Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
I receive this question a lot from non-Mexican readers of this blog, and sometimes even clients who are wrestling with the legal immigration process.
After all, immigrating should be a matter of filing out some paperwork and waiting your turn.
But what if that wait lasts a lifetime? What if you had to wait a lifetime to see your own parent, son or daughter?
The U.S. immigration system gives immediate relative status to only three relatives–spouses, parents and children under 21 of U.S. citizens. The other family members–children over 21, siblings, married children–have to wait their turn in an infamous preference system that is embodied in the chart below and moves at a snail pace:
Currently, there are four preference categories and only 480,000 family visas can be allocated to these categories per year. As you can see above, many of these categories are backlogged–the demand for visas exceeds the supply, especially for certain countries such as Mexico, China, India and the Philippines, so the State Department publishes a chart each month (Visa Bulletin) informing people that they can apply for a green card but only if they had been sponsored before the date corresponding to their category.
Even with a relative petitioning for them, many people are simply unable to immigrate legally to the United States due to long backlogs.
For example, there are only approximately 26,266 visas available each year in the F2B category for the unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents (23% of the maximum 114,200 visas allocated to the F2 category per INA 201(a)(2)).
The visa prorating provisions of Section 202(e) apply to allocations for a foreign state or dependent area when visa demand exceeds the per-country limits. As such, each country is allowed a maximum of 7 percent of the total number of visas available in the F2B category (26,266 x .07 = 1,838).
The total number of pending F2B applicants worldwide as of November 1, 2014 was 498,277, according to the Annual Immigrant Visa Waiting List Report.
The number of F2B visas available to Mexico is 1,838. The number of pending F2B applicants from Mexico is 189,123, which is 38% of the waiting list per the State Department statistics. The length of time it will take to clear up the current backlog for Mexico in this category is approximately 103 years (189,123 ÷ 1,841).
In other words, a lawful permanent resident from Mexico who files a petition today in the F2B category for their unmarried son or daughter can expect it to become current in 2118!
However, if the lawful permanent resident from Mexico becomes a U.S. citizen, the time could be shortened.
The total number of visas available in the F1 category is 23,400. The total number of pending F1 applicants worldwide as of November 1, 2014 was 314,527, according to the Annual Immigrant Visa Waiting List Report available at http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/Immigrant-Statistics/WaitingListItem.pdf.
Due to backlogs, the per country cap of 7 percent caps the number of F1 visas available to Mexico per year in this category to 1,638 (23,400 x .07). The number of pending F1 applicants from Mexico is 103,957. The length of time it will take to clear up the current backlog for Mexico in this category is approximately 63 years (103,957 ÷ 1,638).
Therefore, if a lawful permanent resident from Mexico becomes a U.S. citizen and then petitions for her/his unmarried son or daughter, they can expect the petition to become current 2078.
There is no viable way for many people from Mexico to immigrate legally to the U.S. in this lifetime. The legal system does not work for them. It is a sham. And while it is true that many people do come here to find work, many stay because of their family relations. A son or daughter, should not have to wait a lifetime to see her or his own parent.
What would you do if you faced a life-time away from your family?
Full text: “That awkward moment when you run away from your home country due to discrimination for being queer…Only to be locked up in the land of the free with a lot of machista, and sexist, homophobic, transphobic ICE officers.” – Alejandro Aldana
Yesterday, I received this bittersweet postcard from my dear friend, Alex Aldana, who is currently detained at the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego.
Alex lived with his family in California for ten years, where he graduated from high school and worked hard to make his community a better place. He left the U.S. to go back to Mexico five months ago to care for his sick grandmother.
Over these past few months, Alex discovered how crime and corruption made life particularly difficult for the LGBTQ community in Mexico. In Guadalajara alone, 128 gay and lesbian people have been killed, and none were reported as hate crimes. Now, Alex wants to return to California, where his mother and sibling reside so that he can continue to take care of them, and lead a life that does not entail the amount of violence he would face if he remained in Mexico.
Even with the heightened standard for credible fear instituted by the new Lafferty memo in light of the numerous claims for asylum from Mexico and Central America, Alex has already passed his credible fear interview. This means that according to Immigration and Customs officials, Alex has established a clear and convincing chance of winning asylum before an Immigration Judge based on his fear of persecution in Mexico. According to ICE guidelines, Alex should be released from detention to pursue his asylum case as he is neither a threat nor a flight risk. However, he has been detained at Otay for more than a month for no real reason, and subjected to abuse inside the facility.
Two whole months after self-deporting to Mexico, walking up to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with a humanitarian parole and asylum application to come back to the United States and spending 17 days at the Eloy Detention Center in remote Arizona, I still remain in awe of the Bring Them Home action organized by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA).
At first, it made no sense to many as a political action. Then again, the 2010 sit-in in Senator McCain’s office in Arizona, which sparked a series of civil disobedience actions across the country for a standalone DREAM Act and brought the legislation up for a vote twice, also made no sense to many. In the past two months, and through speaking to the DREAM 9 — now released from detention — I have discovered that Bring Them Home is not just an escalation action to defy Congress and the President in order to reunite families, but that it provides us with many other lessons. I am noting some of these lessons below.
Expanding the Dreamer Label
It is perplexing that we talk a lot about immigration reform, but not about immigrant lives. Instead, whenever the immigration reform debate comes up, advocates cherry-pick a few “aspiring American” undocumented youth (“Dreamers”) to highlight, preferably with a “We are Not Criminals” banner. I am a survivor of this tactic so I have a lot of empathy for the undocumented activists who have to act like perfect poster children because they have either testified before Congress or had their photos splashed on magazine covers. The exceptional framing of the “Dreamer” borne out of the DREAM Act, a rather conservative and Republican idea, comes with a loose noose of limiting who deserves citizenship. The noose gets tighter as we start talking about who deserves a pathway to citizenship, and it strangulates the dreams of millions who will be left out of reform.
While I believe the entire exceptional framework should be thrown into the dustbin, the recent escalation tactics are trying to expand the notion of a “Dreamer” and who is deserving of American citizenship. Indeed, Claudia Amauro, one of the DREAM 9, is 37 years old, and people may not see her as technically a Dreamer. She tells me that she “had lost faith in people caring about other people” but through the original Bring Them Home action, she met wonderful people who were doing good work for their community in trying to reunite families.
“I felt like Dorothy trying to get back from the land of OZ,” says Claudia.
I am glad Claudia is back in the U.S. with her U.S. citizen son, through the DREAM 9 Bring Them Home action. She is the real Dreamer.
The Many Faces of Mexico
Mexico is often painted in the mainstream media as a poor country, knee-deep in drug cartel violence, corruption and cronyism. While that is partly true, some of the DREAM 9 who self-deported, also experienced a different Mexico.
“I loved Mexico,” Marco tells me. “Through my American, first-world, colonized eyes. I loved it but I was only there for three days. Little did I experience the violence there, which has scarred and killed too many. But I loved how everything is not a sanitized, box store, even though it is getting there. There is spontaneity in the terrain, for now.”
Not all is beautiful, and I do not want to romanticize Marco’s experience in Mexico as the only experience. He was only there for three days after all.
Adriana Diaz, one of the DREAM 9 who had been forced to leave the U.S. due to the terror of Sheriff Arpaio tells me “I never expected to live at an immigrant shelter for 7 months. It is very sad to realize that you have almost no family support whatsoever in the place you were born in.”
“I would see all the frustration and desperation transform into so many tears on so many faces of mother’s who only ask to be with their children and families. Honestly, to me, that is the furthest thing from respect,” says Adriana when she describes her experience in detention.
Six of the DREAM 9 were placed in solitary confinement after they went on a hunger-strike, as a punishment for trying to organize within the facility. Lizbeth Mateo lost 1/10 of her body weight in solitary confinement. Lulu Martinez and Maria Vargas were sentenced to 15 days in solitary for providing legal information to other women detainees, and for encouraging them to “chant and speak out against injustices that were happening in the detention center.” While in solitary, Maria Vargas was also placed on suicide watch.
“Solitary confinement was the most psychological horror thing that could ever happen to me,” says Claudia.
Marco gave us a more refreshing take on the horror of confinement: “I feel like the depression we undergo through years of fear takes a concrete body in detention. That’s where empowerment kicks in and the hope of hearing our loved ones in the outside fighting.”
DHS had promised to look into the use of solitary confinement in federal facilities in March 2013. However, it was not until after the DREAM 9 were solitary confined and brought the issue more national attention, that ICE released a memo restricting the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention. Whether or not the memo is implemented is another story for another day.
Putting the Pressure on the Executive Branch
Both parties bear responsibility for the state of our immigration system. Some immigration reform advocates — never to be confused with immigrant rights advocates — hate to hear this. The overall Reform Immigration for American, now Alliance for Citizenship, campaign has poured millions into messaging immigration reform to be about “aspiring Americans” craving to assimilate into the “melting pot” of the U.S. by becoming citizens. They have made the unyielding GOP the target of their campaign for immigration reform, even while the Obama Administration continues to deport people in record-breaking numbers.
Now, no one taking part in these escalation tactics is opposed to immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship. That is beside the point. But pointing out that Obama is still deporting our parents and children sends chills up the spines of some Democrats and immigration reform advocates as it shifts from the partisan multi-million dollar narrative of the GOP killing 11.7 million dreams to the Democrat President tearing apart 1.7 million families.
At the same time even as members and supporters of NIYA take the heat for changing the message, their actions have created more space for various different non-profit groups to put pressure on the Obama Administration to stop all deportations. Indeed, Puente Arizona, NDLON, the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and various organizations across the country are coming together to escalate and put more pressure on the Administration to stop deportations, and extend deferred action to all persons.
Earning Citizenship vs. Pathos of Belonging
The UN Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
The Bring Them Home campaign presents a different way of looking at immigration reform beyond the partisan blinders of Democrats, GOP and the pathway to citizenship–a debate that has stalled the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) legislation. For a long time now, the “Dreamers” have been seen as a low-hanging fruit in the immigration debate, and the “chosen ones” for politicians to support. The good immigrant/bad immigrant dichotomy created by the exceptional framework of the DREAM Act has made its way into the “earned citizenship” concept of the current CIR legislation, which leaves millions behind. Instead of hand-picking which migrants have earned themselves a pathway to citizenship based on how aspiring they are as Americans, Bring Them Home focuses on notions of belonging, based on the simple idea that everyone has the right to live, work and reside in the place she or he considers home. The Immigrant Youth Justice League, a sister organization, describes it best:
Even when a person is removed from their home, held in detention, or deported, they are not forgotten. They, like everyone else, are integral keys of the magical piano that are our communities. The idea of home transcends borders, it transcends nationalism, singularities, it defies definition, redefines belonging, and breaks away from the imprisonment that holds many stationary. And yet an increasing militarization of our streets and borders, and economic and social policies that target marginalized communities, continue to shatter those ideas and keep loved ones apart. As fellow community members, we have the responsibility to support our neighbors and loved ones, although far away from us they still live and exist. Their ideas of home are as important here as they are there.
Everyone has the right to come home.
Migration and Love
If there is a common thread in all of these stories of the deported and departed, it is the story of love. Undocumented youth act out of love for their families and communities when they put bodies on the line to escalate against nefarious, wrong-headed, devastating immigration policies that continue to separate far too many loved ones from one another. I believe Adriana puts it best:
I admit that my entire experience in Mexico was very harsh and very desperate. However, I do think that I would participate in the whole Dream9 movement all over again, just to shed the tiniest of light to all those women who still remain locked up in the Eloy Detention Center. I’m sure that all nine of us would repeat what we did because in my opinion, part of being a “dreamer”, and part of being human is giving hope, respect , and dignity to people. Especially to those who are being brought down every single day only for the color of their skin, their language, or even their sexual preference.
Many undocumented non-citizen parents left their beloved homes and traveled long distances to give their children a better home and hope for the future. They made the courageous, dangerous and heart-breaking journey across many borders, seas and oceans out of love for their children. Through the actions of the NIYA, I see the deported and departed young adults and children of these parents doing the same today. Migration may or may not be beautiful, but somewhere, in all these stories, there is a common thread of love. And that is the bridge between all our differences.
The NIYA is now working with 30 other immigrant youth to Bring Them Home through Laredo, Texas. Unlike the last action, no one has self-deported to Mexico in an attempt to come back. These are all “Dreamers” who grew up in the U.S. and were either deported or forced to leave the country. The action will stream live today at 11 am EST.
Several immigrant youth, who have been leaders in the undocumented youth movement in the United States, have crossed the border into Mexico, and plan to turn themselves in alongside other undocumented youth who left or were deported from the United States at a border crossing. With applications for legal admission in hand, they will demand to be allowed to return home to the United States.
Immigrant youth leaders currently in Mexico include Lizbeth Mateo, Lulu Martinez and Marco Saavedra. Lizbeth grew up in Los Angeles, and she had not seen her family living in Mexico for fifteen years. Lulu Martinez came to the U.S. at the age of three, and has spent years working for immigrant rights and LGBT rights. Marco Saavedra is a poet and a painter. He graduated from Kenyon College in Ohio, and now works at his family’s restaurant in New York City. All of them have been living in the United States since before the age of 16, and would otherwise qualify for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, none of them have been granted DACA, and thus, are most likely inadmissible from the United States.
So why did these leaders take such a big risk in leaving their homes?
The NIYA website reads: “The Obama Administration has created a deportation machine resulting in the destruction of over 1.7 million lives, and the devastating separation of those families by the border. Those 1.7 million people are not lost and forgotten; rather, they are people who deserve to have the choice to return to their home in this country.”
Among these 1.7 million are Adriana, Luis, Maria, Claudia, and Ceferino, all of whom will accompany the trio. They are young people who grew up in the United States only to find themselves forcefully removed to Mexico, while leaving behind families and communities in the United States. All 5 of them will now seek to legally return home.
I’m not as courageous as Lizbeth, Lulu and Marco. I wouldn’t buy a plane ticket to my home country and then ask to be brought back in protest with other deported peoples. What our friends have done is taken an extremely risky course of action — by putting their lives on the line — in order to reunite families.
For years, we have received emails, phone calls, videos from many persons detained and deported by the U.S. government, often for no reason other than the fact that they grew up in this country, were racially profiled, pulled over for driving without a license, sent to jail, detention and then removed. In many instances, such persons had family, legally residing in the United States. In other cases, after waiting for years for relief, individuals left the U.S. in pursuit of a life elsewhere, only to find out that they could not come back legally into the country, even when they exercised proper legal channels.
Last summer, when Lizbeth Mateo first told me about her plans for leaving the country to bring some deportees back through proper channels, I listened, numb at first at the prospect of losing one of my best friends to the other side of the border, a border that I could not cross.
When she finished explaining her course of action, I simply nodded, hoping she would not carry it out, but knowing that she would stop at nothing to do what she felt was just.
“You do what you need to do. We’ll figure out how we can bring you back,” I told her.
Two weeks ago, at my DREAM wedding, my fellow undocuqueer pride, Lulu Martinez, asked me what I thought about the action, because she was considering doing it too. After I told her my thoughts, I watched in awe as she tied up unresolved matters at home, told her parents she was leaving for Mexico, bought a plane ticket and went to Mexico, a country she has not seen in over 20 years.
And then Marco Saavedra, who is currently in removal proceedings, and perhaps one of the most beloved figures in the movement, decided to join them on the other side of the border.
Part of this courage and support for the campaign comes from knowing, as an undocumented person, that you cannot enjoy the freedom to live in the United States, if you don’t have the freedom to leave the United States. Persons who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence are subject to 3 and 10 years bars, and thus, rendered inadmissible. Due to these bars for unlawful presence — which won’t be changed by the current immigration reform legislation — many undocumented youth grow up feeling trapped by borders because we cannot leave our families and simply return to our countries of origin. This is especially hard on persons in mixed-status families. If your grandparents, parents, spouse, siblings and children reside in the United States, stepping out — even to pursue legal means of re-entry — often means never seeing them again, in all likelihood.
Another factor in my support for Bring Them Home is professional responsibility and ethics. I know as a future immigration attorney that if my client wants to fight their case in a certain way, my job is to figure out how to get it done, and not try to talk my client out of it beyond spelling out all the consequences of the action. Anything else is lazy lawyering. You want to self-deport? Alright, no worries, here is what will happen to you if you do. And after giving you a list of the most terrible consequences I can draw up, including death because you are either queer or a member of a persecuted indigenous group in Mexico, if you still want to leave the country, then it is my job to figure out how to bring you back home. Otherwise, I see little point in the expensive law degree on my wall.
Third, my support for the Bring Them Home campaign stems out of being a good ally to the immigrant rights movement. At this point, with my virtually undeportable status, I have to follow the lead of those who are most directly impacted by draconian U.S. immigration laws and policies, and specifically laws that divide families. Knowing that undocumented youth have already changed the course of history and the face of immigrant rights by taking bold risks from sit-ins to stand-ins to infiltrating detention centers, I trust that these “crazy petulant kids” as they are sometimes called pejoratively, know precisely what they are doing.
Additionally, Bring Them Home exposes how both Democrats and Republicans have long held immigration reform hostage to “border security.” As part of the immigration reform package, the U.S. Senate passed the infamous “border surge amendment,” which many immigration advocates have termed as “border overkill” as it mandates $47 billion dollars to go towards 700 miles of border fence construction, 40,000 additional border agents, drones, Blackhawk helicopters and VADER radar systems, before the 11 million can gain citizenship. These border security triggers will make the U.S.-Mexico border the most militarized zone in the world where 7 million U.S. residents will be subjected to living in a war zone. Bring Them Home is an opportunity to stand up and show Congress that our communities should not be subjected to war, that we must resist border militarization, and that we are actually not at war with Mexico.
It would be remiss not to mention that Bring Them Home presents us with another way to approach immigration reform. Perhaps, instead of thinking about giving people papers in order to give them some rights, we should be extending rights to everyone regardless of their immigration status. The brave and courageous actions of our undocumented friends is a crucial pivot from the dying breed and failure of comprehensive immigration reform discourse. It goes beyond the mere rhetoric of creating a “pathway to citizenship” by questioning what citizenship is about and by reuniting families and fueling dreams across borders.
Lulu, Lizbeth and Marco are placing incredibly faith in our laws, in our sense of justice, and in our ability to do the right thing for them and the 1.7 million deported by Obama’s deportation regime. If they fail to make it to the United States, it is not their failure. It is our failure to respect, honor and uphold human life, human rights and dignity, and the joke is on every American who thinks they live in a free country while voicing their support for the empty promise of “immigration reform.” Besides, if we cannot bring 8 people home, through proper legal channels, I am not sure how we can validate or pass immigration reform to legalize 8 million.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support bringing them home because I believe that another world is possible — a world where rights do not stop at borders, and where people are given equal rights under the law even if they find themselves in a place that is not their home.
Here is how you can help:
- Show your support for the action through the Thunderclap before Monday morning.
- Sign petitions to bring home the other dreamers accompanying the trio: Adriana, Luis, Maria, Claudia, Ceferino.
- Reblog and share the videos by Lizbeth Mateo, Marco Saavedra, Lulu Martinez.
- Donate to help Lizbeth, Lulu and Marco as they come out of the shadows at the border with the other dreamers.
- Organize local actions in your communities. More information on this will be forthcoming from The NIYA.
Bringing them home is just a start.
Please note: Nothing in this post denotes legal advice or is offered in substitution of advice from a lawyer. Success is not guaranteed and different people have different results.
“In 2008 I was knocking on doors to get President #Obama elected, and now, in 2013, I will be knocking on America’s door, asking President Obama to bring my community home.” – Lizbeth Mateo.
Breaking from The National Immigrant Youth Alliance:
Leaders of the undocumented youth movement in the United States have crossed the border into Mexico, and plan to turn themselves in alongside ‘DREAMers’ who left the United States at a border crossing next week. With applications for legal status in hand, they will demand to be allowed to return home to the United States.
Our friends who have departed to Mexico include Lizbeth Mateo of Los Angeles, California, Lulu Martinez of Chicago, Illinois, and Marco Saavedra of New York. All of them have lived in the United States before the age of 16, and are eligible for deferred action, as well as any version of the DREAM Act.
Lizbeth eloquently states her reasons for going to Mexico:
“Last year they went after my uncle and he was deported. What our family went through is what millions have gone through and it needs to stop. This administration needs to know we won’t wait for Congress to do the right thing.”
Kudos to Lizbeth Mateo, Lulu Martinez and Marco Saavedra for having the courage to do what is right. The real immigration debate is not taking place in Congress. It is happening at the border, with our friends putting their lives on the line in order to reunite families.
The press contact for the NIYA action is Domenic Powell: firstname.lastname@example.org