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Josefa claps along with the crowd. This is her favorite part of weddings, but she hasn’t joined any snaking lines for the past couple of months. The 24-year-old is still single, still searching for a guy who will sweep her off her feet like a bad Anne Hathaway chick flick. But she must subsume her heart’s desires for the foreseeable future—she has a fiance.
Jose is holding her hand, awkwardly. He wears a long-sleeved checkered shirt, wrinkled khakis and black dress shoes. His brow is moist; they’ve danced all night, but close observation of the two would’ve revealed no romantic chemistry.
Jose is gay. Nevertheless, the two are getting married. A 26-year-old illegal immigrant who came to this country when he was 13, Jose hasn’t been back to his native Mexico City since leaving. He’s assimilated down to his love of Beyoncé and horn-rimmed glasses. He did everything a young migrant is supposed to do in the United States: graduated high school near the top of his class and finished college magna cum laude. But Jose’s degree in business from Cal State Fullerton is worthless without the legal means to work, so the Stanton resident earns a living by working the books for his cousin’s landscaping service. He dreams of becoming an accountant but must wait, one of the millions of illegal immigrants who came to this country as children, knowing little of the native lands they left long ago yet relegated to a perverse limbo in which they are culturally, but not legally, Americans.
Immigration reform has been a low priority for the Obama administration, as even the suggestion of any type of amnesty, no matter how limited or punitive, would further inflame his already-mobilized opponents for the upcoming November election season. On July 1, Barack Obama gave a speech on immigration reform that veered between hailing the humanity of illegal immigrants while simultaneously demanding they pay for breaking the law. “We have to demand responsibility from people living here illegally,” the president told an audience at American University in St. Louis. “They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine and learn English.”
With no hopes of legalizing their status any time soon and any substantial immigration reform having been stalled in Congress for more than a decade, some young illegal immigrants in recent years have decided to enter into fake marriages in the hope of expediting the process. They’re doing it with the help of friends and relatives who have gone through the process before.
“You reach this point where you figure, ‘Why not?’” Jose says outside the din of the Quiet Cannon hall. He and Josefa had gone outside to catch some air. “[Young illegal immigrants] all reach that breaking point. We have a sense that we shouldn’t succumb to something false. We want to be honest. But nothing’s getting better.”
“It’s bullshit,” Josefa adds. “Why shouldn’t Jose be a citizen? But if the government won’t help him legally, well, I’ll just have to help him beat the system.”