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.