The story of Òmìnira (pseudonym) shows the diversity of undocumented youth in the U.S., whose struggles are often attributed to the Latino (or Mexican) immigrant communities. Òmìnira is a DREAMer from Nigeria who faces the challenges of an undocumented status as a result of an immigration system and its actors which pray and benefit from the vulnerability of migrants. Unfortunately, Òmìnira did not qualify under President Obama’s Executive Order issued in June 2012 (Deferred Action) which would have granted her a temporary permit due to the age requirement. Today, she faces an uncertain future as a result of the political standstill on immigration reform.
I am thankful to Òmìnira for reaching out and sharing her story through Mundo Citizen, as it is one that highlights the complexity of an arbitrary immigration system. It dispels the ‘get in the line’ or ‘follow the law’ argument anti-immigration proponents like to spout in their attempt to defend a system that fails to account for fairness, justice, and simply… humanity.
When “Getting in Line” Becomes a Long Nightmare
I am not supposed to be undocumented. After all, I followed the rules. As the anti-immigration proponents would have it, I tried to get “in line.” So interested was my family in getting in line that we have so far employed the assistance of four (4) different immigration attorneys. But as reality would have it the legal immigration process or “the line” is arbitrary and complicated, and for these very reasons it is easy for lawyers and legal representatives to prey on the legally vulnerable.
Let me explain.
When I was 14 years old my father was granted political asylum in the United States. My father has been a political journalist since the 70s and was a member of an underground opposition group protesting Nigeria’s successive military dictatorships. For this, my paternal grandmother and my eldest brother were shot, our house set on fire (my right leg sustained a 2nd degree burn, I call it my battle scar), and my father sentenced to jail, in absentia. When the asylum application was granted, my family was in a host country and two years later (at 16 years old) we came to join my father in the United States. For the first time in a long while we were not only safe but also free to start a life, any life.
Or so we thought. At the time, the lawyer working on my father’s case advised him that it was not necessary to file a separate derivative asylee relative application for us since he had listed my siblings and I on his granted asylum application. A grave mistake! This same lawyer was later suspended on three occasions including, finally by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BOIA). He was charged with violating several rules requiring an attorney to represent his clients competently. But by then the damage was partly done, we had missed the two-year filling period for the derivative application.
My family then turned to lawyer #2 following recommendations from a number of people. Lawyer #2 ran an international humanitarian organization. After reviewing our case, he advised that since the two-year filling period had passed I had to file an individual asylum application based on my fathers granted case and in this application we would explain the delay in filing. And so we filed the application. Another big mistake. During the interview with the Asylum Officer, (which the lawyer failed to attend), we were asked why my father had not filed the derivative asylee application instead given the nature of the case. In the end, the Asylum officer sent a referral notice stating that:
Although you have established changed circumstances materially affecting your eligibility for asylum or extraordinary circumstances directly related to your delay in filing, you failed to file your application within a reasonable period of time given those circumstances.
Unsurprisingly, I was thereafter served the dreaded Notice to Appear (NTA) before an immigration judge. To prepare for court, we asked lawyer # 2 to represent us at the court at which point he revealed that he was not in fact an immigration attorney but actually a notary!!! (A 2009 article by The Washington Examiner finally exposed lawyer #2 for running a fraudulent immigration practice following a number of complaints).
In desperation, my family searched for a new attorney. Many did not want to take the case but finally we engaged the assistance of lawyer #3. As advised, my family checked to make certain that he was in fact an immigration attorney and engaged him to help us sort through my immigration mess mess.
Lawyer # 3 explained to the immigration judge that he would file the proper derivative application, explaining the delay and also an immigrant relative petition based on my father who was now a permanent resident. This request was granted and we accordingly hurriedly provided lawyer # 3 with all the documents and signed papers. After 4 years and 4 hearings lawyer # 3 asked for an individual hearing, against the suggestions of the judge. A disastrous mistake! You see lawyer #3 never filed the I-130, filed the I-730 but never gave an explanation for the delay, and instead tried to file an adjustment of status based on my father’s granted asylum application, a process, which is not legally possible!!! During the trial, the government attorney and judge seemed baffled that he had not filed the 1-130 all this time, when it seemed the most logical thing to do. After a tense debate, the judge finally denied the case based on abandonment (the lawyer couldn’t find my biometrics just as in an earlier hearing he had failed to send the court my medical information, although these were later found in his files).
I was ordered deported. The ultimate nightmare had arrived.
It is hard to explain the emotions running through me in the hours and days after the deportation order or to express the perpetual frustration, fear, and immense sadness of trying again and again over 8 years to get it right and never quite succeeding. Nor is it easy to explain struggling to accomplish things like getting an education, opening a bank account, or obtaining identification, when for all intents and purposes the system maintains that you shouldn’t exist, you don’t exist, and your existence itself is a crime (illegal). The fact that I’ve tried to follow the rules doesn’t matter, my failure at the hands of others seemingly speaks of my criminality. Yet it is so easy for politicians to brandish me and others like me, people seeking life, liberty, and happiness as simply illegal.
In the end I was not deported. With the help of an incredible attorney, lawyer #4, a Motion to Reopen my case was granted as well as an administrative closure. This has allowed my father (now a U.S citizen) to apply for an immigrant visa for me. This is a BIG relief yet my dreams and goals remain elusive. The immigrant visa will take about 6 years to process and in while I know I have the skills to do so much, all I can do is wait: wait to work, wait to travel, wait to live. Ironically, when the immigrant visa application is complete, I still must leave the U.S. in order to adjust my status thus invoking a 10-year bar to re-entry.
And so I wonder, why not abandon it all? Give it up and walk away. Perhaps by giving this all up I might have a chance to live not just exist somewhere else. I really truly wonder….