Before I left the United States, I didn’t have a lot of friends who weren’t US Citizens. There were the Mexicans who I knew from church, but I hadn’t really stopped to think about where they came from.
When I moved to Spain, I was amazed by how many cultures and countries fit into Madrid. There were people from everywhere, and since I attended an international school, there were even more in my classes.
I lived in Spain during the time of the boom. Everyone wanted to live in Spain because it was doing so well, and because there were so many opportunities. The immigration system was a little bit different than it is here. For many of them, if they could last several years without being caught as illegal, and if they could prove that they’d lived, and served as upright people in the country, they could obtain their residency. That was an opportunity that many couldn’t resist. It’s not to say that they didn’t come with any risks. The main form of transportation, the metro, was always considered a trap. There would be random checkpoints where everyone trying to get onto the train had to show their paperwork.
I’m not quite sure when I realized how many of my friends were illegal immigrants from different countries. For me, they were just my friends. But after a while, I started to notice that those of us with papers would go into the metro stations before others, and then we would call up if they weren’t doing checks.
There was one evening, when we had an activity that ran over, that two of my friends ran to the metro before they were late. One of the girls had her paperwork, and the other didn’t, and that was the night when they were doing checks in the metro. They caught my friend, and she was deported back to her country.
It was quite a sobering experience for me, since I’d never had to live with the fear of being deported. I’d never left my country hoping for a better life, or for an opportunity to live in a better place. The way my husband described Spain was: “It’s like the American dream, but in a country where we could speak the language.”
It’s amazing how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to live in a country where dreams are made possible. Where we don’t feel like we have to escape to be able to have a fulfilling life. I wish that this opportunity could be true for everyone.