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 

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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.

Featured Post in POCHO.com

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

Guest Voz: If a Deportee Could Vote

Posted date: November 05, 2012 | LatinaLista

By Nancy Landa

MundoCitizen

Over the past few months, I have been on a personal vendetta against President Obama for his broken promise on immigration reform and on the record-setting deportations under his administration.

There has been very little proof that the majority of children, youth, and families that have been deported are high priority cases or that this is in any shape, way or form improving the security of the US contrary to what the administration states.

The Great American Boycott and 2006 U.S. immigration reform protests, on May 1, 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have any doubts, you just need to look at my personal story.

In 2008, I had actually signed up to volunteer on the Obama campaign not too far from my now hometown of Tijuana, just across the border (or as we say here,en el otro lado) in San Diego. We were hoping to turn around the conservative vote there, not only for the presidential ticket but also for local candidates.

I remember that Tuesday night during the election rally, after working tirelessly on Get out the Vote (GOTV) efforts, we were glued to the monitor waiting for the election results. And the rest was over, we were celebrating with joy President Obama’s victory.

The first thing I said to myself was: “I really hope that the legal limbo that I found myself in would be resolved” not only for me but for the countless of DREAMers that believed in the HOPE he represented for comprehensive immigration reform.

But now four years later, all we have is over a million deportees and a short-term fix (Deferred Action) which allows only a temporary relief to undocumented youth that are yearning for an opportunity to be productive members of society in a permanent way.

The question for me now is, would I still support President Obama if I was in the states?

Well, before I can answer it I had to revisit why I even care now. I no longer live in the U.S. I should pay attention to Mexican politics right? Well, in a way I am. I have not gotten around to being involved in campaigns as I still have much to learn about Mexican politics (a whole different animal) but I did vote in our elections this past July, my first-ever vote in presidential elections.

But having lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years, with close ties to friends and relatives that live there is enough for me. Not to mention that we in Mexico should care about the elections in the U.S. as our relationship with our neighbor up north is very relevant to us.

Having said that, I return to the main question. And on this matter, yesterday I had a debate with my dad about the elections and just realized for the first time in my life since I recall discussing politics with him, he is favoring a Republican!

My hardcore staunch Democrat dad is holding Obama’s promise for immigration reform against him. And I understand that, it is very hard to be forgiving about this when you experience deportation.

And I also have the right to adopt that view. At the same time, when I take a look at the bigger picture and compare the candidates in what I see in the news, hear in their speeches, read in the newspapers about their views, all in light of their party’s political platforms, I am not too certain things will be better for the immigrant community with Mitt Romney.

I agree with the criticisms against the Democratic party as they are the “party of whips” that do not take strong stances on issues and cannot get their votes aligned to make things happen. And I do believe they are are ‘cop outs’ when they use the “we do not have enough Republican support” as an excuse for ineffectiveness around the immigration issue.

What is also obvious to me is that the Republican party has taken a much more antagonistic stance toward undocumented immigrants. Romney has stated he supports self-deportation, does not support continuing with Deferred Action, opposes the DREAM Act and is more concerned about securing the border.

Actually, I think he is much worse than Bush Jr. on immigration. He will not be the reincarnation of former President Reagan as many Republicans, especially in the Latino community, would like to believe when they state he would deliver comprehensive immigration reform.

The truth is, both parties have failed the immigrant community. I lived in the U.S. during four presidents, representing both parties and during that time, there were no immigration law changes that could have helped individuals like me become legal permanent residents.

And although a temporary solution is not what we expected from President Obama four years ago, it is much more than we have gotten from any other president on this issue in two decades. Romney will pose to be a risk to all those DREAMers that are slowly coming out of the shadows to apply for Deferred Action.

The last thing we need to see is for those borders to continue to be flooded with deportees, especially of young immigrants, because of the inability of either party to revisit immigration laws that have been inflexible for so long and do not work anymore for our current reality.

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides 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 and Twitter @mundocitizen.