Immigrant Story Collection Campaign

Advancing Justice-Chicagois starting a story collection campaign in an effort to highlight the Asian American immigrant experience in the national debate over immigration reform. Advancing Justice-Chicago is looking for volunteers to help with story collection, and is looking for people who want to share their stories! To learn more contact Rekha Radhakrishnan at


Stephanie was born in Quezon City, Philippines in 1990. Her family left the Philippines for the Marshall Islands in waves, starting with her grandparents, her older sister and her aunt, with Stephanie and her mom joining them in 1991, in search of better economic opportunities. After 10 years they naturalized, but were not able to gain the full benefits of Marshallese citizenship because the events of September 11 precipitated their next move to the U.S before the 5 year post naturalization requirement.  The requirement was born from the Compact of Free Association (COFA), a treaty that is negotiated every decade and has offered limited promised benefits to the Marshallese population due to hardship from nuclear testing.   On September 18, 2001 Stephanie and her family left for the U.S. on tourist B-1/B-2 visas due to restricted provisions like food and water in the Marshall Islands after September 11.

In the decade that followed, Stephanie succeeded in school and got into the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying Human Development and Family Studies. Stephanie believes they are privileged to be in this U.S. with access to some critical services like education, but as an undocumented immigrant her opportunities have been circumscribed by the nature of her status.  She wishes the current debate on immigration discussed the push and pull factors that lead people to migrate, particularly the uneven economic opportunities across the world that spur people to leave. She believes that immigration is a complex narrative that cannot be encapsulated by terms like legal and illegal; instead it’s a

 “grey area that many of us live in, being in and out of status”.  

Stephanie is considering her options including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application and in the meantime speaks and performs in different spaces about her experience. Stephanie plans on participating in the Immigrant Youth Justice League’s Coming out the Shadows event on March 10, 2013.



Maria was born in Saudi Arabia in 1992.  Her family is originally from Kerala, a state in the south-west corner of India, which her parents left in 1989 in search of better economic opportunity. In 1995 Maria’s mother had an opportunity to come to the US on a work visa (H-1A) to serve as a nurse at a facility in Chicago. In order to accommodate her family’s unique economic situation Maria and her brother went back to Kerala to live with her grandparents while her father worked in Saudi Arabia and her mother worked in Chicago. Finally, her mom was able to reunite her family in 1996 in Chicago through an H-4 visa, given to dependents. In the process of securing citizenship, due to lost paperwork for a visa Maria’s family fell out of legal status for several months with profound consequences.  They were not able to travel to India for 7 years, which was a significant hardship because her entire extended family lived in India and they lost several family members during that time. In 2009 Maria became a citizen, and in the intervening years Maria’s family has sponsored several members to the U.S. through work visas and they’re all now either citizens or permanent residents. She credits then Senator Peter Fitzgerald for helping her family obtain green cards (in 2002) and visas to finally be able to visit India again.

Maria wishes the current debate on immigration took into account the diverse array of people who enter this country, and their unique and often fraught circumstances. She wishes it would address the

 “stigma often associated with immigrants

and the fact that the policies in place often make it difficult for those who would be in good standing as immigrants to physically obtain that legal status. The policies have gotten better, but there is always room for improvement.” Maria is currently a pre-med student at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, hoping to address health disparities in urban environments.



Connie was born in the Philippines and alternated between the U.S. and Asia for several years through her early career, feeling at home in both. She raised her son in the Philippines and in 2005 she came to the U.S. to accompany an aunt who needed help. In that time she met an American who eventually became her husband. Once she decided to get married again and stay, she began petitioning to bring her son to the U.S. in 2007, but due to application backlogs he continues to live in the Philippines while she’s in Chicago. Connie became a citizen in 2011, and is proud of all the civic responsibility it confers on her, but wishes she could expedite her son’s application in some way.  She fears what will happen to his ability to migrate should she die before his priority date is reached.  Without siblings and another biological parent, US citizen grandparents, or brother/sister-in-laws Connie is her son’s only possible petitioner.

Applications where her son’s is categorized normally take 11-12 years.  In the interim they have tried to spend every Christmas together for the past 8 years since Connie came to the US.  It’s a form of bonding; a pact that only gets more painful and emotional every goodbye time — and expensive.

Connie is losing out on motherhood; her son is her only child. She fears how limited his life options are because of the situation.

Major life decisions and professional opportunities have been set aside.  Connie wishes new immigration policies would eventually allow approved petitions (like her son’s) to proceed despite death of the petitioner.  After all, the law allows anyone willing to do so to file the affidavit of support on behalf of a new immigrant. Connie maintains that family reunification also means allowing those legally approved petitions to come to the US now, especially those who have waited over 5 years.