WIC and Underwear.

The other day I was standing in line at the self-check out section at our local grocery store waiting for an open station. In front of me was a couple who had just scanned the items they had bought and were about to pay.

The lady, who looked so pregnant I was afraid that she’d go into labor right in front of me whipped out a peculiar looking card from her purse to pay for the items. Immediately, her man began to moonwalk away from her and look around to see who was watching. He looked somewhat apologetic and embarrassed and I knew why.

3 years ago when I had a job, the idea of people getting on government assistance repulsed me. I strongly believed that people who had two hands, two feet, and clean underwear had no business getting government assistance. Then I woke up one morning with a pregnant wife, no job, in deportation proceedings and wearing somewhat clean underwear. I had no choice but to get on government assistance because it was the only legal way I knew to survive the storm we were in.

For 15 years my wife and I religiously gave a portion of our paychecks to the bottomless pit of taxes and Social Security. Back then, we knew full well that as undocumented immigrants we’d never benefit from any of it. Now that we have a citizen child, we are eligible to use Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as well as Women Infants and Children (WIC) for our daughter, Pookie.

Using WIC is humbling, but you won’t find me getting all sheepish about whipping out my WIC card at a grocery store. Nor do I care that there are people who think of me as a parasitic déclassé for doing so. They do not know my story.

I paid taxes for 15 years, and I think that, in itself, gives me the license to get food for my precious wife and child. So the next time you see someone unapologetically and enthusiastically swiping his WIC card, that’s probably me getting food for the two loves of my life.

 

Hope

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Just when I thought that nobody gave a flip about the Undocumented, my wife and I stumbled upon an amazing non-profit organization called the Hope Resource Center of McKinney.

Six weeks into my wife’s pregnancy, we walked into the Hope Resource Center clueless, scared and concerned about our future.

The general advice I’d received from almost every hospital nurse that I’d talked to was to tell my pregnant and undocumented wife to hang in there, take prenatal supplements and then dash to the nearest hospital ER when her water broke.

As far as we were concerned, there was no way in Hades we were going to do that to our unborn child. So we ignored their horrendous advice and began looking for a center that would counsel us and point us in the right direction.

After some googling and calling around, we came across the Hope Resource Center and made an appointment with them . We arrived at the Resource Center on the appointed day with many questions, fears and reservations. Our trepidation was laid to rest when a very sweet Nurse came up to us and asked to see my wife. Later, she came and asked me if I wanted to join my wife in her office.

I jumped at the opportunity because I had a question. It seemed to me like every other second, my pregnant wife would complain that she was tired. So I asked the Nurse if this “tiredness” complaint would be there through all three semesters.

The Nurse smiled and instead of calling me a moron for saying semester instead of trimester, she assured me that it was natural for pregnant women to be tired. “Her tiredness” she said, “is because, among other things, the baby inside her is growing by leaps and bounds.”

About a week later we returned to the Resource Center for a free ultrasound. Nothing really prepares you for that very first image of your unborn child. Though hazy and still not really defined, I saw my child in all its glory. It was at that moment, it really dawned on me that I was going to be a father!

The staff at the center couldn’t have been nicer. They rejoiced with us as we watched the ultrasound of our baby and, before we left, they gave us hugs, gifts and promised to pray for our immigration situation. Their compassion and genuine love for us made up for all the hate, spite and insensitivity we’d received over the course of this past year.

After receiving ultrasound photos of our unborn child, a handmade shawl and a devotional book, my wife and I hopped into our ride and drove to the other side of town to meet with our immigration lawyer. We’d just left a place that was full of hope, love and support and were heading into the real world; a world that seemed to care less about us because of our immigration status.

A Pleasant Distraction.

 

I came home recently to find my wife with tears in her eyes. Sensing impending bad news, I braced myself and asked her what was wrong. She responded by pointing to an object that was lying beside her.

It was a Clear blue digital pregnancy test that had the life changing words, “Pregnant” on it. My jaw dropped to the floor and the only thought that kept looping in my head like a broken record was, “What are we gonna do?”

A year ago, my wife and I were recouping in New Mexico from a traumatic visit by two ICE agents, who consequently put us both in deportation proceedings. Exactly a year later, we are now faced with equally life changing, yet astounding news.

As I looked at the pregnancy test, tears began to roll down my face. Just like my wife, my tears weren’t tears of sadness; they were in fact tears of joy. For some inexplicable reason, I felt and still feel a sense of calm despite the realization that we are about to bring an infant into our turbulent lives.

I don’t know how this new development will affect our impending deportation, but what I do know is that I’m so freaking excited to be the father of a child who decided to visit us at a time when we most needed a pleasant distraction.

 

Finding Another Home.

One of the hardest decisions my wife and I had to make was to move out of our apartment. After taking a long and hard look at our finances, it became crystal clear that breaking our lease and moving out would save us a boatload of money. Money we would need to sustain us up until we got deported, and money to help us settle in our home country.

At first, we considered moving in with extended family, but we didn’t want to be burdensome. So we took the next logical step and logged onto craigslist.com to find someone who’d be willing to rent out a room to us.

Doug had put an ad on Craigslist saying that he had a room to rent to someone who was drug-free, without drama and who communicated well. Though it kinda sounded like an ad for an online dating site, I thought I’d take the chance and give Doug a call. The very first thing he asked me was if I was real. This strange question should have been a dead giveaway that Doug was one fry short of a Happy Meal, but I was so focused on finding a place to live that I didn’t pay it any mind.

We set up a day and time to meet. Doug explained that he preferred that we first meet at a restaurant in his city. The restaurant, he said, was inside a gas station. Being a man of extreme caution, I made my wife tag along as my bodyguard and chaperone for the meetup. Doug was a big, tall and imposing senior citizen of the Caucasian persuasion. Besides his ball cap which had the words ‘USS Ronald Reagan’ on it, he wore blue jeans and a blue t-shirt that had an image of the twin towers and the words “Never Forget” beneath them.

After exchanging greetings, Doug listed his demands and requirements of us. 10 seconds into his oration, it was clear to me that he was looking for a girlfriend and a psychiatrist instead of a tenant. The coup de grâce was when he asked my wife and I if we were born-again Christians, and what our political beliefs were. I told him that my political beliefs were personal and it was at that point his tone changed. Doug remarked that he wasn’t willing to rent his room to us because I was being secretive about my political beliefs. Needless to say, the meeting was over.

As we drove away from that gas station/restaurant I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Doug. Even though Doug, a self-described born-again Christian had every right in the world not to rent out a room to us, he’d just shut his doors to a decent couple that was desperately in need of a good Samaritan.

After meeting with a few other Craigslisters, we decided to stay put, rather than move out. We’d come to the conclusion that our lives were already complicated enough, and the last thing we wanted was to involve complete strangers in our tumultuous affairs. Our game plan was to stay in our apartment up until the day Barack Obama decided to deport us.

 

Zumba and I

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In an effort to raise my spirit and get me out of the house, my wife asked me to accompany her to one of her Zumba classes. For those who’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what Zumba is, allow me to enlighten you.

Zumba is a fitness program that’s all the rage right now. It was started way back in the 1990s by a Colombian immigrant called Alberto “Beto” Perez. Frankly, I don’t know what the big deal is about it, but what I know from experience is that it’s an hour session jam packed with loud music and atrocious dancing.

On the appointed day, I was yanked out of bed, shoved into our car and driven to the local gym by my loving wife. When we got there, I reluctantly emerged from our car and dragged my feet to the gym. The Zumba room was huge and jam-packed with women of all races, ages, shapes and sizes. On top of that, the walls had full-length mirrors so that everyone in the room could stare at their bad dancing and sweaty reflections.

Being the lone male, I positioned myself close to the exit so that I could make a run for it if someone yelled “fire!” Or if the dancing got too risqué for my taste. The last thing I wanted was my man card revoked because of allegedly dancing on an invisible pole to the rhythms of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.”

An eager instructor stood before us. She was fairly young and well–toned, just like the ladies on the late night fitness infomercials. The rest of us looked like we’d been rounded up from all the local fast food restaurants and dumped inside the gym. The instructor didn’t waste any time working us all to death. Before I knew it, I was belly dancing, dropping “it” like it’s hot, and shaking my “money maker.” My wife was in stitches the whole time, and that was fine with me. Hearing her laugh at my pathetic attempts to dance was worth the revocation of my man card.

Being in deportation proceedings hasn’t been easy for my wife and me. Every day is full of fear and uncertainty about our future. Most days, we both find ourselves on emotional roller-coasters, yet we consciously strive to find ways to cheer each other up. If you’re going through a really rough time, I encourage you to do a good and unselfish deed for a friend or random stranger. I promise that it will go a long way in making you feel better about yourself and your situation.

Visiting New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment.

rainbow_1The day after I got caught by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, my wife and I boarded a plane and headed to the state of New Mexico. We needed to get away from our new reality, even though it was for just a couple of days.

We landed in the beautiful desert city of Albuquerque, rented a car and headed straight to our hotel room to rest and relax. Being uncertain about our fate and future made us very scared. We knew that if we didn’t come up with a plan as soon as possible, we’d be in deep doodoo.

The next day my wife and I had complimentary breakfast in the hotel lobby. There, we listed down every single one of our worldly possessions. We discussed and deliberated over what we needed to get rid of and what we needed to sell. Both our dream cars had to go. No more romantic dinners at our favorite French restaurant and no more shopping at fancy clothing stores. Whether we liked it or not, the time had come for us to buckle down and live on a tight budget. The era of living large was over and a life of penury had just been ushered in, thanks to the good folks at ICE.

Allow me to geek out for a second. The artist Georgia Totto O’Keeffe is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest painters to ever grace God’s green earth. She resided in Taos and, later, Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she painted stunning landscapes and flowers. A lot of her work has been put up in an amazing museum in Santa Fe.

Visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe museum was a major priority for me, so my wife and I took a one-hour pilgrimage to pay it a visit. We rolled into Santa Fe, former home of the Pueblo Indians, full of excitement and anticipation. Almost all the modern buildings had flat roofs and were made of concrete, wood and adobe, just like the Pueblo Indians made them back in the day. After getting lost and sidetracked for hours (because asking for directions is for sissies), we finally found the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

I was giddy as a kid on Christmas morning when I entered the museum. After paying the entry fee, I bolted towards the gallery where O’Keeffe’s work was said to be exhibited, only to find it closed for renovation! Instantly, tears began to roll down my face and I broke down. I felt like nothing was working out for me and, on top of that, I was terrified that my future would probably be full of pain and suffering.

A couple of months later, my luck took a turn for the better, and my wife and I were able to hop into our ride and take a 13-hour drive back to Santa Fe. This time, I got to see every single one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works. It was a breathtaking experience.

On our drive back to the Lone Star State, we also got to witness a double rainbow, which was, to me, a sign that in the midst of these stormy circumstances, there were gonna be moments of beauty and respite. And no matter where I ended up, I was going to be just fine.

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!

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

My First Immigration Court Hearing Part 1

My heart was racing when I first walked into the immigration court lobby. The place was packed with people who like me, had faced the wrath of the Immigration and Customs Enforcers (ICE). I couldn’t help but wonder what their individual stories were. We all looked sad, defeated, and scared. It looked like we were all going to a funeral, our funeral. The only people who seemed relaxed and chipper were the lawyers who had come to defend their clients. Later on in the course of the court hearing, I would realize that its not really wise to take a lawyer with you on your first court hearing.

Looking around, it was really hard for me to ignore the demographics in the lobby. Most of the people there were Hispanic. These didn’t look like middle class Hispanics either. There were also a couple South Asians, a lone Arab, about 5 Africans and not a Caucasian in sight…well, except for one lawyer. With our lives in upheaval, we sat there silently waiting for 8:30 am to arrive. Continue reading

My Story.

Everyone who has ever been deported or is in deportation proceedings has a story. Some peoples stories are sad, others tragic, others are absurd. Mine my friend was the latter.

How and where did I get “busted”? Well, I’m embarrased to say that I was busted while I was using the bathroom. Yes, I was on the porcelain throne, the mighty John…I was in the crapper when a whippersnapper of an Immigration and Customs Agent (ICE) burst into my bathroom and asked me to show him where my hands were and step out of the bathroom. This guy had a gun, a badge and a mean looking face. This guy was the real deal.

I remember that day really vividly. Before that, ICE agents were to me an urban myth. A thing of legend. I had heard rumors that the immigration agents in Texas had been cracking down on international students who had overstayed their visas. For some reason I felt immune to the wrath of ICE but it turns out that my days were numbered. My day of reckoning had arrived I was about to be ICE’d. Continue reading