Coming to America.

“Your coming to America was a mistake,” a professor who was instrumental in getting my mom and me to America told me one day. The college I had been accepted to, he said, had an unspoken policy of not admitting international students. They feared that admitting them, especially if they were married, would complicate things and possibly lead to their families being brought to America. In a way, their fears were realized when my father’s college application slipped through the cracks, leading to him getting admitted at that college.

I graduated from high school that same year. My intention was to go to university, but my grades were not so great., So I opted to enroll in a college that cared more about my parents’ money than my high school grades. This was about January 1998. A few weeks after enrollment, my mother received a letter from the US informing her that the college where my father was studying was offering to reunite us with him. Within a matter of days, I received my acceptance letter and mom got a letter telling her that she would go to America as my father’s dependent. I was beside myself with joy when those documents arrived.

Now that we had acceptance letters from my father’s college, the next thing we had to do was go to the US Embassy to secure visas. When we arrived at the Embassy, there was a long line of people that snaked around the building. Like us, each of them was hoping to get a visa to the United States of America. The consulate office opened at 9am. At midday my mother and I were finally ushered into the Embassy. I remember walking through metal detectors manned by a stone-faced US Marine, who looked pissed-off at the world. This guy was built like the Incredible Hulk and seemed to be looking for an excuse—any excuse—to unleash his wrath on everyone there.

I went through the metal detector and past the Incredible Hulk without incident, and quickly marched into a large room that resembled the DMV. Everyone in the Embassy formed another line and waited to be called. When my turn came I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and walked toward an unoccupied booth. I handed the stone-faced lady behind the booth all the documents she needed to give me a visa. After 5 minutes of interrogation, the lady asked me to come back later in the day to get my student visa. My mother, too, was successful in getting her F-2 visa.

A couple of days after arriving in America, I got my first on-campus job. This job, I later learned, was the quintessential International Student job. I was handed a toilet brush, soap, a mop and a bucket, and was told to clean all the toilets on the first floor of the college administration building. I scrubbed toilets, vacuumed carpets and took out trash in that building up until the day before I received my college degree.

Now that I am in the process of being kicked out of this country by ICE, I sometimes wonder whether coming to America was a mistake. After much thinking, my conclusion is that it wasn’t. It was actually a blessing in disguise. I came to the US as an infantile teenager and slowly, but surely, became a responsible grown-up–though I know some of my buddies would beg to differ. Living in America has made me realize that no matter how young I am, my opinion matters. I have met really wonderful people whose friendship I will cherish for eternity. I have also had the good fortune of experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly side of this country. Most of all, I feel that coming to America was really worth it, because it was here that I met my foxy wife. Take that professor!

Waivers? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Waivers!

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced that as of March 4th, “illegal” aliens who had US citizen children would be given a special waiver. This waiver would allow them to stay in the US as they continued to work on seeking legal status. To get legal status, the “illegal” aliens would still have to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that their US-born children would endure extreme hardship if their parents were deported.

Once the government accepted the proof presented to them, the aliens would then have to go back to their country of origin to pick up their visa from the US consulate. This time, the administration pinkie-promised that the processing of the visas at the consulate would take a shorter time than before. They also gave their word that after the “illegal” aliens got their visas, they wouldn’t be prevented from rejoining their families in the US. Frankly, I’m extremely skeptical of this so-called “special” waiver.

It doesn’t sound to me like a good deal, because it is not 100% guaranteed that Homeland Security will allow the person back into the US once they leave the country. I say this because I don’t trust the administration; not just yet.

Throughout the past year, President Obama, as well as Homeland Security, claimed that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was focusing on arresting criminals. However, they still sent two ICE agents to capture me, even though I wasn’t a threat to anyone. It seems to me that there was a break in communication between the administration and my local ICE field office. That break needs to be fixed.

I think it’s sweet that the administration is making us think that it’s doing something about the 11 million “illegal” immigrants living in the US; but that’s not good enough. Very few “illegal” aliens will take advantage of the waiver because it’s too risky. Few of them are crazy enough to come out in the open and surrender at an ICE office in exchange for a waiver. They are smarter than that. Those in deportation proceedings are about the only ones who stand to benefit from this waiver. Waving waivers at “illegal” immigrants’ faces may seem like an enticing and sexy act, but few, if any, will take the bait.

 

So you’ve been caught by Immigration, what’s next?

First of all, I would like to say that I am really sorry that this has happened to you. I remember when it happend to me. I was so scared, paranoid and traumatized. My heart would race whenever anyone knocked on my door. I also had trouble sleeping and had numerous nightmares.

Now that you have been busted, you probably feel like your life is over. However, I would like to tell you that it isn’t; your life has just began.

The US immigration system is set up to make your life a living hell. They want to break down your spirit and frustrate you so that you can either kill yourself or deport yourself and they will try their darndest to do so. Please don’t let them. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

Here are a few suggestions to guide you through this insanely scary time:

1. Dont Panic: It is easy to freak out and even lose your mind. Doing so will bring great joy to those clowns who caught you. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Panicking only made me hysterical and hard to live with. The last thing you wanna do is be a burden to yourself and those around you. So don’t panic. Resolve to take things one day at a time.

2. Don’t Hide: Deportation is such a personal thing; not every one of your friends and loved ones will know, understand, fathom or comprehend what you are really going through. Because of that you may feel tempted to become a recluse, to hide yourself from everybody. Please don’t do that. Whenever you are tempted to withdraw from those around you, force yourself to spend more time with them. Doing so will help you heal and prevent you from being self absorbed.

3. Be Tight-Lipped: The day I got arrested, I told a friend about what happened to me. Before I knew it, word was all over the place with the juicy details that pertained to my arrest and release. I felt betrayed. I forgave the dude but I learned a valuable lesson that day. Be very cautious about whom you tell your story. There are people out there who revel in the fact that someone has been arrested. It makes them feel relieved because at least it wasn’t them. I tell you, this situation will make you quickly realize who your real friends are.

4. Sell, Sell, Sell: You are being deported. There is no need to hang on to most of the things you have. Plus you will really need all the money you can get your hands on because you are not supposed to work and yet you are meant to provide bond money, buy a one-way ticket home, hire a lawyer, drive to court and to the office where you will be reporting to your Deportation Officer, etc.

If you are going to sell your stuff, start by selling them to your friends and then, later on, to the public on a site like Craigslist. I have also got to warn you that Craigslist has some crazy ass homo sapiens, so be on your guard when dealing with them. Most will wanna buy your things for free and even have the audacity to ask for a discount.

5. Carry your Papers: This is to me the most demeaning, humiliating part of this whole deal. You must carry copies of your deportation papers everywhere you go. Yes, everywhere you go. From now on they will be an unwanted, but necessary appendage. Everyday I carry those papers I feel as though I’m in Nazi Germany, but it’s for my own good. Not having your papers on you could result in immediate detention and possible deportation. Nobody wants a premature deportation; I know I don’t. Carry your papers.

6. Find a Lawyer: It is important for you to begin to shop for a good lawyer to represent you. If you are clueless when it comes to finding an immigration attorney, you are in luck. Check out this post I wrote on How to pick an Immigration Lawyer.

7. Don’t Do Anything Stupid: You may have been under the crazy illusion that you have the same rights as an American. My friend, I hate to bust your bubble and tell you that as a foreigner, and especially as a person in deportation proceedings, you don’t have much in terms of rights. An American dog probably has more rights than you. So please, for the love of God, don’t rob someone. Also, don’t drink and drive – that’s just stupid. Don’t do it.

8. Choose Life: A while ago, a friend of mine committed suicide because he had immigration issues. His death was a big loss to so many who knew him. He was a really, really cool guy and I still miss him. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please realize that many people going through deportation have the same thoughts. Deportation is hell, and most people going through it feel tempted, from time to time, to end it all once and for all. If you are at that point in your life, please seek help. Trust me, I have been there. The threat of deportation can make you wanna do crazy things. Killing yourself shouldn’t be one of them.

Connect with a local church, religious community, support group, or any positive organization that will prevent you from losing hope. Right now living may not seem worth it but trust me: your best years are still ahead of you!

My First Immigration Court Hearing Part 2.

My First Immigration Court Hearing Part 1

Whenever I think of the day I went to court, my blood boils. Above the judges bench is a seal that reads DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:  “Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur”. I can remember shaking my head and thinking, “Justice for whom?” Looking around the immigration court, it was clear that there was no justice here and if there was, it didn’t look like it gave a flying flip about us.

The very first group the judge decided to deal with was the group of people who had lawyers. An older Hispanic couple with US citizen children had opted come to their first court hearing with a lawyer whom they ‘d imported from another state. Florida, I think. I mean, I have never seen a more incompetent lawyer in my entire life! First of all, this dude came to court late and when he walked into court, he began looking for his clients, whom he clearly had not met or talked to before. How this clown passed the bar and was allowed to practice immigration law is beyond me.

When the judge came into the courtroom and proceeded to find out what their case was about, this lawyer began to stammer, stutter and endlessly flip through his clients’ deportation papers. My guess is that he was looking for his paycheck.

It turns out that this incompetent lawyer wasn’t even the one the couple had hired! The lawyer they hired didn’t feel the need to come and defend his clients because I guess he had better things to do. Instead, he sent his inept sidekick who fumbled his way through his clients’ case. Fortunately for them, the Judge had pity on them and gave them another court date.

My heart broke for a gentleman from Africa. He had come to court that day with his lawyer, who barely put up a fight. In less than five minutes, the judge found the African deportable. He was asked to leave the country within four months and show proof that he had purchased a ticket in two months. Failure to leave the country in 4 months, he was told, would result in him being barred from America for good. I mean, this guy looked like he had been hit by a ton of bricks when the judge made that ruling. He looked devastated, and all of us there knew exactly what that ruling meant for the poor guy. It meant that he had less than 4 months to sell all of his belongings, bid farewell to his friends and family. He would also need to buy a one-way airline ticket and mentally and psychologically prepare himself to go back to a country that he probably had not been to in a long, long time. In less than 5 minutes his life was turned upside down and inside out.

Now, the kicker is that while the judge was giving this devastating ruling, the ICE lawyer (whose job was to make sure none of us stood a fighting chance) was on her laptop checking her personal email.

Please allow me to get on my soapbox for a minute:

Every time you a read bunch of statistics or see a see photo of an “illegal” alien being deported, you’ve got to understand that we are not the only ones going through this hell. We have children, spouses, parents and friends who are being affected by what’s happening to us. Yes, we put ourselves in this situation and yes, we broke the law. The law we broke is an unjust and unfair law.

Contrary to popular belief, most of us aren’t parasites. Most of us aren’t criminals. We are hard-working, family-oriented, tax-paying individuals who just want to provide for our families and live the American Dream. We are the life blood of this country. We work at McDonalds, clean bathrooms, mow lawns and build homes. We cook in restaurants; we nurse and save the lives of the sick and elderly. We pretty much do many of the jobs that Americans won’t do.

How does America repay us for our back-breaking service to its citizens? It does so by treating many of us like slaves and then deporting us. What gets to me is that the same people who always yack about “family values” are the exact same people who are quick to say that “all illegal aliens must be deported.” They conveniently choose to ignore one tragic reality: by deporting the “illegals” they are breaking and tearing families apart.  Then again, maybe what they mean by “family values” is that some families are more valuable than others.

Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Where was I? I was talking about my first immigration court hearing. The second group that the judge dealt with on that day were those who had come to court for their first hearing but didn’t have a lawyer. The judge seemed to be more patient with them, almost fatherly. He addressed everyone in English, while a Spanish interpreter translated his words for the myriad Hispanics present.

Each of these aliens was given the pleasure of appearing before the judge. Each asked for more time to find a lawyer.The magnanimous judge gave everyone 6 months to find a lawyer. Looking back, I feel that the second group was the wiser of the bunch. The day ICE catches up with you, your clock starts counting down to your exit of the country. The best strategy to use is to buy time. Trust me, you need all the time you can get to plan and prepare for the uncertain future.

For that reason, I believe that it is best to go to court without a lawyer for your first hearing and tell the judge that you need more time to find a lawyer. Do this even if you already have a lawyer. Going to your first hearing with a lawyer would leave him or her no choice but to defend you. If you don’t have American citizen kids or relatives (citizens or permanent residents) who directly depend on you, then you will be more than likely found deportable. If, on the other hand, you are tired of it all and just want to leave, then by all means go to your first hearing with a lawyer.

The deportation process can be very scary and it’s so easy to lose hope. Please don’t lose hope; hang in there. Surround yourself with positive and helpful people. Whenever you can, try and participate in activities that will make you focus on others and not yourself. One way I have dealt with my deportation nightmare is by helping others. In turn, this has helped me deal with all the baggage and emotions that come with being in deportation proceedings.

My First Immigration Court Hearing Part 1