Out of Status: A Story of Immigration Struggles


Jenjen Furer was born in the Philippines, the third child of six, and the only girl.  The following is an excerpt from her new book, Out of Status, which tells the painful story of her family’s life as immigrants in the US.  It’s a peek into the heart of an undocumented immigrant family facing disastrous circumstances.

My parents used to tell me, “God works in mysterious ways. Don’t worry, everything happens for a reason.” That advice was not helpful on this day.

It was October 27, 2005, 5:30 a.m. I had just gotten out of the shower.

I opened the bathroom door, and standing next to our bed was my husband Craig. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and has that stereotypical “I can handle anything” attitude. He was looking at me in a way that was different from his usual ‘Good morning, honey’ look. He had a look of apprehension that was dramatically different from his typical sanguine gaze.

Apparently he was waiting for me to come out of the shower all this time. “So what’s with the facial expression?” I thought to myself.

In a somber tone he said, “Honey, I have some bad news.”

My head was spinning. Did my Dad have another heart attack? What could be so bad? I just waited for Craig to tell me.

“Honey,” he said, “Benjie got picked up.”

At that moment my brain turned off, and I stopped listening.

Benjie is my youngest brother. He was 32 years old and had lived in the United States since he was 12. He was brought to the U.S. by my parents, and America had been his home for two decades.

“No!” I screamed. “This cannot be happening!”

Benjie is smart, resourceful, responsible, and cheerful. Atypical for most siblings who are the youngest, he took on supporting Mom and Dad after all of us older siblings moved out. He was in the process of starting his own business building custom-made vintage cafe racer style motorcycles, a venture that was starting to show a lot of promise. He hoped it would be his way of achieving his American dream.

And after 20 years of going to American schools, having American friends, dating American girls, watching American television, and eating American food, he was being removed from his home and transferred to a country that had become completely foreign to him.

Craig is almost two years younger than I, yet he possesses the wisdom and optimism of someone older, especially during the most challenging times. He epitomizes every woman’s romantic super hero. He too felt this tragedy that had struck our family — yet again. My brother Nelson had been apprehended in December 1998 and deported in January 1999. Our family was still reeling from his departure.

I kept asking myself, “Why my family? What did we do to deserve this? How can this be happening? This is my family! This is my life! How can we be so unlucky?”

Luck? Is it all about luck?

My husband is so lucky. Unlike my family, Craig’s grandparents migrated from Russia and passed through Ellis Island before settling in New York. Maybe it was easier for them to capture the American dream because back then, the U.S. had opened its gates to all immigrants. Did the first generation of immigrants suffer the same uncertainties we did? Did we do it the wrong way? Did we try to manipulate and ignore the immigration laws just to have a taste of the American dream? Did we realize that we were risking everything, including the prospect of being citizens, just to have a shot at the American dream?

Yes, we did take that risk, all the while never prepared to accept and always continuing to deny what we knew might happen: The government might send some of us back to the Philippines. And now, after two decades, just when we were all fooled into thinking that America would surely be our home forever, that awful moment of reckoning had come.

Craig put his arms on my shoulders. “I’m so sorry, hon, but did you hear what I just said?” he asked.

Staring at a blank space, I mumbled for I couldn’t seem to speak out the horrid images that were in my head. I knew that I, too, could have been apprehended if Craig and I had not gotten married.

I’m not sure if real words came out of my lips. I said something like: “Huh? What do you mean? Where? How? What about Mom and Dad?”

Craig said that the Homeland Security personnel came to the house and arrested Benjie. They left Mom and Dad in the house, but gave them specific instructions to purchase their plane tickets back to Manila.

Everything around me turned mute. As I looked around, my whole world was in pause, and then the sound waves became unbearable as the news sank in.

I kept asking myself, Why? Why, God? Why them? Why now? Why after almost 20 years? Oh, my four children. How do I tell them? How do I protect them from the pain of this news?

I heard my usually reserved 16-year-old daughter Nicole screaming. She was swearing with every breath in between momentary pauses of weighty sobs. I could almost hear the tremble in her heart.

“This is just a dream, a bad dream!” Nicole screamed in disbelief.

I questioned how my daughter, Nicole, could cope with the sadness, the emptiness? How could I have allowed her to experience so much sadness at such a young age?

I couldn’t help but think how painful this must be for the kids!

Benjie, along with my two younger brothers, took care of my own children like they were his own. While some teenagers were hanging around in parks and going to parties, my brothers were busy playing with the kids. Benjie was Peter Pan! I could still remember him changing the children’s diapers, tossing the kids up in the air and teaching them how to fix vintage Volkswagen Beetles even when they were still in their diapers! Benjie was a prominent adult figure, their buddy.

I sobbed heavily as I caught a glimpse of a family picture on the wall — a photo we had taken the previous Thanksgiving. I was afraid that might be the very last time my family would ever be together again. Our tradition had been broken, our dreams had been shattered, and our hope had been taken away.


Related Stories:

“I’m Getting Arrested” App Aims to Help Undocumented Immigrants

The Disastrous Consequences of Alabama’s Anti-Immigration Law

ARMS Bill Puts DREAMs in Chokehold



Stanley Balgobin
Stanley R5 years ago

Decide each case on it's individual merits. he trouble with blanket immigration laws, they do not make allowances or distinctions based on important circumstantial factors. It is guilty, off with his head. Black and white, just like the stupid drug laws and the war on drugs fiasco. What is it about our society that stupidity reigns supreme. Look at the clown George W Bush as president.

Stanley Balgobin
Stanley R5 years ago

Decide each case on it's individual merits. he trouble with blanket immigration laws, they do not make allowances or distinctions based on important circumstantial factors. It is guilty, off with his head. Black and white, just like the stupid drug laws and the war on drugs fiasco. What is it about our society that stupidity reigns supreme. Look at the clown George W Bush as president.

John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

@Michael G.
You only further prove my point,as you do not read. Note,I wrote APPLY and NOT receive? What is it about "Legal Documentation" that you don't understand?..

Christopher C.
Chris C5 years ago

Steve R I'm sure came here illegally from S. Africa and is now pointing fingers at others to take the focus and blame off himself! He should be deported back to S. Africa!

Michael G.
Michael G.5 years ago

@ John

You are just further proving my point John. the only way someone on a tourist visa can get a green card is if they marry someone. by the way if the only thing that was required to become legal was going through Ellis Island and signing a piece of paper then trust me everyone who is illegal now would be in fact legal. You have no idea how complicated immigration laws are now. If todays immigration laws were applied to the first wave of European immigration then a lot of them would not have been able to get in. And yes I do know my families history and Im not a shamed to say that the reason my family and I are legal now is because my grandfather on my dads side got amnesty back in the Reagan years.

John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

@Michael G.,
I had asked both my Mothers parents,what their citizenship tests were like and was amazed at the number of difficult questions that were asked. It is doubtful that someone such as you,would even pass. They both had their passages paid and had previous family here. They also came,at a time when immigration was invited,by a growing nation. In this case,the new coal fields of Pa.. I not only know the ships names,but also have passenger manifests of their passage,along with passport copy's. Also knowing how long,they were all detained on Ellis Is..So I would think that I know my ancestors history,do you? One can come here now on a visitors visa and apply for a green card. Thus the old story,"money talks"...

Sharon S.
Sharon S5 years ago

Really Nancy S.-no other country? I am Canadian & I venture to say that the same thing happens here & yet others are waved in here on a silver platter & handed tax payers dollars to make them feel welcome, while those very tax payers can barely get by & have less disposable income than the newcomers that they help support via their taxes. True, they did not come to the country legally, but, if they are contributing to your country & paying income taxes, & not breaking or have not broken the law in any other way, consider allowing them to apply for legal status while making them jump thru hoops to get it. Sending them back for 10 years before allowing them to apply to come back seems harsh if they are contributing to society & are not living off of taxpayers dollars as in on welfare or disability etc. A qualifier needs to be that they are totally self supporting.

Amie K.
Amie K5 years ago

What a terrible story :-(

leo l.
leo L5 years ago

I'm betting this guy was a better human being than you Ellis Island spawns here are.

Jenn C.
Jenn C5 years ago

He's been here 20 years? 14 of them as an adult? So basically he had more than enough time to try and make things right but didn't. No sympathy. My father and my grandmother's family all immigrated LEGALLY at different times and I'm going through the process now so that my British husband can be here LEGALLY. Sure it can be a pain, but at least we're not criminals!