“There are also criminal grounds for ineligibility,” Jessica adds, “including felony, multiple misdemeanors, and other crimes. Aliens must pass background checks and be financially sustainable above the federal poverty level.”
“You see?” Dad complains. “They’ll make us go bankrupt, then kick us out anyway.”
“Stop it,” Mom says. “This is good news!”
This is great news. I’m smiling, actually. For the first time in weeks, I feel like there’s a real way out. This means something, even more than the trip to D.C. The bill is a ray of hope. If it passes and becomes law, we can apply for green cards, and once we get those, after five years, we can apply for citizenship as well.
“I have some more good news,” I blurt.
“About what?” Mom asks.
“I’m going to Washington, D.C., next weekend for the National Scholarship Award.”
I realize that for once I didn’t even think about asking for permission.
Dad turns down the volume on the television. “Excuse me? And just how do you think you’ll do that? You don’t have a social security number.”
“I didn’t say I was going to fill out the grant acceptance form,” I say. “But they don’t need documentation for the recognition dinner and weekend activities. I can go to those at least. I’ll just have to figure out the rest later.”
“I don’t know,” Dad says doubtfully. “How will you get on an airplane?”
To my surprise, Mom backs me up instead of supporting Dad. “You stop worrying,” she says, touching him on the shoulder. “She’s right. She should be able to go to D.C. Be happy for your daughter! Besides, I still have our passports from the Philippines. Jasmine can use that for identification. She doesn’t have to tell anyone about her status.”
I smile. Dad will always go along with Mom’s approval. Now I just have to figure out what to wear to the fancy dinner.
“Just think,” I say, buoyed by the thought of actually being able to go on the trip, “once that bill passes the House, I can go wherever I want without having to worry. I’ll legally be in the US. We’ll all be.”
Please, God, let it happen.
When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.
—RALPH ELLISON, INVISIBLE MAN
THE NEXT DAY, I stop by the college counseling office to tell Mrs. Garcia I’m leaving for the National Scholarship reception on Thursday. “That’s wonderful, Jasmine, have a good time. Like I told you before, I’m so proud of you,” she says with a huge smile. “But I have to tell you... A couple of your teachers mentioned that you haven’t seemed like yourself the last few weeks,” she says. “What’s going on?”
“I guess I’ve been kind of busy,” I say, hesitant to reveal anything more.
Honestly, I’m upset to hear that. I’ve never had teachers complain about my performance. Apart from the B+ in Calc, I’m still pulling the usual A’s. Although I have been a little quiet in class, not raising my hand or offering my opinion on things, and I guess they’ve noticed. It’s not that I’m disengaged, it’s that I’m consumed with finding a way out of my family’s mess.
Every spare moment I’m not at school, I’m online, trying to determine how we can fix the situation we’re in, how illegal aliens can become legal in this country. If the new reform bill doesn’t pass, the news is terrifyingly grim on that front. My family is breaking the law, and apart from leaving and trying to come back under proper work visas, there’s not much we can do. In my parents’ minds, they weren’t doing anything wrong but were trying to do the best for their children, to give them a new, American start in life. Do I blame them for that? I don’t know.
I can understand the other side too—that Americans who were born here, or were born to American parents, don’t think we deserve to be here. I get it. But it doesn’t make it any easier. I thought we were here legally, and to think that we’re as good as criminals in the eyes of the law...it’s stomach-churning. I feel so helpless.
But I can’t share any of that with my college counselor. “Regionals are coming up soon,” I tell Mrs. Garcia. “And we really want to win Nationals this year.”
“Of course, and senior year is a lot of pressure too,” Mrs. Garcia says. She’s across from me, and she reaches for my hand. “You know I’m here for you,” she says, giving me a squeeze. “Are you sure that isn’t all it is? You seem worried about something.”
“Uh...” I’m so overwhelmed I don’t even know where to begin. I thought this was going to be a happy moment, telling her about going to Washington, D.C., but now all of the stress of the last few weeks is bubbling up again.
I live in fear that the tiniest little thing—like going to a party and getting caught drinking underage—could get my family in trouble. What if I get caught jaywalking? Littering? I suddenly wonder about Mrs. Garcia. Is she an immigrant? Are her parents, or grandparents? Does she have to deal with people thinking she doesn’t belong here too? But everyone in America is from somewhere else, right?
So maybe we’re all aliens, like Dad was joking about during the news. He says if we were from the great beyond, we would have fewer problems because everyone would at least want our technology. Mom, of course, says that even space aliens would have trouble finding jobs in America.
“I’m sorry, Jasmine. I didn’t tell you about your teachers to stress you out more. That wasn’t my intention at all,” she says, leaning forward in her chair. “How’s everything else going? Did you turn in your UC app?”
“Not yet,” I say.
“Well, don’t delay, the deadline’s coming up and the sooner you apply, the better your chances.”
“I know, I know.”
“I know you’ll get it done,” she says. “And remember, if it becomes too much for you to handle, there are people who care about you. You don’t always have to rely on yourself. There’s an entire community here for you.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Garcia, but I’m okay.”
Mrs. Garcia squeezes my hand again. “You know where to come if you want to talk.”
“I do,” I say, thanking her.
Dad said schools are safe zones for illegal immigrants, but I’m not ready to tell her about my status. Not yet.
* * *
After school, I tell Coach Davis I have to go to D.C. to accept my award while the girls warm up. She’s excited for me, though she knows this is a minor bump for the team.
“It’s a difficult weekend to miss,” she says. “We’ve got a football game and pre-Regionals this weekend. We have a real shot at Nationals this year, but it’s up to you girls to get us there.”
“I know—I’m sorry. I’ll put in extra time in workouts and practices when I come back.”
“I know. But I need someone to lead the practices while you’re gone. And I’ll have to pull up a flyer from the JV team to take your spot. I’ll ask Courtney to be interim team captain when you’re in D.C.,” she says.
I get that she has to name a captain while I’m away because the team needs one. But I’m surprised that she’s chosen Courtney, a junior, to lead in my place.
“Why not Kayla?” I ask. “She’s got seniority. She puts in the time...”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Coach Davis says.
“She’ll be disappointed,” I add.
“Too bad,” Coach says. “Kayla hasn’t been on point lately and she’s even missed a few practices. The other girls won’t look up to her like they do you. What’s going on with her? Do you know?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Her parents split up.” And she’s got a new boyfriend, but I don’t mention that.
Coach nods. “That’s rough. I hope you’re there for her.”
“I am,” I say. Even though I haven’t seen her outside of school lately. She’s always with Dylan, but I know I’m just using that as an excuse. I’ve been avoiding her too. I want to tell her what’s going on with me, but I’m embarrassed. Of the two of us, I’ve always been the one who had her life together—the tighter family, the better grades. I can’t tell her I’m a mess, that it’s all a big lie. I have too much pride.