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My life as an illegal immigrant in America

A young Nigerian shares personal experiences about American immigration which many don’t get to know about until they relocate.


can have big consequences and totally upset your life as an illegal immigrant in America and, if not well-managed, get you deported.

After previous visits to the United States, I relocated finally in 2013. It wasn’t an easy decision. I had a good job in Nigeria, but a menial “holiday job” I took up during one of my previous visits here paid above my salary as a graduate in Nigerian finance. I work for money, so on my last trip here I overstayed and became an illegal. But one little misstep threw me into debt.

arrangements, two months later, to have the document reproduced and resent to me from Nigeria through a courier service that does home delivery that I learnt the existing package was incurring demurrage in my name. The American courier firm had my details and would still track me to recover the charges. If the police would be involved, American immigration would soon hear of me. An agent who tried helping resolve the impasse said my bill was already over $1,000. Only two options were open to me:

Wait for extra three months after which the package would be destroyed, my bill sent to me—which would be over $2,000. Send the parcel back to Nigeria and spend a little below $2,000 in gross costs. I chose the latter, emptying savings that took months to raise. Note that I still needed the package and had to restart the entire process from Nigeria. This is just one of several little missteps that could complicate life for an illegal here.


You can’t own a bank account. When you’re ill, you avoid hospitalization not wanting to rat yourself out. You can’t enroll for higher education. Above all, you avoid the police and also hope situations that will bring them avoid you. Many Nigerians live this way for years, which is why some of them take long to stabilize. Contract marriage can be a pathway to regularizing one’s status, but it is illegal and comes with a lot of headache.

I know a Nigerian guy who has been disappointed three times by Akata women whom he paid for contract marriage.  Each time he had to start afresh, each time he paid not less than $5,000. For someone doing low-paying jobs, imagine the distress. For women, the trouble can include contract husbands who, contrary to a gentleman’s agreement, start requesting sex else they won’t turn up for immigration appointments. Where the contract spouse is supportive, immigration officials can be the problem.

As the permanent residency process requires an interview to ascertain that applicants are genuinely married, the personal questions often asked can unravel a pretending couple. Many fail the interviews. There are reports of immigration officials visiting applicants impromptu to see if they truly live together. Thousands have been disqualified after all the trouble and costs. The alternative for many Nigerians before the COVID-19 lockdown was to cross over to Canada and claim asylum.

Immigrants who cross over to Canada enjoy government assistance and settle down soon, but asylum also has its own problems. You can’t visit home for a long time having claimed you are fleeing persecution there. (Nowadays some visit countries near home and complete the journey by road).  And if the conditions for which you fled your home country improve, you can be asked to go back. Moreover, pushback against immigration is rising globally. Canada is liaising with the US to curtail asylum seekers coming over from here, and the US government continues to ramp up its clampdown on illegal aliens.

Being illegal in America can be agonizing. Finding love in the LGBTQ community helped my situation and I later became a lawful resident, but I cannot forget the trauma I faced the whole time. Like many Nigerians who think getting a visiting visa is all there is to American immigration, I never knew what I was getting myself into. I knew only about the menial jobs that pay. Now, I do not regret my decision to stay back in the US, but it would have helped if some Paulo had explained the entire thing to me ahead of time.  



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