It was year 13

For over a decade, my return to the U.S. countdown had been one of the most constant elements of my post-deportation life. September 1st was probably the most anticipated date of the year for me until the countdown reached zero (in 2019). Today, it has become a meaningless milestone as my personal circumstances to request a U.S. visa remain unfavorable. Perhaps this realization has given less importance to this “anniversary” or maybe it is the natural consequence of the passage of time, converting into a distant memory with a diminishing effect on my present.

In 2022 (year 13), September 1st passed by me unperceived. I carried on with a normal workday. The following weekend I was not feeling particularly well and allowed myself to fall back into what had become my bad habits during those times of emotional turmoil – wasting time on social media, binge-watching, sleeping at irregular intervals, etc. But this time I wasn’t experiencing a particular emotional state that could explain it. Thankfully, as I have been working on adopting a more disciplined approach to self-care since mid-year (incorporating daily yoga, meditation practices, and exercise), in a matter of days it was easier for me to get back to my healthier routine and habits which have made a difference in reducing the frequency of the disruptive emotional cycles. I have been more diligent in monitoring my progress in my daily journal. As the new week started, I carried on with a more harmonious state of being. September had gone by before I noticed that I have forgotten about the post-deportation anniversary. My body may have remembered how I usually feel on that particular date (perhaps an explanation for my symptoms earlier in the month), but my mind didn’t.

It was this year that my present become more important than the traumatic event that had defined my post-deportation life. I’m still in the process of figuring out what this means in terms of reflecting upon a past experience that is still part of my life’s work with a career in migration/displacement, and how it colors my current thoughts, emotions, and experience. But perhaps I have found a new milestone in my healing process – that at a conscious/subconscious level, the events of September 1st no longer have a hampering effect on my emotional well-being and the possibilities I envision for myself in the future.

This blog remains active since its launch in October 2012. This anniversary is worth celebrating!


Dreams and trauma

This past Thursday I had the type of dream I hadn’t had in years. I was running errands with the family and as I was lingering in public, I became aware that I had lost my passport. It was an ICE agent that approached me to tell me I had dropped it and returned it to me. In the dream, I was stunned to be interacting with a U.S. immigration officer; honestly, I have a disliking for them for obvious reasons. But soon I realized the agent wasn’t there to be a kind Samaritan. She told me I had a removal order and 30 days to leave. The weird thing is that in my dream I knew I was in Mexico, but somehow, it seemed the border boundaries had crossed me once again and I found myself in the predicament I faced in my waking life over a decade ago. I had to leave and I was unsure where I was headed. Why was I reliving this again in my subconscious? Feeling displacement in such a vivid manner made me realize one innate ability I have – not only in my dreams but in real life – and that is my resilience and ability to turn the switch on the problem-solving mode in times of crisis. These are part of my survival toolbox.

In my dream, I remember telling myself that I was going to figure this out. I had already survived deportation and being thrown in the middle of nowhere the same day I was appended (I was recalling a real-life event). So having 30 days to plan this out was enough time. Perhaps I could relocate to my childhood neighborhood which was not far away. I told my parents that I would be OK there. I had time to say goodbye to family members and friends, time to reassure them that I would find a way to pick myself up, and continue with my life even when deep inside I knew there was nothing waiting for me there.

As I was getting things ready for my departure, I was trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. How is it that an ICE agent had found me here? I asked myself that question as I was heading to the immigration office to file some paperwork to proceed with my removal process. I learned that my passport had not been lost. That the immigration agent that gave it back to me had targeted me to initiate the removal. She is the one that followed me and in a moment of distraction, reached into my purse to take away my passport (I guess my subconscious was reminding me of how sneaky they are in real life). That is all the agent needed to gather my personal details and initiate a removal process. I found this deceitful part of the process maddening. I began to question the legality of it all, why me? why was I being kicked out once again even when I was in territory where ICE had no jurisdiction? why….

And that is all I can remember before waking up.

Most dreams I forget by the time I wake up, and the majority as I go about my daily routine. But not this one. It gave me this weird feeling all day to the point where I had to sit down and write about it. It seemed like that type of dream that is trying to tell me something. Is it that I still have unresolved issues related to my deportation that I should look into? Or is it trying to tell me that something is going to pull me away from the place I currently reside? It sort of feels like the latter because this dream felt like a premonition. I had these types of dreams while in the U.S. I dreamt about my deportation many years before it happened. I saw places similar to those I ended up living in Mexico after I was forced out of the U.S. Then again, post-deportation, I have recurrent dreams about being back in the U.S., at times smuggled back, other times I entered legally, going through airports and immigration security points and given authorization to stay for one day, leaving feeling rushed to see all the people and places I wanted to visit and reconnect. That hasn’t happened in real life. I really don’t know what to think of this particular dream, just that I had it a day before Biden’s immigration plan was unveiled, which of course, is triggering for me. Another proposal that has come too late and will never address the deported.

Nonetheless, the one thing I a sure of is that in my 11 years after deportation, I still feel hunted by U.S. immigration policies. The effect of deportation is still present. It has taken me a while to free myself from the chains of the undocumented life and the deportation trauma I have carried to feel like I have a fighting chance to pursue my aspirations and goals I would like to achieve to feel fulfilled and self-realized (still, a work in progress). Maybe the dream is a reminder that there is a deeper fear still haunting me; that of seeing your life fall apart in an instant. Given state of the world, it’s hard to rule out that possibility. Nothing is guaranteed, not your health, your safety, nor your security, even when citizenship is not an issue. Reflecting on this dream leaves me with a piece of relief that I didn’t notice initially, and that is knowing that all I have is the now and to continue to learn to trust myself. I already have a track record of resilience which has allowed me to survive all the hardships that have come my way, particularly those related to my migrant experience. Maybe this is what I need to hold on to and embrace along with my fears.

In these times, let’s not forget migrant rights advocates

These are trying times for many of us. It can be difficult to find hope as we continue to live through the challenges and uncertainties of our realities. It seems we were going from one crisis to another, and for some, it is a crisis on top of another. In Mexico, just looking at the area that I work in, we have seen worsening conditions for migrants and persons in need of international protection, confronting inhumane walls that continue to be fortified- the physical ones (borders walls), human ones (contention practices by immigration authorities and national guard) and the bureaucratic ones (inability for people to begin their asylum procedures or access any public services).

We had a humanitarian crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic and as we are in the middle of adjusting to a “new normalcy”, we can already see it is harder for people in mobility to rebuild their lives in such an unfavorable scenario. You know whom I also see tired and in despair? Migrant rights advocates. Day in and day out, they work in precarious conditions and sacrifice their wellbeing to fill in the humanitarian gaps that our governments (national and local) have been unable (or negligent) to address.

I’m not in the frontlines as many of my friends are, working in migrant shelters and organizations that provide direct services. It is tough work, particularly when there is a lack of capacity and resources to respond to a growing need. The political pressure from the U.S. under the Trump administration for Mexico to contain migrant flows has meant that migrants, asylum-seekers and other displaced persons have been forced to stay in a country that (as I have known for over a decade) has lacked mechanisms to receive and integrate its own deported nationals. U.S. elections are around the corner and people hope that a change in the administration could help alleviate this situation for migrants and displaced persons in Mexico. I’m not holding my breath on that one as we also know that on migration, the tendency has been to contain it. But maybe reversing some of the harmful policies that limit access to asylum in the U.S. (including the Migrant Protection Protocols) could help move us in that direction.

What I do know is that my friends and colleagues working in NGOs that aid migrants and displaced persons do this work in constant burnout and with no sign that this is going to get better anytime soon. How often do we think of them as they carry out such important work in times of pandemic? Many of them have lost loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic, and others are also fighting for their own lives.

This past Friday a friend sent me a GoFundMe fundraiser for a mutual colleague (Sire) who lives in Tijuana. I was unaware that she has been battling a life-threatening condition and that because of the pandemic, she is unable to receive the care she needs from the public health system. I can also attest to the difficulty in receiving regular and specialized care as my dad was recently hospitalized after a heart attack. If you are dying, you are not getting care, and when you do, it can be too late. (My dad is now stable and we are awaiting for his surgery to be scheduled).

Sire is the co-founder of one Casa Arcoiris where she coordinated the medical, mental health, legal, social and housing services for over 150 LGBTQIA+ migrants seeking asylum in Tijuana. I had the pleasure of meeting with her last year in an NGO network and I always appreciated her insights and fight to ensure those spaces were inclusive in all respects. Through her, I also had an opportunity to see firsthand the services provided by Casa Arcoiris and it is truly amazing and much needed. Her dedication and passion for protecting LGBTQIA+ have been so evident to me. Now, she is the one in need of help so that she has a fighting chance for recovery. I hope you can join me in supporting her to meet her fundraising goal.

For information, check out the Surgery 4 Sire, Tijuana LGBTQIA Shelter Co-Founder campaign.

Credit: Surgery 4 Sire, Tijuana LGBTQIA Shelter Co-Founder GoFundMe Campaign

Sire, we send you much love and wishes for quick and full recovery.