Illegal Among Us
A Stateless Woman's Quest for Citizenship
By Martine Kalaw
Are you Martine Mwanj Kalaw? If so, your father is looking for you.
Martine is forced to make a choice in an immigration courtroom. Her decision catapults her into a tumultuous and seven-year battle with immigration and a personal struggle to discover her identity. Ten years later, at age thirty-three, a social media message reconnects Martine with the father she thought dead for twenty years. Here begins the story of a prep-school illegal immigrant’s return to her birthland of Zambia. She travels to Africa to unlock the key to her past but what she discovers is unimaginable and will never leave her the same.
A typical American college girl by all appearances, Martine’s innocent ignorance of her own immigration status erupts in a battle for US citizenship while avoiding deportation to her country of origin, the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Without documentation on the African continent in either DRC or Zambia, no country claims a stateless Martine.
After seven years, six lawyers, numerous Master Calendar hearings, motions, rejections, appeals and testimony before the U.S. Congress (on behalf of The Dream Act), in 2012 Martine becomes a U.S. citizen and two years later she returns to Zambia. Only then does Martine discover a truth about her mother and father which ultimately brings her resolve and an identity.