Jan 25, 2020
by Christopher Kerosky, Kerosky, Purves & Bogue, LLP, Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner
Life seemed very promising for Ya-Chi Tang in 2007. She had immigrated from Taiwan with her dad at age 6, and had adopted the American name “Angela”. She had learned English and finished middle-school with honors. At 14, Angela was completely assimilated into her comfortable life in the San Francisco Bay Area with her dad. Her high school grades were very good, and she had lots of friends and interests. She ran track and cross-country, and participated in student government.
Angela’s father, a high-tech engineer, had applied for a green card through his Silicon Valley employer, and the Immigration Service had approved the petition. Mr. Tang was simply waiting for his visa to be available so that he and his daughter could obtain permanent residence in the United States.
Then Angela’s father suddenly died of a heart attack.
In an instant, Angela became undocumented — without a visa and without a future. And our immigration laws left no path for her to remain in the country. Every attempt to keep her here legally failed.
Angela’s aunt and uncle were U.S. citizens and they took her in after her father’s death. They hired an attorney who helped them complete legal adoption proceedings for Angela. But her adoption was finalized too late, and the Immigration Service denied the green card application filed by Angela’s adopted parents. Immigration authorities told the teen-age Angela to return to Taiwan, a country she did not know at all.
“Growing up, I didn’t realize how important the visa thing was,” says Angela. “ It wasn’t even a word in my dictionary.” Suddenly her immigration status — or lack thereof — became a reality that shaped her young life. “I was told: ‘Don’t tell anyone about your immigration status, don’t get in trouble, don’t get in the car with anyone other than your family. Just lay low…for as long as you can.”
“For individuals like myself, we were kind of stuck in the limbo between not knowing who we are individually and where we stand immigration-wise.”
Then in 2013, Angela was granted a reprieve from deportation through DACA, the Obama-era program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Through DACA, she obtained a work permit and a form of legal status. She was able to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz.
In her first week on campus, Angela met her future husband, Eric Pagendarm. After a four-year courtship, Angela and Eric were married shortly after they graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2014. Now, Angela lives in Seattle with Eric and their dog, Pesto. She works as a Patient Service Representative at UW Medical Center–Northwest, while Eric works as a software engineer.
“We have absolutely nothing to hide. We have jobs, we have a college education, we have our families here.”
Angela finally obtained her permanent residence in 2018, after 10 years of proceedings with the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Service. The couple made an emotional trip back to her native Taiwan for the first time a few months later. This year Angela will be eligible to become a U.S. citizen.
“I didn’t really think about you as an immigrant,” says Eric to Angela in the My American Dreams video about her life. “That’s never what defined you. You were defined by this wonderful person who had all these shared experiences with me and who wanted to spend your life with me.”
[You can watch the PBS video “I am Angela” made by My American Dreams with help from NorCal Public Media on the station’s YouTube Chanel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFnmQcoNPHw. The video has been shown on KRCB / KPJK throughout last month and this month and is being shared throughout the PBS network.] (The video project director is our own Christopher Kerosky)
NOTE: In June, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on the validity of the Trump Administration’s termination of DACA. If the Court sides with the Administration, some 750,000 others like Angela will lose their legal status and become subject to deportation.
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