364 days to go

A phase in my life is coming to an end. In 364 days, I will no longer have a re-entry ban hanging over my head. As I continue my countdown in the next year, I am also trying to work on building a life that no longer revolves around going back to the U.S. I can afford to do that because my immediate family is not divided by a border. We have all been together through the post-deportation struggle, for better or for worse.

I am curious about what will happen when the countdown I started in this blog reaches zero. Does it mean that I will be able to visit friends or travel for business, or even look into career and educational opportunities in the U.S.? There are so many unknowns about this because I am not aware of any case of a U.S. deportee being able to travel back and forth after completing a ban. I do hope I end up meeting someone like that or even legal experts or attorneys who have assisted a deportee through that process. I only know of what should happen in theory, but in practice, things are very different especially when immigration officials and authorities can use discretion to interpret law based on their biases and prejudices instead of the merits or grounds of a specific visa application.

Also, I have seen a lot of misinformation around post-deportation mobility circulating. This week for example, I encountered of a incipient project based in Baja California that seeks to encourage Mexican DACA Dreamers to consider returning to Mexico as an option instead of waiting till deportation happens to them. There were so many things that went wrong with my brief interaction with the representatives of this project, because they ended up assuming so many things about me when I was introduced to them as a former Dreamer deportee. I get they were in that space to “pitch” their project for support, framing it as an urgent issue because “DACA Dreamers were the good immigrants who are at risk of deportation.” The presumption in their narrative of the issue is that non-DACA deported immigrants are expelled because they must have done something wrong, especially if they had interaction with local police. I tried to keep a straight face as I was listening to this.

Later, there came a point where the American founder of this project turned to me and said “you were lucky”, again making assumptions of my experience because of the place and under the context of our interaction. She never asked me how my deportation came about, what I experienced that night nine years ago. I shook my head and I responded “not really.” But their project pitch was more important than listening to the people who have lived other deportation experiences. I tried to be civil and polite, and kept listening because it was not my meeting to facilitate nor I was initially invited to be there. I was dragged in because I happen to be around working on something else.

The part that really got to me was when they started presenting the justification of the project. Their vision was to facilitate the voluntary return of DACA Dreamers, because “they lose everything” after deportation and you can never return.” In essence, life is over.

They continued to emphasize that when immigrants leave “voluntarily”, they can still have access to social security benefits and can return at a later point. This comment was particularly poignant to hear, sitting across from them thinking about my own re-entry ban countdown. Even as I reluctant as I was to buy in their project idea, I know there is some truth to that.

9 year countdown

Recently I had learned about the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that affect deportees who undergo removal proceedings that were established under the Bill Clinton era and allowed modifications to retirement benefits. The Social Security Protection Act (SSPA) was modified in 2004 to conform to the INA changes in which holders of a social security number are prohibited from claiming retirement benefits when the SSA receives a notice from DHS that the holder has been deported. Thus, all the contributions I made to Social Security under my own number, which I had when I started my own immigration status adjustment process (handled fraudulently), are no longer mine to claim; except if I ever return legally to the U.S.

Perhaps that last disclaimer might continue to be a long shot for me, however, the “voluntary return” process is not as easy as many would like to paint it, primarily because adult deportees face the same entry bans which are placed based on the time you have lived in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant, regardless of your modality of return. They are harsher for those who are deported with criminal convictions as some have 20 years or lifetime bans. However, most of us who lived in the U.S. as adults for more than a year without authorization will still have the 10 year entry-ban. Some of us know of these bans initially when we are in removal proceedings, others learn about them when they go to a U.S. embassy to apply for a visa (mainly for those returning voluntarily).

Going back to the discussion of post-deportation/return advocacy projects; I rather have people focus on dismantling the policies that are restricting us and causing harm. If you want to help our cause, it would be more beneficial if you worked on reverting prohibitions to our mobility and access to the social benefits. Some of us who lived in the U.S. for decades will also lack access to retirement benefits, especially if we returned at an older age because we will not meet pension requirements. For example, in Mexico you must contribute to its social security system for 1,250 weeks (known as semanas cotizadas en IMSS), the equivalent of 24 years. My parents for example will reach retirement age very soon and they will not be able to qualify for retirement benefits in Mexico. Additionally, they paid their taxes in the U.S. for most of the 20 years we lived there, contributed to SSA with their tax ID number and their social security numbers later issued. They would be better off if they had access to retirement contributions they made in the U.S. even if they are never allowed to return. But who thinks of them? Of me? Of anyone that doesn’t fit the “good immigrant” narrative?

This makes me think of how post-deportation advocacy, especially when is pushed by people in the U.S., is misdirected. I also characterize it as ethically questionable, especially when it caters to the good vs. bad immigrant framing, and promotes “the Dream back home” as I have seen it in Mexico during my time here. It is problematic that people on both sides of the border care more about those they deem “worthy” of protection or deserve to “be saved” from deportation, than those of us of have already experienced. It makes people like myself feel erased and invisible, dismissed and disposed in the same way I felt a day like today, when I was placed on that bus headed to Tijuana.

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