Editor’s note: This is the 5th part of a 5 part series written by Sarah Quezada from her blog A Life With Subtitles. In this series Sarah is chronicling her relationship with and eventual marriage to her husband Billy, who came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Guatemala. By hearing their story, we hope that you can better understand the lives of immigrants, their loved ones, and the challenges they face.
Upon my return from a month in Guatemala, my Spanish had only moderately improved, but my love for Billy had definitely grown. We were together all the time and subtly hinting at plans for the future.
One evening, my roommate was having some friends over for dinner. I called to invite Billy, but he was tired, “I’m not up for that tonight.” His voice held a secret. “Can we just have dinner alone?”
I started to protest that I’d already agreed and backing out now would be rude, but I couldn’t finish. Something was going on. Something you don’t discuss on the phone. “Ok. I’ll meet you at your apartment.”
When I arrived, he stalled with pleasantries. “How was your day?” I responded politely, nervous of the unknown. We talked briefly about work, but the air felt heavy.
“What’s going on?” I asked him.
He launched into a circuitous story. “You know that I work for Frank? You know that when I was hired I used a fake social security number for his payroll?”
“Yes,” I told him.
“Well, he knows that, too. I mean, really, most everyone working for that company is undocumented.”
He rambled on. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. “Well, Frank told me today that it’s getting harder for him to keep paying me under that number.” He leaned against the back of couch and stared away from me. “He asked me today if he could put you on the payroll instead.”
“He says most of the other guys do it. Their wives or girlfriends have valid socials, so they are the ones that get the checks from the company.”
A construction company staffed predominately by women? Hmm… interesting how that raises no red flags as long as all the numbers run through. And yet, it continues to leave the workers vulnerable, not being able to truly claim their pay, and puts the women in risky positions as well.
I leaned forward in silence, allowing the idea to snake through my brain.
The logical part: How will this affect my taxes? My income will more than double, and it will appear that I’m working two full-time jobs. What are the possible legal ramifications of this?
The moral part: Absolutely not!
The “in love” part: What other options does Billy have? But how could this decision affect our future plans?
The other moral part: Our immigration system is broken. It doesn’t work for citizens, employers, or politicians. But it directly hurt immigrants on a daily basis. Someone is asking me to use my privilege to stand in the gap for him. How serious am I about my commitment to justice?
Billy started crying. “I hate to ask you this. I don’t want to ask you this. I don’t know what the best thing to do is. I don’t want to lose my job, but I don’t want you to be affected. “
I nodded and we sat in silence. We pondered the possibility.
We discussed it for a while, but I suspect we both knew we weren’t going to do it. Though unspoken, I think we both understood that we were going to get married and this situation was temporary. We didn’t want to make any choices that could jeopardize those longer-term goals.
We decided to wait it out, and, thankfully, Frank never brought the subject up again.
In these circumstances I am always painfully aware that we have always operated as “best-case” scenario. As we drew closer to marriage, we knew that legalization was a likely reality for Billy, where it’s not for most immigrants.
At this point, though, we were not even engaged. He had not even met my parents. Without proper papers, he couldn’t fly to Kentucky. And even though we researched bus and train options, they didn’t seem any safer. Not to mention, could we afford the time it would take to ride a bus across the country?
Now they had been hearing about him from me for the six months we’d been dating. He had also chatted with them a couple of times on the phone. And my sister had met him while visiting earlier in the summer. But they had not met him in person themselves.
Still, Billy and I were ready to start moving towards marriage.
So he called my parents. And he told them he wanted to marry me. And he asked for their blessing.
I’m so grateful for how much they love me, trusted me, and supported our relationship. We had not hidden Billy’s immigration status from them, but they always stood by us. They welcomed Billy into our family and gave their blessing having only met him on the phone.
A little while later, Billy took me back to Rodeo Drive for dinner. We attempted to have a romantic meal, but per our custom, we were interrupted… this time by, as I remember it, more than one drunken family reunion happening at tables near us.
So after a very loud and chaotic meal, we walked around Beverly Hills. There was a thick tension in the air. Before long, though, Billy got down on one knee and said some beautiful things I can’t remember because I was so nervous/excited. And we were engaged!
It was simple and sweet, and I was so happy to be marrying Billy.
I hadn’t wanted a ring. For a while we had discussed engagement jet skis, which I really did want, but it turns out those are quite expensive, and I wasn’t exactly sure where we’d store them… you know, living in apartments and all.
So we enjoyed our new commitment and quickly started planning a wedding. I mean, you can’t be engaged longer than you dated, right? And we had only dated six months, so we settled on a ten-week engagement.
The date was set, the friends and family notified, and then we moved on to the next big thing… finding a lawyer. And not for our detailed pre-nups like you might think… we wanted to deal with all the immigration properly and as soon as possible.
That concludes this week’s series from Sarah Quezada. Sarah is still in the process of telling this story on her blog. To read more about Sarah and Billy’s cross-cultural marriage click here.
Sarah Quezada works with Mission Year, a year-long urban service program for young adults. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Billy and daughter Gabriella. Stories and reflections on their cross-cultural life and ministry together can be found at her blog, A Life with Subtitles.
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