Undocumented and Pregnant: Survival Tips.

So you’re undocumented and have just found out that you are pregnant. Maybe you are scared and uncertain about what you should do for yourself and your unborn child. Here are 5 things my wife and I did, that will help you navigate this new chapter in your life:

  1. Don’t panic. My wife’s pregnancy was unplanned, so naturally we were both freaked out when we learned about it. At the time, we were both weeks away from being deported. The doctors’ offices and hospitals we called for help and advice were as useless as my appendix. One nurse even suggested that my wife hang tight for 9 months and then hobble into the nearest hospital after her water broke. Thank God we didn’t take her boneheaded advice!
  1. Apply for CHIP. The CHIP I mean is really not related to a computer, a potato, or a cartoon character. It’s actually a form of health insurance for children who come from low or no income families. Applying and qualifying for it (they don’t really care about your immigration status) will enable you go for checkups and deliver your child without having to pay a cent. Here is a site you can use to find the Health Insurance programs that your state has: http://www.insurekidsnow.gov/state/index.html
  1. Pick an insurance company. After you apply for CHIP and they determine you are eligible, they will send you paperwork to enroll in CHIP. They’ll also include a list of insurance companies that carry CHIP as a health plan. The insurance company you pick will determine which doctor you can get. Pick the one that suits your needs.
  1. Pick a Doctor. Once you find a doctor who takes the insurance you fancy, call them to confirm that they take that insurance and if they do, set up an appointment.
  1. Enroll in WIC. WIC stands for Women Infants and Children. It is a supplemental program. It will not take care of your entire grocery bill but it will help provide nutritious food for you and your child. This government program has been a lifesaver, especially after our child was born. With WIC’s help my wife and I are able to get free Formula and baby food for our daughter, Pookie. Our local WIC office has a staff who have offered my wife really good classes (both online and onsite), advice, and tips on how to care for herself and our child. Google WIC + your city to find your local WIC office.

Simply put, your next move now is to find a doctor, and enroll in CHIP and WIC as you await the coming of your child.

 

Cooking My Way Through My Deportation.

Before I got married, I was totally incompetent in the kitchen. I was so bad that I wasn’t even allowed to boil water.  After walking down the aisle, my wife encouraged me to learn my way around our kitchen. It wasn’t long before I began cooking complicated meals like fried eggs, homemade potato fries and even mac & cheese!

After the “visitation” by 2 uninvited ICE agents, our small grocery budget was cut in half. This little snafu hasn’t stopped me from channeling Chef Gordon Ramsay and making the occasional fancy meal for my wife. So without any further ado, I, Chef Sorabji Swaraj (cough cough), will share with you my favorite Tilapia recipe:

 Tilapia

// Sorabji’s Deportation Tilapia Bruschetta//

Serves 2-4 humans

Ingredients
4 Tilapia Fillets
1 lemon
Basil
Olive oil
sea salt and pepper
Cherry Tomatoes
Garlic
Cheddar Cheese (or your favorite cheese)

Method

Preheat you oven to 350ºF. Smear olive oil onto a casserole dish or aluminum pan and then slap your tilapia fillets on it. Don’t crowd the dish. Drizzle lemon juice all over the fillets and then season them with salt and pepper. Cover and place the dish in the fridge.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half, chop the basil and as many garlic cloves as you can stand. Put them all into a bowl, drizzle olive oil over them and mix. Top the Tilapia fillets with your stunning mix, then throw it all into the preheated oven for about 25 minutes.

Check your email, surf the interwebs, and read my blog for those 25 minutes.

Take out the dish or pan and sprinkle plenty of cheese on that sucker. Put it back into the oven for 7 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Serve with a salad, rosemary potatoes (one of my favorites), or basmati rice. I’ve found that this meal pairs well with ChampagneGewurztraminer or any light white or red wine. ENJOY!

3 Things To Do For Someone Who’s Being Deported.

If you know someone who is going through deportation and don’t know what to do for them, today is your lucky day. Here are 3 things you can do that will go a long way in alleviating the stress and strain that they are most likely going through.

1. Take care of their groceries: People who are in deportation proceedings aren’t meant to work and this makes it really hard for them to find the money to feed their families. Getting them a reloadable money card and regularly putting money in it, is a good way of helping them with their groceries.

2. Ask what you can do to help: Nothing is more tragic than a person who helps others by giving them what he or she thinks they need, instead of asking them what they really need. If you don’t know what to do for a person who is being deported, ask them what their needs are. Don’t assume you know what they are.

3. Listen: When you ask them how they are doing, please listen to their reply. A call, a text or a quick visit to check up on them will go a long way in making them feel loved and wanted.

Honorable mention: Paying their rent, giving them money, praying for them, driving them to the immigration court or to see their deportation officer and similar acts of kindness will most likely make their day.

5 Tips On How To Prepare For Immigration Reform

Like many of the undocumented, I’m anxious to know how soon the immigration bill will be passed. I also am curious to find out whether I’ll benefit from it by getting to stay, work and live legally in the US. As far as I know, nobody knows what the bill looks like, nor the exact day it will be passed.

What I know is that the American people want the immigration system to be fixed. They also want the 11 million of us to be legalized. As we wait for the most unproductive Congress since the 1940s to get productive and pass the immigration bill, here are a few things we, the undocumented, need to begin doing:

  1. Start shopping for a real immigration lawyer. Beware of ­fake immigration consultants posing as lawyers. These lawyer wannabes are also known in español as “notarios“. A simple way of finding out whether an immigration lawyer is legit, is by asking them to show you their law license. Don’t be shy; you have the right to ask. A real lawyer won’t take your question personally. In fact, they’ll be more than happy to show you their hard-earned law license. If you don’t know where to start, check out my blog post on How to Pick an Immigration Lawyer.
  2. Don’t apply or pay for any “legalization” benefit. The comprehensive immigration bill has not yet passed, so ignore anyone who hands you a “legalization” form or tries to convince you to fill it for a fee. Avoid those forms like the plague.
  3. Collect and organize every single document you can find. Gather every document that shows you have lived in the US continuously. Then put them in a folder, in a safe, or underneath your mattress. Here are examples of documents you need to gather: Tax returns, drivers license, records of residence, bank records, proof that you have been to the doctor etc. Make sure you put them all in chronological order.
  4. Save Money. Chances are you will need to hire a lawyer to navigate the confusing immigration hoops that the government will have you jump before making you legal. You may also have to pay fines as well as USCIS application fees. It’s really important to start saving money because you will surely need it.
  5. Learn English. Some, like me, don’t think it should be compulsory for everyone to learn to speak “American,” but I know from experience that learning English will increase your chances of being successful. Being proficient in English will also make you an asset to your community. If you cannot afford to get an English tutor, simply become a member of your local public library and check out English as a Second Language (ESL) materials. By the way, library membership is free!  Click HERE to find your local public library.

The inspirational author H. Jackson Brown Jr. once said, “The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” It’s really hard to prepare for something that might or might not happen, but doing the best you possibly can will only set you up for success, if and when congress passes the immigration bill.

Meeting Your Deportation Officer

Here are 7 things you need to consider or do before you meet your Deportation Officer (DO) for the very first time.

1. Arrive early: You’re probably not going to be the only person reporting to the Deportation Officer, so find out what time the offices open and try and get there at least 30 minutes earlier.

2. Confirm the office location: Make sure you know the exact location of the place where you are meant to report. You can find this out here: http://www.ice.gov/contact/ero/. Also, call the number underneath the address to confirm that it’s the location you’re meant to report to.

3. Leave electronics in your car: Some buildings require the people in deportation proceedings to be searched and then pass through metal detectors. I really hate this process. It’s a pain in the gluteus maximus but what can you do? It’s best to leave your electronics in your car. By electronics, I mean Cell phones, iPods, iPads, Walkmans, boom boxes, record Players, etc.

4. Carry your documents & ID: Make sure you carry your Drivers License or some form of ID with you. The officer may ask to see it if that is your first visit. He or she will also ask to see your deportation papers, so it would be kinda nice if you took them with you. The meetings are typically really short; it’s the wait that takes an eternity. So far I have had 2 meetings with my Deportation Officer and they have each lasted a maximum of 5 minutes.

5. Carry a book: Is there a 900-page book you have been dying to read? Take it with you, you will probably need it because of the wait. Here are some suggestions:  Atlas ShruggedGone with the Wind, or something you can identify with, like Les Misérables. If you have an antisocial disposition, then a pair of shades and earplugs will come in handy, just in case the guy or gal sitting next to you has the urge to talk your ear off.

6. Parking fee: I haven’t had to pay for parking yet, but carrying some extra cash won’t hurt.

7. Be nice: On your first visit, you will probably find something to be pissed off about. I know I did. When you get pissed off, I implore you to try and keep your anger to yourself. I hate to break it to you, but as a person in deportation proceedings, you pretty much have very few rights. Don’t exacerbate your situation by giving the officers a reason to make your life miserable.

Now that you have considered those seven things, here is a breakdown of what I have seen happen whenever I visited my Deportation Officer. Your experience will probably differ from mine, but this is how it typically goes down when your name gets called: After you hand your ID and Deportation papers to the officer, he or she will put your information into his or her computer.

You will then be asked if you live at the same location that’s on your deportation papers. It is best to always keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) updated every time you move to a new place of residence. They not only want to keep tabs on you, they also want to know where to send important documents that pertain to your deportation.

Here is a link to the form you need to fill if or when you have to move (http://1.usa.gov/ZOAdMQ). The officer will also call the immigration court’s toll free phone number (1-800-898-7180) to find out whether or not your first court date has been set. After that, he or she will give you the date of your next visit and then send you on your merry way.

So there you have it. Those were the 7 things I wish someone had told me before I met my Deportation Officer for the very first time. I hope they give you an idea of what to expect when you go there. I wish you well on your first meeting with your DO.

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!

How to pick an immigration lawyer.

After you get caught your life will never be the same again. I was so traumatized after being visited early this year by  two ICE agents. It dawned on me the day after I was released from custody that I needed a lawyer.

I needed a damn good lawyer, one that would fight for me with every fiber of their being. Sadly, such lawyers are few and far between. My search for a lawyer took me all over my city. I even spent a fortune interviewing and consulting lawyers. I eventually found a lawyer who was a perfect fit for me.

Here are some of the things one needs to think about when finding an immigration lawyer who is the prefect fit for you.

1. Price: Most lawyers have a consultation fee. In my experience the fees start at $50. Sometimes the lawyer will subtract the consultation fee from the total bill if you decide to go with him or her. Make sure to find out if the lawyer is billing you by the hour or whether he or she has a flat fee. Be on the lookout for hidden fees.

2. Gender: Gender doesn’t matter. I know people don’t like admitting that they’d rather have a male lawyer instead of a female lawyer. Truth be told I have found female lawyers to be way, way on top of their game than their male counterparts. But that’s just my observation.

3. Free Lawyers: To me they are a myth, a legend, just like the unicorn or the mermaid. Don’t get me wrong, i’m sure they exist but i’m yet to see one in their natural habitat. I’m also sure they are a rare species because my guess is a lawyer’s got to pay the rent and like my hommie MC Ray Marcusi says; “Dude, ‘free’ don’t pay da rent!”

I think that when it comes to lawyers, you get what you pay for.

When you get your Notice To Appear (NTA), the kind and benevolent folks at ICE will include in it a page that has a free legal services providers list. Don’t even bother looking at it. It’s a waste of time. I researched the list and most of those organizations that were on the list weren’t helpful to me. Many are swamped with immigration cases as well as inquiries from people like you and me who want to be represented for free. My advise would be to bite the bullet and hire yourself a good immigration attorney, one who you can afford.

4. Reputation: I have heard so many horror stories of lawyers really screwing their clients over. It’s really heartbreaking. To some lawyers you are just a paycheck. The money you give him/her will probably go to buying a single meal at The Ritz Carlton or some other fancy restaurant. This person is going to be defending you. His defense will determine the course of your future so you better choose one wisely. Do your homework, ask friends  and family members if they know any good lawyers. Do your homework thoroughly as though your life depended on it because really it does.

  • Tip: After someone recommends a lawyer to you get online and Visit the State Bar Website of the state you live in. I live in Texas so my State Bar website is http://www.texasbar.com/.  Then click on the link for “Find a Lawyer.” Type in your lawyers full name or bar number into the search box and click on “Submit.” You will find almost all there is to know about the lawyer you are thinking of hiring.
  • Another Tip: Here is a site you can use to find a local immigration lawyer http://www.ailalawyer.com/