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.

Why I’ve been away

My life has been a constant hassle for the past six months. From relocating to establishing a business venture, it has certainly been a time of much change and rearranging. But I think part of me was using that as an excuse to take some time away from blogging. The state of politics in both Mexico and the US has been chaotic (perhaps writing about it could have helped me a bit more) but the blogging hiatus was more about an internal and personal process. I could not quite put my finger on it until I Tweeted the following to my friend Azul with whom I have kept the daily #postdeportation countdown as we were approaching 2018:

 

Most aspects of my life, including personal, work, advocacy and my writing have been shaped and influenced by my deportation experience. Even this blog, it started because of a story I wanted to tell and the opinions I thought needed to be shared from a perspective of someone like me. At the same time, the realist part of me has come to feel that it has all reached an expiration date. Anything that could have been accomplished by sharing my story has already happened and what has not (i.e. social justice or some sort of reparations) will never happen.

Although I plan to complete the postdeportation countdown until it reaches zero, I know that my life is not going to change drastically as it did when I was first expelled from the US. As I try to explain to most people that have followed me over the years with this blog and my social media conversations, ending a 10 year US re-entry ban will not magically give me the life I had before deportation. That is because that life no longer exist. I don’t even know if visiting the US will be an option, or whether I want to do that under this administration, especially because I’m likely to lack the qualifications necessary to prove to the US government that I don’t intend to overstay a tourist visa. The cards against me are my Mexican nationality and my undocumented past which always be a burden too difficult to overcome. I hope that my good track history with countries that have actually given me visas (UK, Canada, Germany) plays in my favor, but then again, we are talking about an irrational administration when it comes to migration. I still plan to at least try just for the sake of documenting the whole process, but I need to be willing to waste an application fee ($160 USD) for a minute-long interview that will probably result in a denied visa request. But, I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.

MC-TJ-Border2
Walking along the Mex-US border (Playas de Tijuana)

This leaves me confronting the life I have tried to reconstruct in the last 8 years, somehow incomplete, at times wanting for it to be different and feeling  frustrated from trying to fit misplaced pieces that will no longer be in their place; feeling despair because my sense of home was taken away and I can’t seem to recreate it. However, these are the things that I want to change, leave behind, or have some sense of closure. My realization is that I can only begin to do that to the extent that I am able to disengage from the post-deportation conversation; a seemingly impossible task as I have constant reminders that it’s very much present in my daily life, but perhaps I can find a way that it no longer takes center stage. Also, I don’t want this blog to be a recycling bin of grievances of the US and Mexican government or immigrant advocacy efforts that fail at inclusion. It has plenty of that already and I don’t see how any of it will drastically shift in a positive direction anytime soon.

I’m still sorting this out, but now I am ready to explore and I hope this blog follows me in that process. I am sure it will still be political, that it will continue to take a critical look at social issues (definitely migration as a research area I have undertaken). But I also want it to tackle the life’s nuances as I navigate it, reconnecting a past that illuminates the way I see the present in situations that are never dull for a citizen of the world like myself who constantly challenges labels and categories of nationality, identity, and belonging.

Thank you to all my followers and everyone who continues to support, encourage and inspire my writing.

Deportee launching Kickstarter Campaign for documentary project “Aquí Estamos! Ya Regresamos!”

I take this opportunity to share a crowdfunding campaign spearheaded by Lalo Aguilar, a US deportee born in Juárez, raised in Utah and currently residing in Mexico. He is working on a documentary (now in pre-production) on the post-deportation and post-return experiences of Mexican undocumented immigrants raised in the U.S.

I only know Lalo from our virtual calls after connecting through social media (we are yet in meet in person), but I can tell Lalo is looking to continue to pursue his life goals despite deportation. This documentary is one of them.

In the past couple of years, there has been emerging coverage generated by various journalists, researchers and film producers on the subject; however, this is the first documentary project I have seen to be designed, developed and produced from a deportee’s perspective. It is one that highlights the fact that deportations have happened in mass prior to the Trump administration but have been invisible on both sides of the US-Mexico border. This project delves into an important inquiry:

There’s no doubting that the post-deportation topic has been on the spotlight in Mexico since Trump began his campaign by targeting Mexicans. But why did it take so long for Mexico to look into the returned migration phenomenon? Why weren’t the repatriated voices being heard until now?

I hope you take a look and support by donating and/or sharing.

From Lalo’s own words, I share his Facebook post (with his permission, posted on July 18, 2017) announcing the documentary project:

Hello Facebook friends, here in Mexico and back home! This is my first post in over 5 years, since I got deported; and it seems like it’s merely to ask you for money.. lol. No but really, I’ve enrolled in Film school in Puebla and I’ve started working on a feature documentary that is growing way too fast for my limited resources, so I launched a Kickstarter campaign. This film focuses on the returned bicultural identity; us that were born in Mexico and raised in the States but are now back in Mexico either because of deportation or “voluntary” return (that is almost always not so voluntary). It also focuses on the structural and cultural changes that are happening in Mexico because of our return.

I have friends from different cultural, economic, and social backgrounds here on FB; so if you are a part of this bicultural Mexican community whether now in Mexico or in the States and you know what’s happening to our community on either side of the border, please check our Kickstarter page. Please share it or donate IF you can. If you are a Trump supporter who doesn’t know or care about what’s happening to our community, it’s cool too, no hard feelings; do what you will with this info. Much love to ALL of you!

As you can see on my page, I’m not much about posting stuff on FB, but I strongly believe in this project and so do the BADASS people that are helping me accomplish it; so y’all be hearing some more from me now. I’m sorry if this causes anyone any inconveniences. Much love! Peace!

Ya Regresamos Kickstarter

For more on the Kickstarter campaign, visit:  Aquí Estamos! Ya Regresamos! (be sure to check-out the campaign video!)

Lalo will receive the funds raised only if he meets the crowdfunding goal (that is how Kickstarter works). To-date, he has raised 10% of the total funds needed. With your help, he will be closer to have the resources he needs to bring this documentary to life. The Kickstarter campaign closes August 22, 2017.

You can connect with Lalo via Twitter.