Alexa Valdez, a senior social work major, learned at a very young age what it means to make a commitment to someone. At 18, Valdez stood in front of a judge, alongside her husband, and took an oath to love and to cherish him until the day he dies. Valdez reflects on that commitment and her husband’s lack of documentation.

Being a Latina in the United States, have you ever been directly affected by the topic of immigration?

My spouse is currently undocumented. Over the years, this topic has become extremely personal to me because it affects the way we live our lives. I am the sole driver in our relationship, because he doesn’t have a license. Things seem to move slower in our relationship, compared to people who are in a relationship in which both partners are documented.

Slower, in terms of …

Getting a house and moving forward with his aspirations of higher education. He hasn’t been able to attend college or a trade school because of his lack of documentation. At this point, we are taking turns. If he could receive financial aid, we’d both be attending college at the same time. Hopefully, after my degree completion and the finalization of his U.S. residency, he will be able to attend college.

It sounds like this process takes a lot of time, effort and dedication. Did you know what you would be getting into when you met him?

Not really. I was 15 when I met my husband, and I didn’t fully understand the legal system as I do today. We met in our high school biology class. He was continuously being disruptive during class, so our teacher thought it’d be a good idea, since I was more quiet at the time, to sit him next to me to balance each other out.

What initially attracted you to your husband?

A: On the first day of class, I remember seeing him and saying to myself, “Oh, that boy is kind of cute.” But then I heard his laugh, and I thought it was ugly so I dismissed him.  But I would say that what attracted me and still attracts me to him the most is that he never fails to make me laugh.

How did you decide to get married?

I think a lot of us getting married had to do with a pressing issue I was dealing with at the time. I, of course, love my husband, but he knew I was in a lot of pain and needed a way to escape my home. He lent himself as an escape route from the situation I was in.

If you don’t mind, would you be able to share your situation?

In high school, my father had a lot of issues with alcohol, and it got to the point where I didn’t feel comfortable in my house anymore because cops were constantly being called to my home because of disputes caused by my father’s drinking habits. At the time, my mother didn’t feel like she could leave that situation, which only made things worse on myself and my siblings. Aside from that I was also dealing with depression and anxiety, which was something neither of my parents could help me deal with and the only one who understood was my husband.

So how did you decide marriage was the answer?

A lot of the ideas in regards to deciding to get married came from wanting to leave my parents’ home in search [of] a brighter future. Additionally, because of cultural beliefs, my husband’s mother felt uneasy about us living together without being married and his lack of documentation played a role in this decision.And lastly, the fact that I love him made marriage the best solution.

Because of the documentation process length, does it at times feel like your lives have been put on pause since getting married?

I would say that yes, we are at a pause when it comes to moving forward with his education, buying a home and having children. However, we have continued to move towards obtaining documentation for him, but it is taking longer and costing more than we had expected.

Did you always want to get married at such a young age?

All throughout my life I’ve always known I wanted to get married; maybe not that soon, but I knew marriage was in the future. So, I asked myself, “Why not with him?” He was perfect for me and I loved him so much. Some might consider our relationship and say that his lack of documentation is a downfall. I don’t at all. This has tested our relationship, made us stronger and informed us so that we can inform others. My husband helped me escape my home when I was struggling. His lack of documentation will never be an inconvenience in my eyes.

Interview has been condensed and edited.