By Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Fronteras News Desk
EL PASO, Texas — My great-grandmother became an American citizen at age 100.
Before she was here illegally just as an estimated 11 million others live today. Her big opportunity came in 1986 when President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, or as Spanish speakers know it, “la amnistía.”
I got to thinking of my great-grandmother recently when I wrote a news spot about a public opinion poll on immigration reform. I also thought about her last week when I attended a swearing-in ceremony for 452 new U.S. citizens in El Paso. Two fellow journalist friends became Americans that day. The only other swearing-in ceremony I’d ever been to was for my great-grandmother.
Rosaura Piñera was born in Guadalupe, Chihuahua in 1898. It’s likely she and her family moved to El Paso 12 years later during the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution.
In the United States she worked at a clothing factory. We think she was able to obtain her U.S. residency while living in El Paso. By the time she reached 30 she’d lost her parents and siblings to sickness or accidents. Not long after, she married my great-grandfather, who was a few years younger. In their wedding pictures she stands at least a head taller than him in heels.
My great-grandfather carried his new bride back to Mexico where they stayed and raised a family. It wasn’t until he died that she even considered returning to the United States. By then she’d lost her U.S. residency. Her two children had already immigrated legally to the United States where they had raised their own children, including my mother. My great-grandmother was now alone in Mexico and everyone agreed it was best that she come live with us in El Paso.
She came over with today’s equivalent of a border crossing card. The document was only meant for temporary travel to the United States, but my great-grandmother used it to stay. It was never a big deal because we’d cross with her back to Mexico frequently to visit her old adobe house. I spent many happy holidays in Mexico as a child.
And that’s how it went till 1986, when my mother heard about “the amnesty.” My great-grandmother was 88. Some 3 million illegal immigrants came out of the shadows that year. My mother said the lines to apply for residency stretched for hours. She remembers to it cost $185 to submit my great-grandmother’s application.
Before she became a resident, getting healthcare for my great-grandmother wasn’t easy. My grandfather would do free plumbing jobs for their family doctor.
In exchange the doctor would see my great-grandmother. When she fell and broke her hip the whole family pooled together money to pay for her operation.
My mother remembers one sunny morning when my great-grandmother asked if it was overcast outside. “I see clouds,” she had said. That day my mom knew my great-grandmother had cataracts. The discovery was all the more painful because my mom knew they couldn’t afford to seek treatment.
Finish reading Great-Grandmother And The Amnesty Of 1986