Week 51 (Sept. 9- Sept. 15): Why I have chosen English in my post-deportation journaling

A challenge in creating and maintaining a bilingual blog is that it makes it difficult to choose the language for writing a specific post. Most of what I have written in Mundo Citizen has been in English, with a bit of sprinkled Spanish text here and there. Interestingly, I sometimes have visitors from Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries which at times has motivated me to write more in Spanish, or at least to try to create bilingual posts that may be of interests to both Spanish and English speaking followers.

However, I am frequently pressed for time to write in general and more so to spend more the time for the translations of texts, which is why I have generally sided with choosing the language I will write a post based on theme or topic anticipating the type of followers that will be interested in what I have to say.

Mundo Citizen

My fellow Mexican compatriots might be a bit hurt if I tell them they have generally not been a priority in my writing. Then again, but I am quite certain any hurt caused by this doesn’t even compare to how I feel about the dismissive comments I received time after time on my post-deportation struggles, particularly on my US re-entry ban countdown I set up to bring visibility the time I have not been back stateside. Some of the recurring offender comments include:

“What’s the big deal? You are back your home country. This is your home.”

“Why do you want to go back to the country that doesn’t even want you?”

“Now that Trump is in office, you should just boycott the U.S. and travel somewhere else”

“Why don’t you go to Canada?”

And the list goes on and on with some variation of these.

I’m tired of answering and trying to make people understand the concept of home and the emotional displacement you undergo when you are FORCED to (as opposed to choosing to) leave any place that has become part of you. Who knows, perhaps if I had continued to live in the U.S. with the uphill battle that it is to be without legal status I may have decided to leave at one point, but I didn’t get to choose.

This is the thing that people seem to miss; there is an emotional component that is bigger than what is rational or practical about one’s own wants and desires on being part of something – of staying, of leaving. You are left with an unfillable void that it is hard to comprehend or relate unless you have experienced something like it. On top of that, particularly in Mexico, I constantly face a resistance from others to listen to this aspect of my story. Wanting to leave or to return to where home once was is interpreted as unpatriotic or as if I am rejecting my country of origin. At the same time, it has nothing to do with either.

That’s why I have chosen to keep my weekly post-deportation countdown journaling in English (at least for the time being). I’m done with explaining myself and wasting my time translating a message to an audience that has been unwilling to hear it for 9 years. English has become a language of comfort to this survivor of displacement. It is the language that makes me feel understood.

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Week 52 (Sept. 2- Sept. 8): In a state of limbo

I thought the last year of my 10-year ban I could try to get more of my thoughts in writing, posting brief weekly life annotations. Consistency has certainly not been a strength of mine when it comes to blogging, as I generally attempt to wait for the big epiphanies or when I have some time aside to sit down to write elaborate posts. But I think that instead of worrying about coherent writing, I’ll try to capture a bit of the thoughts that do not make it past my head space. Perhaps mirroring a bit of my journal writing which I’m sometimes too afraid to display outside of my private notebooks.

Copy of Text on Rectangle iPhone Layout

Believe it or not, I am a private person. In real life, I navigate from being a social butterfly and easily talking to people to having long periods of social hibernation, staying at home with no energy nor desire to talk to people. But even in my most social moments, I shield many parts of me from people. Don’t get me wrong, I always display who I am. I don’t like pretentiousness. But I also don’t show important aspects of myself to friends, even the ones that get to know me better.

Privacy has been part of my post-deportation survival kit, doing what I can to say as little of who I am to people. Mainly because it has become exhausting to explain myself, from answering simple questions like “where you are from?”, to why I don’t have a romantic partner or why I have managed to be in a living situation where I am ready to leave at a moment’s notice. So I am one of those people you think you know intimately, but you also don’t really know much about.

I am now in a work environment where many people know about my public persona; they have either seen some media interview I have done or have read books my story is featured. There might be aspects of my life story that are no longer mine, but I am not my deportation story. There are many more facets about who I am that I think have more essence than the circumstances that many people have come to know about me. I do hope that one day I have more courage to talk about them.

In the meantime, Week 52 was about me thinking of my social life back in the city I have been trying to leave for a while. I have come to accept I am back in Tijuana, a city where I keep one foot out the door. Privacy is still a useful strategy.

I’m still unattached, not making long-term plans. However, living in limbo has now become the constant state of being, and Tijuana is most likely going to be the city where my 10-year countdown will reach zero. But than again, so much can happen in one year. That keeps me hopeful.

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.