The State of Immigration Reform: A shift away from empty promises?

Featured Commentary in La Prensa San Diego

By Nancy Landa

President Obama is right about one thing. As he said in his State of the Union address, “…the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” A sense of urgency was palpable in his request to Congress to send him an immigration bill in the next coming months as he committed to sign it into law immediately.

Without fail, border security was at the forefront; not only did President Obama embraced it as continued immigration policy, but also referenced it as a success of his administration with illegal crossings reaching their lowest levels in 40 years. It was probably safer for him to focus on such statistic rather than the other historic record he has set and for which he has received criticism by immigration advocates: the number of deportations under his first term, currently at 1.4 million.

It is promising to hear President Obama continues to stand firm on keeping a pathway to citizenship as part of the comprehensive immigration reform package. We are yet to see if Democrats will effectively persuade Republicans to warm-up to the idea of including a pathway to citizenship in an immigration plan, a potential contention point in upcoming rounds of negotiations. On the other hand, President Obama repeated much of the Republican rhetoric when he discussed the laundry list of requirements to “earn” this proposed pathway to citizenship: Get background checks, pay taxes and a significant penalty, as well as learn English.

As a former undocumented immigrant that faced the legal technicalities which prevented me to adjust my legal status in 20 years, I realized how complex and broken the immigration system really is. Often times I wonder if President Obama and the so-called bipartisan ‘Gang of Eight’ understand such complexity and if their proposals will actually reform a bureaucracy that is flawed in many ways. From visa processing wait times to detention and removal proceedings, the immigration system shows to lack the flexibility, humanity, and pragmatism that add to its dysfunction.

A two minute speech did not give enough room for elaboration aside from what we have already heard from President Obama on what he envisions in an immigration plan. The same can be said for the much anticipated official Republican response from Senator Marco Rubio. Although there are doubts if enough Republican support will be gathered to reach a deal on comprehensive immigration reform, there is no question they have been forced to be more receptive to work with Democrats toward a solution.

The devil is in the details, and particularly true as reform plans go through the deliberation process in both houses, which will give us a better indication if it will actually be “comprehensive”. But in contrast to four years ago, the immigrant community might actually see real change rather than empty promises. In the words of President Obama, “Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done.”

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, Twitter or her blog at


US-educated deportee doesn’t see herself as undocumented but “Citizen of the World”

Posted date: January 7, 2013 | LatinaLista

By Nancy Landa

(Editor’s note: Final post in a four-part series focusing on DREAMer Nancy Landa’s first-hand experience of removal proceedings by U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS)

7.28.06 American Dream II ( Photo: M J M)

The holiday season arrived. I sang through Christmas carols as I finished dressing my apartment with the joyful holiday spirit that lingered in the air. It almost seemed like the old days when I lived in my home in Los Angeles, California. Although the holiday season succeeded in cheering me up this year, sadness and nostalgia seemed to creep up from time to time.

I couldn’t pretend to have forgotten what deportation has felt like in the recent years: Arriving alone in Tijuana the same day I was detained; having no more than 4 weeks of coping with resettlement before my parents and younger brother were also detained and deported.

Three holiday seasons have passed since a family of four was displaced without a place we could call home and with the challenges of re-starting our lives in a country so different from what we had gotten used to.

The first hurdle to overcome was the government bureaucracy.

It took close to six months before we could obtain all our required government-issued documents. This included the federal ID, called IFE, which is a requirement for almost every transaction, from signing an apartment lease to applying for work. Thankfully, our friends with family in Tijuana assisted us with the immediate necessities during this period of bureaucratic limbo as we worked towards self-sufficiency.

Finding work was the second challenge.

Despite having an established career in philanthropy and community development in the U.S., I quickly learned that my experience was irrelevant in a border region driven primarily by the manufacturing industry. Unless I knew someone that could help me get into similar position in the public sector, I was on my own. On the flip-side, being bilingual, although not completely fluent in my mother tongue, served as an advantage.

However, the best job I could get an offer for was answering phones for a call center – so much for my degree in Business and experience working abroad. The pay was minimal and could not be compared to what I earned in a U.S. job. Additionally, companies were unwilling to negotiate a comparable salary in Mexican pesos because I had no history of work experience here.

With little time to find a job adequate to my work experience, I decided to take it out of necessity. The funds we had available through friends, who had raised money to help our resettlement, were depleting. I was not in a position to be picky with work opportunities, especially as my parents being older had a harder time finding work.

Unlike the U.S., here in Mexico a company can deny you work because of your age. A worker can be considered too old for most labor-type positions at age 35.

Adaptability and flexibility became part of my survival mechanism. With some patience, I have been able to get back on track with a promising professional career, ironically, contributing to the growth of an American-based company with a global presence.

I have joined a selective group of professionals who are filling a local need for culturally sensitive skilled workers who can be effective in working with foreigners and where communication, in an English-speaking environment, becomes an asset rather than a barrier.

I am now able to travel for work abroad (including Canada and Europe), something that was not possible for me in the U.S. as I was in the process of adjusting my legal status.

This is not to say that I have not been confronted with challenges working in an environment that has substandard labor laws, in comparison what I had become used to. Tijuana is a region where lower pay for high-skill labor is what attracts foreign companies in a globalized market.

I also find myself, in my native country, only viewed as a foreigner simply because I grew up outside of Mexico and because my Spanish is noticeably different from the locals. Everyday, I am reminded that I am a woman working in a male-dominated environment that lags behind gender equality and protection that shielded me when I was in the U.S.

Maybe if I had grown up in Mexico, I would have learned to cope with and accept these circumstances as they are; however, I am bound to live with an internal conflict of wanting the conditions of first-world democracies that are simply not available in a developing country which is still Mexico.

Quite often, I am asked if I would return to the U.S. if that became an option. I do not have a clear answer. What I do know is that I would not choose to return to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. I have lived in the shadows for too long to return to a life of indefinite legal uncertainty.

However, there is one thing I do wish for: that I could have the 10-year ban to re-enter the U.S. lifted so that I am able to obtain a visitor’s visa.

Lacking a criminal history, I feel this ban is a harsh punishment as it continues to limit my career opportunities, even here in Mexico. My company requires me to travel for business to our corporate office in the U.S. and I have been unable to do so. I plan to take this battle with the Department of Homeland Security next year when I apply for a visa and appeal my case.

Perhaps I’ll decide to stay in Mexico to contribute to an emerging market that is becoming increasingly important. If the opportunity arises, I could also relocate to a country that has flexible immigration policies and that values productive migrants.

Sometimes I wished that the U.S. could be one of them. However, I doubt any immigration reform, if passed, would incorporate reducing the penalty for non-criminal deportees like myself so that we are able to legally re-establish in a country we once called home.

Being a displaced migrant has forever changed my perspective of the world. I no longer view it in the confinement of borders. I now see my deportation as an opportunity to advocate for this marginalized group. My purpose now is to educate others, here and abroad, about the plight of immigrants.

What if everyone could view immigrants not through the laws that criminalize and marginalize them, but rather through our own humanity? Would this allow each of us to understand the factors and circumstances that drive migration and arrive at humane and meaningful solutions?

I believe right now is the opportunity to begin this inquiry, as we are beginning to see a shift in the conversation of immigration. The truth is, whether we label people as ‘illegal,’ ‘undocumented,’ ‘deported,’ etc., the one label that I would rather use and find more empowering is ‘Citizen of the World’.

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.

Deportation to Shattered DREAMs: Friendship Has No Borders

Posted date: November 28, 2012 | LatinaLista

 By Nancy Landa


(Editor’s note: Third post in a series focusing on DREAMer Nancy Landa’s first-hand experience of removal proceedings by US Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS)

I set foot on American soil as I got off the bus which had arrived at the San Ysidro-Tijuana border. U.S. Immigration officers were standing ready to hand over to each of us a small brown bag tagged with a label imprinted with our names. When I opened mine, I notice that it contained my belongings I had with me when detained: my purse with just a cell phone and a small amount of cash I was carrying for the day.

I was then escorted by the U.S. agent to a gate where a Mexican immigration officer was waiting. He asked me a few questions to verify if I was Mexican. But with no ID to prove I was one and with a spoken Spanish that seemed to be foreign, I was concerned the immigration officer would doubt my nationality.

I was now only a deportee with no identity. I tried to keep myself calm as I answered each question. After withstanding the suspicious stare of the officer, he decided to let me pass.

Border crossing walk San Ysidro-Tijuana (Photo: Nancy Landa)

It was past 8 pm and I was on my own. With no time to reflect that it was my last moment on the side of the border that had been home to me for almost 20 years, I walked toward the first revolving door that welcomed me to Mexico. But unlike most tourists that pass through these gates on a daily basis, perhaps with a sense of exploration of what they expect to be a sightseeing adventure, I was beginning a fight for survival in unknown territory, with no family or friends living here whom I could call for help. I began to doubt whether I could endure the danger that was present in a town recently plagued by an outbreak of violence.

I continued to walk down the corridor and noticed about 50 meters away was a second gate which I presumed was signaling the end of this transitory space. I was not yet ready to cross this gate, as I felt somewhat protected here. I needed some time to figure out where to go next.

I noticed that some of the deportees that were on the same bus with me were forming a line at a small bungalow closer to the first gate I had exited. The sign above the entrance read Grupo Beta. After a brief conversation with some of the people waiting in line, I learned that this organization provides protection to migrants. One of their services available was a free phone call for each deportee so they could reach their family members.

As I get in line, I remembered I was carrying my cell phone but was unsure if I could use it for calls. I then make a test phone call to one of my friends, and to my surprise it goes through!

In a brief conversation, she informed me that three of my friends were driving to Tijuana to find me and ensure I was in a safe place to stay.

At that very moment, I realized one thing: Friendship Has No Borders.

Despite having a physical wall separating me indefinitely from the world I had known, my friends where there for me and were unwilling to let me face this situation alone.

Although many challenges laid ahead as a result of an abrupt deportation, I knew I was blessed to have a community of friends that did everything they could to help in the transition. For at least a week, I had food and shelter in a relatively safe environment as I figured out how to get my feet off the ground.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that the hundreds of individuals that get thrown out on a daily basis through the same border I crossed, will have the same luck. Sadly, this type of safeguard I received is not institutionalized by neither U.S. or Mexican authorities. Both play a role in a system of detention and deportation that, if scrutinized carefully, can hardly be perceived to follow due process or international standards of humane treatment that they have agreed to comply with.

In the meantime, we continue to have an exodus of hundreds of deportees on a daily basis, trying to figure out how to survive this night.

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.