How much does it cost to keep a family together?

Depending who you ask, either undocumented immigrants are a group of poor unfortunates who are chasing the ‘American dream’; or a bunch of drug-smuggling, murderous, illegal immigrants who deserve to be rounded up and sent packing.

With all the attention in the media over President Trump’s immigration policies, I wanted to share, first hand, what it’s like being an illegal immigrant and straighten some of the misconceptions that people have about me.


In 2010, I met my (now) wife online in an online forum. We began communicating regularly and over time, fell in love. In late 2011, I came from Europe to the US to visit her and her two daughters who live in rural California.

At the time, she was reliant on food stamps and child support from her ex-husband. All she had to live on was a total of $890 per month, and her rent was paid for through section 8 housing assistance. On top of that, she had to pay her utilities, gas and clothing etc. She was also reliant on the State for her and her children’s medical needs.

I spent Christmas 2011 with her and we decided that we wanted to get married. I returned home to begin planning for a K1 visa application to allow me to come to the US and get married.

Knowing that once we had filed the petition, I couldn’t come back until the visa was approved, I returned in February of 2012 for a visit. While here, I quickly realized that I did not earn enough to pay my rent and expenses in Europe, and at the same time support my wife and her children.

I made the decision to stay in the US and we got married in June 2012.

I entered the country legally and was documented. So I guess if you want to hang a label on me I’m an illegal immigrant.

And, like many other illegal immigrants, …

I have a drivers license and auto insurance
I managed to get auto insurance without a social security number or US drivers license. I pay more for the privilege but I’m insured.

And when California introduced the AB60 Drivers License, I applied for, took, and passed my test. I then spent about five months trying to prove my identity in order to get my actual license (funnily enough, the IRS verified my passport in about twenty minutes but DMV couldn’t do it in twenty weeks!).

I’m not taking work away from an American worker
I’m self-employed and have been working for the same client since before I came to this country. Because I work online, I compete for jobs against people from all over the globe.

If my clients wanted to hire Americans, they would. I also periodically employ other (American) workers to help me so rather than taking jobs away, I actually create them from time to time.

I pay taxes
And no, I didn’t steal someone’s SSN in order to pay taxes — I have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Unlike most people, I don’t get a refund every year and I don’t get the tax breaks that most American citizens get. I can’t claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example. Which means that dollar for dollar I pay more taxes than an American in my tax situation would pay.

Dollar for dollar, I pay more taxes than an American in my tax situation would pay

I can’t get medical treatment
I can’t get medical insurance and I’m not eligible for State medical aid. I have a neck problem which causes pressure on my nerves and, depending on the day, I experience either intense pain or numbness down my arms. Since arriving here, I broke the same big toe twice and it hasn’t healed properly, leaving me in constant pain.

The one time I visited a doctor, I spent 15 minutes with him to be told I needed to see a specialist surgeon but that no one will even see me without insurance. For that privilege, I paid $172.50 (after a 50% discount for not having insurance)! I couldn’t afford the prescription he gave me, nor the follow up blood work, so I suffer in silence.

I’m not draining public funds from Americans who need them
Before I came to America my wife and her children were receiving Section 8 housing assistance, medical aid, and food stamps. When I came, that all stopped.

In the five years I’ve been in this country I’ve paid their rent, medical insurance, and food — around $1,800 per month, ignoring gasoline and utilities. So over those five years, the Federal and State governments have saved over $108,000 in benefits they no longer paid out. Add to that the taxes I’ve paid and America is about $150,000 better off because I’m here.

America is about $150,000 better off because I’m here

The future doesn’t look promising
With the increased action against illegal immigrants I believe it’s only a matter of time before DHS starts deporting hard-working, tax-paying people who have committed no crime other than overstaying their visa. We’re easier targets than the undocumented who sneak across the border. You know that, right?

You see, when I arrived here, I had to give the Customs Officer the address where I was going to be staying and I’m still here. If they want me they know where to find me. That worries me.

Anytime I see two or three law enforcement vehicles travelling together I get nervous. I remember one time I had to go to southern California on business and every time I saw a Border Patrol vehicle, I just about had a heart attack. Considering I can’t get health care, it’s fortunate that we don’t see too many of them around here where we live.

I can’t appeal to an immigration judge for clemency
I came here under the Visa Waiver Program and part of that program is that you waive the right to a hearing in immigration court. So unlike someone who overstays an actual visa — or jumps the border — I don’t get any second chance.

I just get deported.

That means ripping apart our family and leaving a very confused one-year-old who can’t understand where Daddy is. It means leaving my wife and family heartbroken, homeless, penniless, and dependent on government assistance. It means being banned from returning to my family for at least ten years.

If that’s not bad enough (and believe me — it is), I get shipped back to Europe and end up homeless. With no home and no ability to work online, I lose clients and income. It becomes a Catch-22 situation. I need a home to work online to earn money to keep a home to work online to earn money…

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I can’t afford to apply for an adjustment of status
Because if I had the money I would, believe me. I have no criminal record in this country or any other. I’ve never been part of a communist, terrorist, or other dubious organization. I have an American Citizen wife and child, two American Citizen step-children and I am “otherwise eligible” for a marriage visa and green card without being added to a waiting list or taking a visa away from someone else.

At one point I had actually saved enough to start the process and passed the medical, which was valid for one year. Then our car broke down and we needed to replace it. We started trying to save again but I lost a big client and half my income.

My medical expired and by the time you add up all the fees and the medical exam, it costs around $1,800. I just can’t afford that. Right now I earn enough to support us but anything above and beyond is out of my reach right now.

I can’t borrow the money
Do you know how hard it is to try and get a loan without a social security number? Trust me, I’ve tried and I just keep getting turned down. Sure there are groups that help Hispanic immigrants but I’m a white European and they don’t want to know.

In desperation I wrote to President Obama to suggest allowing immigrants to pay fees by installments. I also wrote to several politicians who support immigrants, including Senators Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara, (and a couple of immigrant rights groups) to try and get them to start a fund to help people like me pay their fees through low-interest loans. Not one of them even had the courtesy to reply.

Hey! I know you good people are busy but even getting an intern to write back and say
“Read it. No!”
would be considered common decency.

Economically it doesn’t make any sense to deport me
First, according to ICE, it costs on average $12,500 to deport each immigrant. Second, over the ten years (minimum) that my family and I are torn apart, the Federal and State governments of this country will pay out more than $250,000 in welfare and medical benefits to my family and lose around $60,000 in taxes from me.

For the benefit of those in government without a calculator:

Deporting me will cost America $322,500

Final thoughts
I guess the key is this… Sure, I brought this on myself and some will say I deserve everything I get. But I didn’t do it to take advantage of the American system or get a better life for myself. I did it to get my family out of the welfare system and build a better life for them. Along the way, my health has deteriorated and I’ve struggled to keep everything normal for my family.

So now you know how much it costs to keep a family together:

a lousy eighteen hundred bucks