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Why one woman came to the United States

Why one woman came to the United States

Twenty-seven-year-old 'Tely" of Omaha dreams of one day becoming a U.S. citizen. She also hopes to pursue a career in cosmetology. Photo by Lisa Schulte

The Catholic Voice

Twenty-seven-year-old Tely is an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who lives in Omaha with her husband and three children.

Although she has been living in the United States permanently since 1994, she and her husband are here under asylum, meaning they escaped their country because of fear of persecution. Because of their complicated situation, they have been unable to get the registration papers that are required to make U.S. citizenship possible.

It has been a long and sometimes frustrating process, but Tely and her family aren't giving up. They want to stay here in the U.S. They want a better life than the one they would have in Guatemala, one that will allow them to live their dreams.

'My dream is to become a cosmetologist," Tely said. 'But first of all, I want to get my papers and be a resident and to one day become a U.S. citizen."

Right now, Tely is working to get her GED from Metropolitan Community College. She also takes classes there to help her learn English.

'Many people in Guatemala don't care to learn English, but here it's better because we get to learn English, to learn many things," she said.

Tely first came to the United States in 1984 at the age of five with her parents and siblings to seek safety from the guerrillas in Guatemala, but about five years later they went back to her homeland. Her father was the only one in her family who gained residency during that time.

In 1990, Tely returned to the United States with her father and two older sisters to work in California, but she again returned to Guatemala with her father two years later. She worked at a dressmaking shop, but was forced to walk an hour to another village every day to bring her father his lunch. The walk was long and dangerous, Tely said.

'It was really hard and I didn't want to do that because the life here in the United States was so different. It's safe. In Guatemala, life is dangerous," she said.

Upon her father's approval, Tely's mother found a 'coyote" (smuggler) to help her cross the border into California.

'It was tough because I had to leave my mom and brother, but I didn't want to stay there because of the life I had there," said Tely, whose family made up a story so that she could cross the border.

In California, Tely worked as a dressmaker, married her husband, who came to the United States illegally to escape the guerillas in Guatemala, and went to school. She soon became pregnant and quit school to work full-time. In 2001, the couple moved to Omaha to be near Tely's sister, who had told them there were many good paying jobs available in Omaha.

'We wanted to go and start a new life there," said Tely, whose husband is a forklift driver and a volunteer boxing instructor for underprivileged children. 'I just didn't know there was snow here. My sister didn't tell me that."

Being in the United States has come with many sacrifices, Tely said. Although her mother now lives in California with her two sisters, Tely said she has little or no contact with her father, brother and sister who still live in her native land.

Tely said she also lives in fear because she worries about being sent back to Guatemala. If that happens, she said she's not sure what she will do or what will become of her children.

'I don't want my kids to go to Guatemala because I know there is a better life here," she said. 'We're here for a better life for me and my family, so hopefully the law is going to give us a chance to stay here in this country. That's what I wish."

The Catholic Voice

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