Leaving the “Dreamer” politics behind

A friend once asked me, “When will you stop being a deportee?”

Although I can’t recall what I answered, I still remember this question because it struck me as an odd one. Being a deportee is not a state of being or as fluid as my emotions. It is more like a permanent label that I have slip into as a result of political and legal systems. It is a fact that I was detained and expelled from a country and that will never be erased from my past; but I hope my deportee status earns me some karmic brownie points with the birth lottery system in my next life. But I digressed, going back to the question… If my existence in Mexico and my work around activism, migrant rights, and my current career path as a migration scholar were all propelled by a label that has become a part of my identity – can I live without it? Has my quest to dignify this stigmatized label constrained my existence post-deportation?

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To complicate matters, I have attached another identifier to this label by calling myself a “deported Dreamer” as a way of acknowledging my own experience as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. and connecting it to my struggles here. It was also a strategic choice for me as I wanted to convey the message that I was still part of political movement in the U.S. propelled by (what I call) the “millennial Dreamers”. I mean, we are of the same kind. I have much in common with them, we all arrived as a children in the U.S. and growing up in the country that would later become home as undocumented immigrants. The main difference was that I was part of a generation who lived mostly in the shadows. We were also not as organized as the millennial Dreamers are today, and of course since 2009, I’m no longer in the U.S.

Being a Dreamer on the south side of the border (I thought) was part of extending the immigrant right’s struggle to Mexico, because being a returned migrant in Mexico is no walk in the park, as I have tried to illustrate in most of what I written here since I started blogging in 2012. My new found purpose was wrapped around a fight for recognition in a country that won’t have us back, that doesn’t want us back. Four years later, I find myself at a crossroads and I have made a decision others in U.S. Dreamer movement have made – to drop the label. I am no longer a Dreamer.

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Mexican Secretariat of Education (SEP) is far removed from the reality faced by Dreamer returnees

The requirement of revalidation of foreign studies is the greatest obstacle faced by Dreamers as they seek full recognition of their U.S. education in Mexico

It was five years ago when I encountered a bureaucratic monster that I did not know existed. Upon returning to Mexico due to a deportation, I learned that my entire academic and professional career I built in U.S. as an undocumented immigrant would not be recognized in the country where I could prove to be a citizen. It had already been difficult to survive one of the worst types of rejection I had experienced – the expulsion from the country that I lived most of my life. Even more painful was to arrive to a country which I am told is supposed to be “my home” and where I “belong” simply because I was born there, but where I would also encounter countless obstacles when I attempt to use the education and knowledge I had acquired “abroad”. In other words, according to government agencies like the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) in Mexico, my education from the U.S. is worthless.

Revalidation: The de facto invalidation of foreign studies

Even though I completed a career in Business Administration from an accredited U.S. university, Mexico has only recognized my high school education as a result of its revalidation requirement, and this was only possible due to the support I received from my friends in Los Angeles to secure the documentation required by SEP. To obtain these documents, I had to ask a friend to go to my school in Los Angeles to request them (luckily, my friend was someone who had attended the same school which facilitated this). However, in Mexico, it was not enough to have an original copy of my diplomas and transcripts.

An Apostille of my school records, which can only be obtained within the US, was also required. I handed over my diplomas and school transcripts to another friend that thankfully lived within close proximity, I was Tijuana and she lived in San Diego, so she could go directly to the closest office of the California Secretary of State. With an Apostille on hand to certify the legitimacy of the document (only the authenticity of the signature and its origin but not its content), I had to find a licensed professional in Mexico to translate these documents from English to Spanish. I was clueless as to how I proceed in finding and verifying if a translator was “licensed” as this is not something provided in an information sheet nor a guide by a Mexican government office. A guide like this does not currently exist. However, I made use of my technological skills and with the help of my faithful friend Google, I came across the website of Judiciary of the State of Baja California which had listing of licensed translators in my area.

After comparing prices and taking into account the limited financial resources I had, I hired a translator whom I paid close to $200 dollars for translating all the diplomas, transcripts and the Apostille itself. Finally, I submitted these documents to the regional SEP office (of course after paying an additional fee) to process the high school revalidation. From this point forward, the revalidation process was completed in a couple of weeks. However, obtaining all the required documents can take months, as it did for me, years for many others or perhaps impossible for many deported and returned youth or who lack that resources to assist them with obtaining the required documents and lack the information to start the process.

The recognition of my university degree is another story; it remained filed away in a cabinet with my diploma and Apostille after I decided I would not proceed with the revalidation (to revalidate a degree, all prior education levels need to be revalidated first). This was an informed decision I made after meeting with representatives of four universities in Baja California that made me aware of the SEP equivalency requirement that I would subsequently know as Agreement Number 286 (2001). In its Section 25.1, this agreement stipulates that the course plan of a foreign degree must match 75% with a similar academic program in Mexico, a requirement that makes full recognition of a foreign degree technically impossible.

In the end, it was the opinion of each university representative that in the best possible scenario, I would have a partial revalidation and it was very likely I would be required to take additional courses to obtain a B.S. degree in Mexico, the same degree I had already completed in the U.S. Having neither the time nor financial resources as I worked in a call center at the time, proceeding with a partial revalidation of my university degree and taking more courses was not a viable option. It also seemed absurd that I had to be required to take additional classes to accredit a career that in no shape or form required a specialization (like medicine or law) to exercise it. Over time, the company where I worked promoted me to a position that was a better fit for my skills and knowledge. In the private industry, my university diploma was accepted, the same one that was not automatically recognized by the SEP in Mexico. Later, I would become much easier to travel to the other side of the world where a revalidation was not required to continue my studies. To enroll in a postgraduate program, a school application and a U.S. diploma was all that was required. It was there, in an educational institution of a foreign country where my U.S. degree was valued and accepted without a senseless bureaucratic requirement.

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POCHO.com: I was a DREAMer before it was cool — and I got deported

This blog post first appeared on juancristobalquevedo.com titled A Personal Look at the First Generation of Undocumented Youth– ‘I was a DREAMer before the DREAM Act’.

It is my attempt to reflect back on the challenges I faced as an undocumented student in the U.S. Although the experience and struggles are by no means “cool”, the new generation of DREAMers have made this movement what it is today: a force to be reckoned with.

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by NANCY LANDA on MAY 6, 2013 in CULTURA

The immigrant rights movement has reached one of the most important milestones of the last two decades. Finally, politicians are responding to the demands of advocates asking to reform a broken immigration system that has marginalized millions of undocumented immigrants.

We see this in the form of Senate Bill 744 proposed by the Bipartisan Senate Coalition referred to as the “Gang-of-Eight” which is by far the most comprehensive piece of legislation we have seen in recent years. Such progress is due to the masses of brave DREAMers (undocumented youth) who came out of the shadows to declare their legal status for the purpose of telling their stories to the American public.

Senate Bill 744 incorporates many of the provisions outlined in the most recent legislative proposal known as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) with added flexibility in the requirements for legal permanent residency by removing the age cap of 30 for applicants. DREAMers residing in the U.S., who entered the country younger than 16 years of age and prior to December 2011, would be eligible for Legal Permanent Residency (LPR).

This proposal is now inclusive of the elder generation of undocumented youth, those of us who came prior to the DREAMer movement. We were not called DREAMErs as the only known label used to identify us was illegal alien. That is because the term DREAMer did not exist until after 2001 when the first version of the DREAM Act bill was introduced in Congress.

To some extent, the illegal alien identifier was accurate in describing my experience growing up during my high school and early college years, which was one of alienation. Intrinsically, I knew that in order to survive and protect myself from danger, I had to hide the fact that I was undocumented. This seemed rather challenging when you live in neighborhoods and attend classes at a school where you feel and look like an outsider. Not to mention facing a communication barrier as you are trying to learn a new language. If my looks were not enough to alienate me, my foreign accent did the job. Consequently, as a young adult I felt so different from everyone. I also knew that my life would be about surviving in a society that did not care to recognize me as a full human being.

It was clear to me that the fight for survival was one I had to do on my own. During my high school years, I did not have any friends, mentors, or counselors to assist me as I was faced with sorting my life after graduation. How would I explain to someone that I could not apply for jobs, internships, financial aid, etc.? My parents provided the stability I needed at home, but when it came to navigating the outside English-speaking world and the educational system, I knew I had no one but myself.

Although I was an honors student and belonged to the top three percent of my graduating class, my future was uncertain due to my undocumented status. Could my way out of such predicament be an education? That was a question I did not know answer at the moment, but college seemed like my only alternative. I saw how much my parents struggled to climb the economic ladder with a 6th grade level education. So, if I wanted to have a different outcome, I had to do something different. My plan for self-sufficiency included pursuing a college degree. Thankfully, the hard work in high school paid off as I was accepted to California State University,Northridge (CSUN). I began attending college in the fall of 1998.

I get asked the following frequently – “If you were undocumented, how were you able to attend college?” My answer to this day is a simple one – “Nothing stopped me from applying”. But it is a valid question to ask because the outcome could have been very different if Proposition 187 had been upheld. I started college only four years after Proposition 187 (known as Save Our State Initiative) was approved by voters in California. Such measure was intended to create a state-run citizenship screening system to deny undocumented immigrants access to public services including healthcare and public education. It’s principals are not very different from laws that have recently been upheld in states like Arizona. Although the “Save Our State” measure was still facing legal battles in court, a restraining order preventing this law from being in place allowed many like me to stay in school. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually repealed this measure and it was effectively killed in 1999.

Although such an anti-immigrant measure did not come into fruition in California, its aftermath was still felt. Such political climate furthered cemented the feeling of marginalization I felt growing up. I was simply a voiceless illegal alien that should not be in this country. I had no say, no vote, and no rights. That’s the message I got from those that wanted to criminalize my family and those like me. It was then that I decided to continue to stay “under the radar” and did as much as possible to appear a normal college student. On the other hand, this also fueled my desire to rise above my legal status. I wanted to be able to make it through college regardless of all the obstacles that were in front of me.

During my college years, I was living in the neighborhood of what is now called South Los Angeles which is 30 miles away from CSUN. Since California had also banned licenses for undocumented immigrants in 1994, driving was not an option for me. I resorted to making a four-hour daily trip to arrive at my college campus, which included a journey of three buses and a metro ride. This meant that after a full day of school and extra-curricular activities, I would return home at the late hours of the night. A 10 pm arrival was not too rare.

Breaking through the isolation became a second challenge to tackle. Thankfully, being on my own only lasted through the completion of my freshman year. I realized that somehow I needed to feel part of a community and began my involvement when I joined a student organization focused on volunteer work. I started to feel at home for the first time in my life in the U.S. Volunteering for the American Diabetes Association, AIDS Walk, Habitat for Humanity and many other non-profit organizations gave me an avenue to make a difference in others. This in turned helped me grow as a student leader and it encouraged me to be civically engaged on campus. It was here where I began to meet other students who were also undocumented. We created a type of camaraderie that served as a support system, but it was more on a one-on-one basis rather than in an organized way. It still felt we were the minority on campus and that in order to get through college, we needed to keep our status hidden to the outside world.

My last year at CSUN was life-changing as I stepped into the ultimate student leadership role, becoming the first Latina President of Associated Students– the university student government. The public fights we took on were primarily to protect college affordability given the proposed tuition fee increases by the Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration which continued to slash public funding for higher education in the midst of a state budget crisis. I knew this was an important battle, not only because it would impact all my college student constituents but also the at-risk students which included undocumented immigrants. But hiding my immigration status continued to be my modus operandi, especially in a more visible leadership role. Only friends in my closest circles knew about my legal predicament. Finally, in 2004, I was reaching the improbable finish line, becoming the first college graduate in my family.

I believe that my personal journey resembles that of First Generation DREAMers, as I would like to call us. Being undocumented was the cross each of us had to carry on our own. Some of us were lucky to have found a mentor or friend that understood our circumstances and encouraged us to continue, especially in challenging times when one is about to give up all hope.

Has anything changed in the last decade for the DREAMers? Not much. Lacking a comprehensive immigration reform policy, the struggles continue to be the same and perhaps even worse in states that have adopted anti-immigrant measures. However, somewhere in between, the newer generation of DREAMers became tired of being scapegoats and has done what their predecessors were afraid to do. They came out to the world as “Undocumented and Unafraid” demanding a change through a campaign that modeled other civil rights movements seen in American history. Now we are witnessing the rise of student groups on college campuses such as CSUNDREAMs to be Heard established to advocate for immigrant rights and create a support system for DREAMers.

The Undocumented and Unafraid movement has become an inspiration to me. It has taught me that in order to generate change at a mass scale, you have to be willing to put yourself on the line. Even as a deported DREAMer, coming out publically with my story of deportation has allowed me to be part of this movement which is reshaping the conversation on immigration. Most importantly, it has redefined the immigrant community itself. Being Undocumented is no longer something to be ashamed or afraid of.

Our stories could make the difference in passing legislation for DREAMersand their families in the U.S. as well as for those of us residing on the other side of the border.

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student president of California State University, Northridge (CSUN.) Nancy has lived in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook, Twitter or her blog at mundocitizen.com. This blog post first appeared on juancristobalquevedo.com