Citizen Lal – From “Dreamer” to US Citizen

Despite the best efforts of many people, I will be sworn-in as a U.S. citizen in less than three weeks.

The citizenship ceremony will be at Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California at 10am on April 19, 2018. Everyone who has supported me and has been part of this 18-year ordeal is welcome to come there though seating is limited.

We will celebrate the momentous occasion with samosas and kava at Melo Melo Kava Bar in Berkeley 4-8pm on the same day to mark my dual cultural heritage as an Indo-Fijian (and hipster American). Supporters are also welcome to join us or drop by then to offer their condolences. You can RSVP here.

I find it ironic that in order to become American through naturalization, one has to prove “good moral character” as if Americans born here actually know what “good” or “moral” or “character” mean individually and collectively. However, my family is overjoyed, and I have to resign myself to this one last thing I need to do to obtain my freedom: become American to be free from it. Now that is the real irony.

Thank you for being a part of this 18-year journey–where I became undocumented shortly after 9/11, was targeted by the government after becoming an advocate for myself and others, placed into removal proceedings, and won a green card only after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that I could get immigration benefits by marrying someone of the same sex.

I’ve spent an entire adult life having to fight for the basic right to exist and be considered a human. I had to fight for the right to higher education. I had to fight to go to law school. I had to hire lawyers in order to be admitted to the bar as an attorney when I was undocumented. I had to fight for the right to marry my partner. I finally won the right to live here in 2014 but that hasn’t seem to have changed how I am treated–racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism and ableism continue to be front and center in my life, even as a well-known attorney, and a large part of my legal immigrant experience. Sometimes I catch myself in disbelief over how I am treated, and realize that I can never forget who I am and where I am from for this reason.

I am under no illusion that becoming a U.S. citizen would magically get people to give me basic dignity and respect. I continue to receive hate mail telling me to go back to Mexico, calling me an anchor baby, and referring to me as “it.” I continue to be attacked in restrooms all over the country. I continue to be seen as a terrorist when I travel, even with Global Entry. I am always presumed guilty until proven innocent by even people who claim to be liberal or progressive. People continue to treat me like I am disposable, despite my many incredible achievements and abilities to the contrary. But I am hopeful that at least no one will ever try to separate me from my love and parents just because I am gay, and just because I was not born here.

It’s a small consolation. And it’s never going to make up for the violence done to me, and the violence that will continue to be done to me. But it will enable my family to sleep better at night. I suppose that’s why I continue to put up with this country even as I’m terrified of climate change and nuclear war in these times, and spend my days simply appalled that the USA is run by fascists, controlled by Russia, owned by China, and somehow, I am here, when I could be there.

I remain driven by the great optimism that I have survived the worst–being taken forcefully from my home, losing my love and all my friends, losing class privilege, and dumped in the armpit of the universe for no good reason. Life will only get better, even though it will be tumultuous at times.

Change comes in spirals, grief flows in waves, and love does find a way.

Thank you for my freedom, Lindsay. I owe this one to you.

SF BART: Stop Giving a Platform to Hate Groups

A poster at the Civic Center BART station in San Francisco, part of an
$80,000 ad campaign targeting tech workers and attacking U.S. visa policy

SF BART is once again, giving a platform to white supremacists.

An organization that calls itself Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), has placed posters at various BART stations, aimed at getting U.S. tech workers to scapegoat their fellow legal immigrant workers here on the H-1B program. Don’t be fooled by the name–PFIR is a solidly anti-immigrant hate group with ties to John Tanton, the white nationalist founder of the modern anti-immigrant movement. PFIR’s main goal has been to advocate for a reduction of all immigration, and solicit support from environmental groups by linking population growth through immigration to climate change.

In the past year, PFIR has specifically turned their attention to the H-1B program to solicit support for their hate. What’s the H-1B law? It’s a federal immigration law that allows companies to hire temporary foreign workers for a three year period if they meet the requisite educational requirements. By law, companies are required to prove, through a publicly-available LCA filing, that the hiring of a temporary foreign worker will not displace any Americans vying for the position, and the person hired must be paid the prevailing wage for the position.

Most persons who receive H-1B visas are of South Asian descent and around one-third of these visas go to companies in the state of California. By targeting the H-1B program, PFIR is trying to get disgruntled American tech workers to think that South Asian tech workers, and their companies are taking American jobs. Many persons have objected that the ads target immigrant workers who live, work and contribute positively to our community, but BART has refused to take down these ads even as they disparage entire portions of our community and run counter to providing a safe environment for all BART passengers.

I have put up a community-drive petition to tell SF BART to take down these immigrant scapegoating and misleading posters. Please sign and share the petition.

The Trump Administration is also taking its cues from the anti-immigrant PFIR in targeting legal immigrant workers. On March 20, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has temporarily halted the premium processing facility for the H-1B visa, which allows applicants to fast-track the visa granting process. This change comes on the heels of other changes to the H-1B program, which is only making it harder for companies to recruit foreign workers, and consequently, prevents people of color from coming to the United States.

If you want to do more to counter these and other white nationalist efforts, and have the means to do so, please consider donating to the Western States Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

DACA: Frequently Asked Questions

I created this Frequently Asked Questions about DACA and the injunction. I have now updated it. Generally speaking, people should continue to renew their DACA and see the USCIS website for up to date information.

WHAT IS THE LATEST INFORMATION WITH REGARDS TO DACA?

The Trump Administration, pressured by 9 attorney generals from various states, decided to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave temporary work permits and protection from deportation to almost 800,000 people. An official DHS memorandum rescinding DACA is here and an FAQ developed by USCIS is here. However, on January 9, 2018, a federal judge in California issued a nationwide injunction on the repeal of DACA. No stay was sought at the Supreme Court, and no decision should be expected till at least June 2018. This means individuals can continue to apply for DACA as the case makes its way up through the courts.

I CURRENTLY HAVE DACA AND IT EXPIRES IN THE NEXT 6 MONTHS. CAN I FILE FOR RENEWAL?

Yes. If your DACA is expiring this year or even early next year, you can file for a renewal now.

I USED TO HAVE DACA BUT IT EXPIRED OR WAS TERMINATED. CAN I FILE FOR RENEWAL?

Yes. If you previously received DACA and your DACA expired on or after Sept. 5, 2016, you may still file your DACA request as a renewal request.

If you previously received DACA and your DACA expired before Sept. 5, 2016, or your DACA was previously terminated at any time, you cannot request DACA as a renewal (because renewal requests typically must be submitted within one year of the expiration date of your last period of deferred action approved under DACA), but may nonetheless file a new initial DACA request in accordance with the Form I-821D and Form I-765 instructions.

I NEVER APPLIED FOR DACA BUT I AM ELIGIBLE. SHOULD I APPLY NOW?

No initial DACA applications are being accepted at this time. They will be rejected by USCIS.

CAN I APPLY FOR ADVANCE PAROLE?

No. USCIS will not accept advance parole applications from DACA recipients at this time. Please speak to your study abroad advisor and academic counselor to make alternative plans.

I HAVE DACA AND I NEED TO TRAVEL ABROAD FOR EMERGENT REASONS NOW. WHAT SHOULD I DO?

USCIS is not processing advance parole applications at this time.

I WANT TO APPLY BUT I AM SCARED. WHAT IF THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION GETS A HIGHER COURT TO REVERSE THIS DECISION?

The Trump Administration will definitely appeal this ruling to the Ninth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. We cannot predict how long the DACA program will continue to be in place, so if you are in the fortunate position to renew your DACA right now, and have no new criminal history, we would urge you to renew.  It is very likely that even with an emergency stay from a higher court, the only risk is that your application may be administratively closed, and your check returned to you.

MY DACA IS NOT EXPIRED AND DOES NOT EXPIRE FOR THE NEXT 6 MONTHS? CAN I STILL APPLY?

Yes. While USCIS recommends filing for renewal between 150 and 120 days from when your DACA expires, requests received earlier than 150 days in advance will be accepted. However, this could result in an overlap between your current DACA and your renewal. This means your renewal period may extend for less than a full two years from the date that your current DACA period expires.

I HAVE NEW CRIMINAL HISTORY. SHOULD I APPLY?

Please speak to an attorney or accredited BIA representative as to whether your criminal records makes you ineligible for DACA. Your attorney should be able to advise you on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, and recommend post-conviction relief, that may make you eligible for DACA again.

I CURRENTLY HAVE DACA. WHEN DO I LOSE THE ABILITY TO WORK LEGALLY AND PROTECTIONS AFFORDED TO ME BY DACA?

Current work permits will remain valid until their expiration date. The work permits are not being canceled or rescinded. For example, if your work permit expires December 10, 2018, it will remain valid until December 10, 2018.

I WANT TO RENEW MY DACA BUT CANNOT AFFORD THE FEES?

We are working with community partners to raise additional emergency funds to be able to provide the $495 renewal for other members in our community. Community partners such as the Mission Asset Fund, the Mexican Consulate, and various non-profits have also stepped up efforts to provided full financial scholarships for DACA applications fees ensure that those who can renew their DACAs can do so. A great guide for all workshops and fee-assistance programs is available here.

CAN I CONTINUE TO WORK IF AND WHEN DACA EXPIRES?

When your current DACA work permit expires, you will be out of status, and start accruing unlawful presence. It is critical that you speak with your immigration attorney about other legal options that may exist for you to continue working and legally residing in the United States.

See more guidance with regards to DACA and your rights in the workplace here.

I TRUSTED THE GOVERNMENT WITH MY INFORMATION WHEN I APPLIED FOR DACA. CAN THEY USE IT TO DEPORT ME?

Generally, USCIS has stated that information provided in DACA requests will not be proactively provided to other law enforcement entities (including ICE and CBP) for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings unless the requestor poses a risk to national security or public safety, or meets the criteria for the issuance of a Notice To Appear or a referral to ICE under the criteria.

The vast majority of DACA recipients, unless they have a final order of removal, cannot be simply picked up by CBP, ICE and deported. They are entitled to proper notice and court proceedings conducted before an immigration judge, and these proceedings can take many years to adjudicate.

WHAT BENEFITS CAN I GET WITH MY EXISTING IMMIGRATION STATUS?

If you currently have DACA, and never got a social security number, now is the time to go to the local Social Security Administration to request one. You will continue to need and use this social security number for many other things besides employment such as housing applications, graduate school applications, filing taxes, and applying for credit/loans and so on.

If you do not have a California ID or driver’s license, you should make an appointment with the local DMV to obtain these benefits.

Do note that AB-60 remains the law in California, so if the DACA program eventually gets revoked or even if you have no immigration status, you can still get a driver’s license in California.

MY DACA WORK PERMIT WAS LOST. CAN I APPLY FOR A REPLACEMENT?

If an individual’s still-valid work permit is lost, stolen, or destroyed, they may request a replacement work permit. The replacement work permit will have the same validity period as the lost/destroyed/stolen work permit.

WILL I LOSE MY FINANCIAL AID PACKAGE IF MY DACA EXPIRES?

Instate-tuition benefits in California, such as AB-540, the California DREAM Act, and the California DREAM loan program, remain in place as these are state benefits.

CAN LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS FOLLOW AND ENFORCE IMMIGRATION LAWS?

California is leading the way to fight local law enforcement collaboration with federal immigration authorities, though there is always more work to be done. In 2013, the state enacted the TRUST Act (AB 4), which ended local police collaboration with ICE (or ICE holds), except for in cases of individuals with serious criminal convictions. This remains the law in California, so students and community members should continue to report crimes committed against them to local law enforcement. The TRUTH Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2017, brings transparency to local jail entanglements with ICE, and thus, further protects our community members from ICE custody. California passed a slew of new bills to protect immigrants in 2017. Campus officials across the UC system are currently investigating how to best protect undocumented students.

CAN I CONTINUE TO TRAVEL TO OTHER STATES IF I AM UNDOCUMENTED OR IF I LOSE DACA STATUS?

Traveling within 100 miles of the U.S. border (the “constitution-free” zone) is dangerous, and exposes people to detection, arrest, and detention by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operating various checkpoints along these routes. Undocumented immigrants have traveled to other states, including Hawaii and Alaska, in the past, with an unexpired passport from their consulate, or a government-issued identification document issued by the state of California, though they should fully understand and evaluate the risk of doing so to themselves under a new political Administration. When in doubt, consult with your attorney.

IF I CAN NO LONGER WORK, DO I QUALIFY FOR ANY KIND OF PUBLIC BENEFITS?

California has implemented some major benefit programs that are available to immigrants and people with non-immigrant status, such as a pending green card application, SIJS status, pending U or T visa.

Children, regardless of immigration status, up to the age of 19 are eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal in California.

This handy chart tells you about your public benefits as a U visa or T visa applicant. Generally, not just recipients but even applicants for a U visa are eligible for CalWORKs, Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, Food Stamps, IHSS, General Assistance, and Refugee Social Services (RSS).

#FreeLuis: What You Can Do To Bring Berkeley Student Home

Update: Since ICE has refused to release Mr. Mora on his own recognizance or under an order of supervision, we’ve requested a bond hearing for Mr. Mora. It will be on January 17th, 2018. This means he will likely miss the first few days of classes at UC Berkeley, and have been detained for merely overstaying a visa for over 2 weeks. 

On December 30th, Luis Mora, a junior at UC Berkeley, was apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a checkpoint in Jamul, near San Diego. Almost immediately, through Luis Mora’s partner, the Berkeley undocumented student group, RISE, got in touch with me and informed me as to what had happened. They started organizing as I tried to figure out where Luis was detained. I finally got a hold of him on Monday evening. He was detained in deplorable conditions for over four days at Barracks 5, which is supposed to only be used as a temporary holding facility. I contacted Barracks 5 for visitation rights with the help of another attorney more familiar with the area, and they told me that I could see him only between 12pm and 2pm on Thursday. They did not even allow him a pencil to write down my phone number.

As I traveled down to San Diego to see finally him on Wednesday evening, Luis was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Otay Mesa Detention Center, a facility that has been sued for human trafficking. I finally got to see him on Thursday morning. I sought the help of his Senators and Congressional representatives, and requested that ICE release him on an order of supervision or an order of recognizance so that Luis can come back to UC Berkeley in time to resume the Spring semester of classes. Thus far, ICE has refused to accept this reasonable offer despite Congressional and mounting public pressure. They have kicked the can to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), and want us to fight for bond in front of an Immigration Judge. Alas, they have not filed his case with the court yet so Luis is languishing in detention without due process.

I have never had to conduct a bond hearing for a mere visa overstay; for those who do not understand how egregious this situation is, it is akin to asking for a bond hearing for someone jailed over a speeding ticket. And Luis does not even have a speeding ticket.

At this point, we are preparing for a bond hearing and to represent Luis Mora in removal proceedings before the EOIR. We are also working on long-term immigration relief for Luis. We are overwhelmed by the media attention as well as the community support behind Luis. Here is what you can do to assist us in bringing him home:

  • Write letters of support on behalf of Luis to the Immigration Judge to set bond. We would love to have letters from Congresspersons, state and local officials, national organizations, friends and family. Directives as to how to do this are posted here, along with information on where to mail the letters.

 

  • Donate to his bond fund: Once the Immigration Judge sets bond, we can post the bond, and have Luis home in no time. Once Luis gets lawful residence status, we will get this money back, with interest, and the funds will go towards helping other undocumented students who are similarly detained.

 

  • Write to Luis while he is sitting in a jail cell: For those interested in writing to Luis Mora, you can send letters via U.S. mail to:

Luis Angel MORA VILLOTA

A#216-265-396

Otay Mesa Detention Center

P.O Box 439049

San Diego, CA 92143

  • Put money in Luis Mora’s detainee account: The Otay Mesa Detention Facility was recently sued for human trafficking because the private facility coerces jailed immigrants to work at $1.00/hr and sometimes without pay for basic necessities. Please continue to put money into Luis Mora’s detainee account so that he can make regular calls to his legal counsel and he is not forced to work or trafficked in this private facility.For those interested in doing so, using Western Union transfer services, you’ll need the following:

First Name:  Luis Last Name:  Mora

Facility:  Corrections Corp of America

Inmate #: 5400517

Receiver Information

Biller or Facility Name: CORRECTIONS CORP OF AMERICA

Code City/State: XOTAYM IA

  • Leave Luis messages: Call 888-516-0115. You’d first need to deposit money into your friends and family account. Then go back to main menu and leave a voicemail for him. Voicemails cost $1.17 plus tax/fees to leave. He can call you back from the center from his detainee account.

 

  • Tweet your support for Luis Mora: The graphic above contains a list of demands to continue to pressure our elected representatives–and UC Berkeley–accountable to our community.

Thank you so much for all your love and support. I am confident that we will bring Luis home. He may miss a few weeks of the Spring semester, but we are working hard to ensure that he will still graduate in Spring 2019 with a Political Science degree in one hand and a green card in the another. You can count on me for that.

If you have something to spare after doing all the actions for Luis Mora above and if you appreciate my work, please consider donating to my tip jar. I’ve been doing this work pro-bono for a long time, and I don’t get paid much relative to Bay Area housing costs and supporting my own family. I need help taking care of myself too so I can take care of Luis Mora and other students like him. I would also appreciate it if friends could bring me food or kombucha while I’m burning the midnight oil. Every little bit counts.  

DACA Repeal

Hello friends,

I haven’t blogged in a while. The Trump Administration is keeping me busy. Sometimes I wonder why I chose this life, and then I have to remind myself that sometimes we don’t choose our destiny. Sometimes, we just have to figure out that we are where we are because it was meant to be.

I’ve put out some (hopefully) helpful FAQs with regards to the DACA repeal. Please share them widely.

For those who are in a position to give, I am also fundraising to help pay for the DACA renewal fees of community members who cannot come up with $495 at the drop of a hat, to file their renewals.

Donations are tax-deductible! Under “I want my donation to be dedicated” please put “DACA” or “Immigration”

If you’re the media, or have questions about other immigration matters, I may not get back to you for several weeks. Additionally, I will be out of the country between September 23 and October 15th. I appreciate your patience during these trying times.