize this, a lot of pain and frustration but I’m finally learning to let go of that and start taking matters into my own hands.
If we know someone who’s undocumented, what can we do to help?
Simply give them a big, loving smile and make them feel comfortable with discussing it. Communication is education, and education can save lives.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Bruno!  Do you guys have any questions for him?

Edited to add: Bruno got accepted to the Deferred Action Program!

Two other perspectives: True Story: I Immigrated To America and True Story: I Immigrated To America – And Then Moved Back To My Home Country

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  1. Anonymous

    I'm going to unfollow you now

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Hi Anon,
      If it makes you uncomfortable or unhappy to read about people who have made different life choices than you or who have made choices you don't agree with, you're right – this blog and this interview series is not the right place for you. 🙂

  2. LondonLapin

    I really enjoyed this story Sarah, and the series in fact so thank you for bringing it to us regularly. Personally I love to learn about people from around the world and their life stories. Bruno sounds like he has smart head on his shoulders. I can't understand why someone would unfollow this inspiring blog because (I assume) they don't agree morally with someone being undocumented – you can't pretend that people and situations don't exist, I find it closed minded and frankly naive… Plus, Bruno was THREE when his parents moved the family to the US. I hope he gets accepted into the deferred programme, he deserves all the success in the world; and based upon the comment above, it sounds like the US needs more people like him and less anonymous keyboard warriors. Keep up the good work Sarah! Francesca

  3. Shorty

    Thank you for this story. There are so many hard working immigrants among us who have tried everything to "do it the right way" but are headed off at every turn by excessively complex immigration laws, prohibitive fees, unlicensed notarios who prey on vulnerable immigrants, and politicians who talk a lot of talk about reform but don't make it happen. As an immigration attorney, I see people every day who have lived in the US for 30 years without incident, who have children and spouses who are US Citizens, who pay taxes and support their communities – and who also live in fear, love this country, cannot plan for the future, and have family members die back home without ever getting to see them. This is the crucial civil rights – and moral – issue of our time. There are a LOT of misconceptions about immigration laws – for instance, the idea that once you have a baby here or marry a citizen you can get papers no problem (I wish!) – and stories like this are important to fight that misinformation.

  4. MM

    I went to a bilingual Spanish-English program as a kid, so I have so many friends who are in this same situation; I grew up with them and went to school with them my whole life, and it breaks my heart that I have privileges they don't simply because of where my parents and I were born. As I was getting ready to go to college, these friends were wondering how to pursue their lives in the only country they remember without having the same protections as me. I just hope that programs like Deferred Action and the Dream Act can help right some of these wrongs. Thanks, Sarah, for posting this story, and thanks to Bruno for sharing!

  5. lindsaymarie

    "Communication is education, and education can save lives." that sentence sums up why i love the true story series so much! thanks for sharing, sarah and bruno.

  6. Ashley Leath

    Agreed, Lindsay Marie. Love that line!

  7. Allison

    Thanks for sharing this story — I'm a little curious about whether Bruno and his family ever tried to apply for green cards or citizenship before. He and his mom were granted 3-6 month visas, were they able or allowed to apply for anything else after arriving? Could they have waited for some period and tried again to get a visa for his dad? What made them decide not to pursue getting documentation?

    And just to be clear — It's awesome that Bruno got accepted to the Deferred Action program. I'm asking to get a better understanding of the system and the obstacles immigrants face, not to judge or accuse.

    • Shorty

      Hi Allison, Immigration attorney here, was hoping I could answer some of your questions. Even when people enter the US lawfully (i.e. with a visa) they cannot apply for their green cards (residency) without a family member with status (residency or citizenship) applying for them. Even then, it can be a 2-13 year wait, and may require that they leave the US. In the case of Bruno, it sounds like they didn't have anyone to petition for their residency. Hope that info helps! Immigration law is so confusing, and I know there's a lot of misinformation out there.

  8. Rachel Marie

    I always feel interestingly torn when it comes to the issue of undocumented immigrants. Initially, I was totally against it, until I met a friend of mine who was extremely hard-working, tried her best to do everything right, and essentially, considered herself an American. I had no issues with her wanting to make that official. I'd rather take a hard-working, law-abiding (to the best of their ability, that is) immigrant over a passive born-American who does not give worth to the wealth of opportunities that they have.

  9. Erika

    Really great story! I think it is nice to read stories like this because so many people lump "illegals" into a negative stereotype, but, like many things that get negatively stereotyped, it isn't always the case. So glad he got accepted into the program!

  10. Angie

    What a great story, thank you for sharing, Bruno!

  11. Aly

    I grew up in a similar situation, but in Canada. I had to apply under humanitarian and compassionate grounds to show that I was brought to Canada as a young child and have very little ties to my birth nation. I passed the first stage of approval where I was able to get government health insurance and work permit. I had to be employed full-time before I was able to get a permanent residency and the equivalent of a Green Card (for you Americans).

    I really feel for people like me who were brought a new nation when very young and feel much part of their new home, not their birth nation. It would be great if you can do an update on this person. I would like to know if they were able to get a work permit and some type of legal status in the United States.

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