Opening Old Wounds

Revisiting a painful past is sometimes was is needed to begin to heal it. It is not a journey for the weak, and I must remind myself of that as I am about to embark it.

I feel the scar that is still healing, that of a life destroyed by deportation. Years have passed, but it still hurts as it was yesterday.

But there is one key difference since 2009, and that is that my experience is no longer invisible to the world. It is now living and breathing in this blog, in the social media world, and as I announced recently, it has been published in the book Dreamers. La Lucha de Una Generación Por Su Sueño Americano (Spanish Edition) by Eileen Truax.

This month marks a year since President Obama announced the Deferred Action program, which came three years too late for me. I’ll like to republish the post I wrote reflecting on the moment I heard of the announcement through my friends and the news media.

The Road Much Travelled — From Deportation to Shattered DREAMs

It is a typical weekday morning.  As usual, I wake up 30 minutes after my alarm clock goes off and I am forced to hastily get out of bed, get quickly dressed and rush out of my apartment. I hit the road and as I drive my daily route to work, I get caught up in late morning traffic. I stop at a traffic signal which just turned red and I have a moment to think about my day ahead. It only takes a few seconds of self-reflection to start remembering a morning just like this one, when my life took a completely unexpected turn.

It was a Tuesday morning in September 2009, when I was stopped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while driving through my neighborhood in downtown Long Beach. At the moment I was being pulled over, I immediately assumed it was Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) officers.

Perhaps I had unknowingly incurred a minor traffic violation. One of the officers approached me and as she walked over to the passenger side of my car, strangely she looked familiar. “Are you Nancy Landa?” she asked, to which I responded affirmatively. The officer continued, “Do you know why we are stopping you?” But before I could answer, she began to say those dreaded words “We have an order for your removal.”

As I step out of the car and begin to regain my composure from the initial state of shock I found myself in, I recognize the female ICE agent and couple of officers standing just behind. I had seen the three agents the day before inside my apartment complex. We had coincidentally crossed paths in the center courtyard as I was heading toward my car garage. Apparently, they were not aware it was me they were looking for and it didn’t dawn on me that they were sent on a mission to capture me.

Before I knew it, I was locked inside the back seat of the ICE van. As it started to take off, I turned around to get a last glimpse of my car now stranded in the middle of the street left to be towed as we were headed to the detention facility in Los Angeles.

En route, the agent driving asked me, “What did you do to get a deportation order?” I did not have an answer.  All I knew was that my parents had worked hard to adjust our legal status since I was nine years of age without any luck.  Growing up, I tried to live my life in what is considered to be of “good moral character.” Unfortunately, we had become victims of an inflexible immigration system and fell prey to notary fraud which led to the issuance of my Order of Removal without my knowledge.

No explanation was necessary. Any answer would not change the fact that I was being labeled a criminal and treated as such. Instead of replying, I sat quietly and tried to remain calm but in thinking of all the unknowns that lay ahead, I was overcome by a sense of panic.

I worried about my family, my parents and my younger brother.  How was I to communicate with them?  Had ICE gone after them as well? Was I going to be able to halt my deportation or will I find myself in a country I had not set foot in almost 20 years?

Upon arriving at the detention facility, I was subjected to the routine questioning. The officers took my photo, got my fingerprints, and then locked me in a cell to be held under custody with other detainees as I waited for them to decide on my fate.

Now, three years later, the stoplight turns green and as I drive past the traffic jam in the streets of my hometown in Tijuana, I continue to ponder: How different my life would be if President Obama’s Deferred Action plan had been in place before ICE had come for me?

Post originally published in Latina Lista on Sept. 4 2012 

Deal or No Deal: Will Immigration Reform Survive the Roadblocks of the Past?

When it comes to immigration, the political environment has a sense of déjà vu about it. It seems, we have been down this road before. A possible immigration reform deal that could have changed the legal status for many including my own was close at hand. 2001 seemed to be the year that would see legislation granting permanent residency to undocumented youth, or DREAMers as we know them today. During the months of April through August, bills in both the House and the Senate were introduced and Congress was set to reach a milestone in immigration reform since its last major overhaul enacted in 1986.

But one major event changed everything. September 11, 2001.

How Would a Patriot Act?

The long-term repercussions of such a tragic event were many and in a particular way, felt by the immigrant community. A post 9/11 America searched for safety and security reflected in the Patriot Act of 2001 which essentially blocked any immigration reform efforts under the grounds of terrorism. The young DREAMers would only see the doors closed to the possibility of being embraced as legal residents because we were now seen as a possible threat to national security.

Over the last decade, border enforcement received federal record budget allocations which reached  $18 million in 2012; it has been the guiding principle driving immigration policies.  Add to that the drastic changes in immigration laws that expand ground for inadmissibility and deportation, and what do we have as a result? The growth of a system of expulsion which is today the Department of Homeland Security.

We would like to think that the intention of these measures, increasing national security, is what America was really after. But in fact, it has only served to justify the forced exodus of immigrants that are far from being terrorists. President Obama, who to-date holds the record for deportation levels, continuously states that enforcement immigration agencies are solely focusing on high-priority, criminal and dangerous, immigrants. This could not be further from the truth.

I think of the hundreds of immigrants that daily are forced out to exit through the US-Mexico border as I did four years ago, and on the contrary, the vast majority of deportees are not much different from me. How many terrorist posing real threats to national security have been captured due to the militarization of the Mexico-U.S. border? Yet, it is still deemed as “not secure” by legislators who would like to make immigration reform conditional on achieving unclear levels of security.

It is now 2013 and we are here again. Will the outcome be different this time or are we going to hear more excuses preventing a deal on comprehensive immigration reform?

Published in La Prensa San Diego

Updated: 18-April-13

Hoping for a Return to the U.S….No More

After a forceful return to Mexico due to a deportation in 2009, rebuilding a life of 20 years in the U.S. can seem an insurmountable task. There is no doubt that I miss my friends, my community, my neighborhood…life as I knew it, was forever gone.

I suppose that many other deportees as well as undocumented immigrants that have returned to Mexico by choice are hopeful that someday they will return to the U.S.  Right after my arrival in Mexico, I felt the same way. I used my limited resources to contact my attorney to file a petition to re-open my case in hopes that an immigration judge could see the injustice done to me. I was only a nine year-old child brought into the U.S. by no choice of mine, living under a broken immigration system that did not allow me to change my status during my stay in the U.S., and with no criminal history, I was sent back to Mexico within hours after my detention.

My friends were also unwilling to accept that I could not return to the U.S. for at least 10 years. But unfortunately, hope did not overcome my unchanged legal reality – I had no means to be able to return legally to the U.S. and the Board of Immigration Appeals confirmed that when it denied my motion to re-open my case in 2011.

On the other hand, I feel fortunate that I was able to re-settle, at least temporarily, in a border town which is only a two-hour drive from my community of friends in Los Angeles.  I still get to see my friends that cross the border to visit me. In return, I tour them around a city that has much more to offer to tourists than the typical “Revolucion Blvd.” experience including  BajaMed food dining, wine tasting, and the breathtaking drive along the Baja coast. On their visits, we talk about our shared experiences and relive the cherished moments of the time I used to be “en el otro lado” (Spanish term to refer to the other side of the border). It does not take too long into our conversation when we begin to talk about “my hopeful return” to the U.S. which is now 6.6 years away, assuming the best case scenario I get granted a pardon by the U.S. government.

Tijuana-SD Border
Tijuana-US Border – View of San Diego from “el otro lado” (the other side)

Over the last year, I began to experience a shift of perspective of my return to the U.S. as I realize that it is no longer my only option for a better life. Recently, I read an interesting piece in the The Guardian titled Undocumented migrants back in Mexico hope to some day return to US that made this contrast much clearer for me. It shared more stories of DREAMers just like me, that will not be able benefit from any type of immigration reform as they are back in Mexico, in their case by choice. Many of them had the same fears as I had of being unable to progress economically in Mexico, but with time are discovering that that such opportunities are also available in their own country.

For many of us that lived as undocumented immigrants in the U.S., our fears to restart a life in our native countries are based on conditions that we remember it to be when we left, and we expect it to be the same or worse when we are forced to return. In some cases, resettlement can be tough, especially for immigrants that do not have a skill that may be in demand, like being bilingual, or may lack the skills to find a job in growing industries such as manufacturing. Although we are still a developing nation with much more work to be done to improve the quality of life so its citizens are not forced to emigrate, I feel Mexico is no longer the country my parents escaped from in the early 1990s. Although at times it can be classified as mediocre, some progress has been made to grow a middle class and improve opportunities for employment.

I am not implying I would support all undocumented immigrants to return to their native country. I believe comprehensive immigration reform should be the first course of action. I do remain hopeful that a much anticipated immigration reform would solve the legal limbo of the 11.2 million undocumented living in the U.S.

Can I expect it to factor deportees and undocumented immigrants that are now residing outside the U.S.? I doubt any reform proposal will bring the flexibility needed in the immigration system to address our plight. Some will be waiting for an opportunity to rejoin family members in the U.S., and others like me, will have moved on to pursue the “American Dream” somewhere else.