When 21-year-old Myrza and his new bride received visas to travel to the United States in 2008, his relatives beamed. Myrza had just finished his junior year at the Kyrgyz National Law Academy, and he and his wife, Aiperi, had secured spots in a coveted State Department-sponsored program. But Myrza’s family was not merely celebrating the youngsters’ chance to take a summer tour: they knew the couple intended to leave job-strapped Kyrgyzstan for good.
Myrza and Aiperi (not their real names) were participants in a State Department program allowing students to work summer jobs and travel for a few weeks around the United States. Four years later, Myrza and Aiperi live in the Midwest. Myrza works in construction and Aiperi cleans motel rooms. They have an 18-month-old daughter, born in the United States, and thus an American citizen, and live in a cramped apartment with several other Kyrgyz families, also illegal immigrants.
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Dina Tokbaeva is a freelance journalist based in Bishkek.