“Life, unauthorized” is a series from WHYY that looks at the personal immigration stories of individuals who are living in the Philadelphia region without legal status.
Leanne, 37, from the United Kingdom
Leanne, her husband, and her four kids had no plans to move away from their struggling, industrial town in northwest England when they traveled to Chester County for a summer vacation in 2015. But a sudden accident and her father’s worsening health derailed the family’s plans to return to the U.K. that August.
Leanne’s father has lived in the United States for nearly two decades. He moved here after meeting his second wife, an American, in an AOL chatroom. He has alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic condition affecting the lungs and liver.
During Leanne’s visit, her stepbrother crashed his motorcycle into the back of a truck.
“He was in a coma for about a month and they weren’t coping,” she said. “So I didn’t want to leave my dad. I just didn’t know what to do.” The family missed their return flight to England and have been living in Pennsylvania illegally ever since.
Leanne has applied for a family visa through her father, but she has been told that the wait list is years long. As a last-ditch effort, she has asked for a kind of special dispensation from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be allowed to stay and look after her family members.
While she waits for a response, Leanne stays home to help her father, who uses an oxygen tank and has increasing difficulty moving around, when he is not working. Her four children are in school, and her husband works odd jobs under the table for extra money. Her stepmother also has health problems and does not work. Her father, in his weakened condition, is the only person able to work legally to support the family; he is a maintenance worker at a school.
Living in a rural part of southern Chester County, Leanne says the family is isolated from the community they had back home. However, they have few options given the family-visa backlog. And because she overstayed her tourist visa, if Leanne were to return to England, she would be barred from re-entering the country to visit her ailing father for 10 years.
In her own words: U.S. immigration policy
“It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s probably wrong to say that I agree with what Donald Trump has been doing about getting all the criminals out, because no country needs criminals anyway, do they? Probably wrong to say, because I’m an immigrant myself. But, I believe what he’s doing is kind of right in some sense. But we’ve not all got the same story [for being here].”
“I don’t think he should make [legal immigration] too difficult, because I mean, like I said, everybody’s got a different story as for the reason why they’re here and why they want to be here….I don’t know what the immigrant, immigration thingy is here, but I know it’s overloaded in England with immigrants. And as you know, England is probably about a hell of a lot smaller than what Pennsylvania is, you can fit it inside it…. I mean I wouldn’t go taking a job off [anyone] . If I get legal, obviously I’m going to go out there and work just to earn a living. But, I can see where they’re coming from; the same thing is happening in England. So, I don’t know really.”