When “Getting in Line” Becomes a Long Nightmare

The story of Òmìnira (pseudonym) shows the diversity of undocumented youth in the U.S., whose struggles are often attributed to the Latino (or Mexican) immigrant communities. Òmìnira is a DREAMer from Nigeria who faces the challenges of an undocumented status as a result of an immigration system and its actors which pray and benefit from the vulnerability of migrants. Unfortunately, Òmìnira did not qualify under President Obama’s Executive Order issued in June 2012 (Deferred Action) which would have granted her a temporary permit due to the age requirement. Today, she faces an uncertain future as a result of the political standstill on immigration reform.

I am thankful to Òmìnira for reaching out and sharing her story through Mundo Citizen, as it is one that highlights the complexity of an arbitrary immigration system. It dispels the ‘get in the line’ or ‘follow the law’ argument anti-immigration proponents like to spout in their attempt to defend a system that fails to account for fairness, justice, and simply… humanity.

When “Getting in Line” Becomes a Long Nightmare

by Òmìnira

I am not supposed to be undocumented.  After all, I followed the rules. As the anti-immigration proponents would have it, I tried to get “in line.” So interested was my family in getting in line that we have so far employed the assistance of four (4) different immigration attorneys. But as reality would have it the legal immigration process or “the line” is arbitrary and complicated, and for these very reasons it is easy for lawyers and legal representatives to prey on the legally vulnerable.

Let me explain.

When I was 14 years old my father was granted political asylum in the United States. My father has been a political journalist since the 70s and was a member of an underground opposition group protesting Nigeria’s successive military dictatorships. For this, my paternal grandmother and my eldest brother were shot, our house set on fire (my right leg sustained a 2nd degree burn, I call it my battle scar), and my father sentenced to jail, in absentia. When the asylum application was granted, my family was in a host country and two years later (at 16 years old) we came to join my father in the United States. For the first time in a long while we were not only safe but also free to start a life, any life.

Or so we thought. At the time, the lawyer working on my father’s case advised him that it was not necessary to file a separate derivative asylee relative application for us since he had listed my siblings and I on his granted asylum application. A grave mistake! This same lawyer was later suspended on three occasions including, finally by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BOIA). He was charged with violating several rules requiring an attorney to represent his clients competently. But by then the damage was partly done, we had missed the two-year filling period for the derivative application.

My family then turned to lawyer #2 following recommendations from a number of people. Lawyer #2 ran an international humanitarian organization. After reviewing our case, he advised that since the two-year filling period had passed I had to file an individual asylum application based on my fathers granted case and in this application we would explain the delay in filing. And so we filed the application. Another big mistake. During the interview with the Asylum Officer, (which the lawyer failed to attend), we were asked why my father had not filed the derivative asylee application instead given the nature of the case. In the end, the Asylum officer sent a referral notice stating that:

Although you have established changed circumstances materially affecting your eligibility for asylum or extraordinary circumstances directly related to your delay in filing, you failed to file your application within a reasonable period of time given those circumstances.

Unsurprisingly, I was thereafter served the dreaded Notice to Appear (NTA) before an immigration judge. To prepare for court, we asked lawyer # 2 to represent us at the court at which point he revealed that he was not in fact an immigration attorney but actually a notary!!!  (A 2009 article by The Washington Examiner finally exposed lawyer #2 for running a fraudulent immigration practice following a number of complaints).

In desperation, my family searched for a new attorney. Many did not want to take the case but finally we engaged the assistance of lawyer #3.  As advised, my family checked to make certain that he was in fact an immigration attorney and engaged him to help us sort through my immigration mess mess.

Lawyer # 3 explained to the immigration judge that he would file the proper derivative application, explaining the delay and also an immigrant relative petition based on my father who was now a permanent resident. This request was granted and we accordingly hurriedly provided lawyer # 3 with all the documents and signed papers. After 4 years and 4 hearings lawyer # 3 asked for an individual hearing, against the suggestions of the judge. A disastrous mistake! You see lawyer #3 never filed the I-130, filed the I-730 but never gave an explanation for the delay, and instead tried to file an adjustment of status based on my father’s granted asylum application, a process, which is not legally possible!!! During the trial, the government attorney and judge seemed baffled that he had not filed the 1-130 all this time, when it seemed the most logical thing to do. After a tense debate, the judge finally denied the case based on abandonment (the lawyer couldn’t find my biometrics just as in an earlier hearing he had failed to send the court my medical information, although these were later found in his files).

I was ordered deported. The ultimate nightmare had arrived.

It is hard to explain the emotions running through me in the hours and days after the deportation order or to express the perpetual frustration, fear, and immense sadness of trying again and again over 8 years to get it right and never quite succeeding. Nor is it easy to explain struggling to accomplish things like getting an education, opening a bank account, or obtaining identification, when for all intents and purposes the system maintains that you shouldn’t exist, you don’t exist, and your existence itself is a crime (illegal). The fact that I’ve tried to follow the rules doesn’t matter, my failure at the hands of others seemingly speaks of my criminality. Yet it is so easy for politicians to brandish me and others like me, people seeking life, liberty, and happiness as simply illegal.

Edited Photo Credit: photo credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc
Edited Photo, Credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc

In the end I was not deported. With the help of an incredible attorney, lawyer #4, a Motion to Reopen my case was granted as well as an administrative closure. This has allowed my father (now a U.S citizen) to apply for an immigrant visa for me. This is a BIG relief yet my dreams and goals remain elusive. The immigrant visa will take about 6 years to process and in while I know I have the skills to do so much, all I can do is wait: wait to work, wait to travel, wait to live. Ironically, when the immigrant visa application is complete, I still must leave the U.S. in order to adjust my status thus invoking a 10-year bar to re-entry.

And so I wonder, why not abandon it all?  Give it up and walk away. Perhaps by giving this all up I might have a chance to live not just exist somewhere else. I really truly wonder….

Guest Voice – The “Voluntary Departure”

Meet Fredi, who shares with us his experience as a returned Dreamer. I talked about him in a previous post, the Dreamer I met at my “Coming Out” in Tijuana during the book presentation of Dreamers.

Fredi: Thank you for your courage. My hope is that this continues to inspire others who are here in Mexico willing to “come out” about their experiences.

With Dreamer Fredi at Dreamers Book Presentation
With Dreamer Fredi at book presentation of “Dreamers.La Lucha de Una Generación Por Su Sueño Americano”(Spanish Edition) written by Eileen Truax  | June 13 2013

It was May 2, 2011. It was also my sister’s birthday and it would be unthinkable for me to leave and not stay to spend time with her. But I had to depart in order to meet the deadline set by the immigration judge four months earlier. The deadline was set for May 4. Prior to my immigration court date, I had talked to my family and decided on a “voluntary departure”. It was the most difficult decision that I’ve ever made in my life. This meant not seeing my parents and sister, and moving to a country that I barely remembered from 20 years ago.

That day, I found myself returning to Tijuana. Early memories of Tijuana were from the day we crossed the border as undocumented immigrants… the helicopter was hovering over us. We were covered with cardboard and all I could see was the high beams of light. Man, it was a miracle because the helicopter (or “mosco” as we called in Spanish) moved away without detecting us.

That early Monday when I was scheduled to leave, I woke up early to pack my clothes and some books. My close friends picked me up. I hugged my mom and reassured her that everything was going to be OK. It was heartbreaking! I told her about my plans of working hard and pursuing my PhD. I told her about my plans to return to the U.S. as an international student which I’m still working on. Those last words gave her peace. She knew that I would work hard. Prior to that day, she had witnessed those long sleepless nights while working to finish my Master’s Degree and it paid off. I was able to complete it prior to my “voluntary departure”.

As we drove to the US-Mexico border, I was thinking about my life of 20 years in the United States and how I saw it changed in so many ways. I lived 45 minutes away from the border in Vista, CA, located in North San Diego County. Flashback memories crossed my mind; buying a soda can for 25 cents at the ampm gas station for the first time or even hiding every time I would hear a helicopter because I thought that they were chasing after us. I also remembered those first days of high school and how challenging it was to learn English. I had memories of my experiences of racism when students did not want to work with me because of my accent or when a white student threw a whiteout at me and laughed about it.

We crossed the border with mixed emotions. I was sad to leave my family but was happy because I was about to see my brother who had been deported two years earlier. My life at that moment was filled with uncertainty, not knowing what was to come.

I felt lonely and hit rock bottom with days of depression. I thought I was the only Dreamer who was forced to return because I was not able to find a person with a similar situation. I was wrong. I began to hear stories of Dreamers and other deportees. But to this day, I still don’t feel like I belong. I feel out of place. Some people make fun of my word usage and can tell that I’m not from here. To this day, not many people know about my experiences as a Dreamer because of the stigma of being labeled as a “criminal” or “illegal.” People have a huge misunderstanding of returnees and all feed from mainstream media.

There is much more to say about my experiences back in the U.S. and here in Mexico. I know there are many who I can relate to and who share similar stories. I’m taking this opportunity to let it out because it has been hidden in depths of my heart and soul for too long. Hope to continue with this and be able to share who I am. For now, this is it. Thank you to those who took the time to read my story.

Much love and respect,

Fredi II

Dream9: The Dreams that speak for the 1.8 million deported

If you have not heard of the #Dream9, then I taken upon myself to tell you about this group of young Dreamers (undocumented youth). They are part of the bigger movement of youth pushing for humane and comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S.

On July 22, 2013 in an attempt to challenge the Obama administration deportation policy, a group of nine Dreamers, three of which crossed the border into Mexico, attempted to ask for their lawful entry through a request of humanitarian parole at the Nogales, Arizona port of entry.

This action alone resulted in their detention as Department of Homeland Security reviews their requests. 11 days have passed and they continue to be locked up, with difficulty in communicating with their families and even placed in solitary confinement. This is the treatment that young organizers who pose no threat to national security are receiving by immigration authorities. Unfortunately, their experience is that of many that are trapped in the detention system.

I know what it is to be detained, but my stay did not last a day as I was expediently removed from a country I knew to be home for almost 20 years. I can only imagine what it is to be locked for a prolonged period of time. Indefinite detention is what these Dreamers are facing.

Dream9 Marching to the Nogales, AZ Port of Entry | Photo/National Immigration Youth Alliance
Dream9 Marching to the Nogales, AZ Port of Entry | Photo/National Immigration Youth Alliance

Criticism has arisen from a faction within the immigrant movement about the actions of Dream9, even calling it a “diversion” and a “publicity stunt”. Call it what you may, I finally feel there is a group within the immigrant movement that has addressed our plight, those of us that were forcedly uprooted from our homes and communities. Public debate on immigration reform has only focused around the 11 million undocumented immigrants that currently live in the U.S. but tend to forget about the rest of us; the only difference between us and the 11 million is that immigration reform will have come too late.

These Dreamers are experiencing legal challenges with their request to return, thus highlighting the inadequacies of an immigration system that is incapable of addressing individual circumstances of its non-citizens. Why did the three Dreamers cross the border into Mexico knowing they would not be able to return? To remind us that the U.S. immigration system is broken and reform is needed now. Although for Dream9, it could come at a high price. Some of us have already experienced this loss.

For over 10 years, the Dreamer movement has grown out to claim what has been denied to them; to be accepted as contributing citizens. They have protested in the streets, organized massive rallies, confronted police and immigration agencies, staged sit-ins in legislators’ offices, and even lobbied Congress. But after every election cycle, they have nothing to show for it; mostly a consequence of the inadequacy of Washington D.C. to address the issue rather than the effectiveness of the Dreamer mobilization. If I were to make a wild guess, I think this is the reason why Dream9 took it upon themselves to challenge a “system of expulsion” that keeps separating families. For these families, waiting is no longer an option.

Regardless of the outcome from this act of disobedience, I join those who believe it to be “one of the most powerful protests in immigration reform”.

As a member of Los Otros Dreamers, I stand in solidarity with Dream9 and ask the Obama Administration to do the right thing and let these Dreamers join their communities and homes in the U.S.

Mr. President, the action that your administration takes on this issue will be a reflection on your real stance with respect to the immigrant community.

Click here to read letter we addressed to President Obama.

To listen to our recent Spanish radio interview with Ruben Tapia in Enfoque Latino KPFK 90.7 FM about Los Otros Dreamers actions in solidarity with Dream 9, click below:

Updated August 3, 2013