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.

 

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Marking Up The Immigration Bill

When the “Gang of Eight” released their much-awaited bill, they posted it online for all to see. A group of select Senators, both Republican and Democrat, were then given permission to mark up the bill.

This meant that they were allowed to discuss, debate and offer amendments which, if agreed upon, would be added to the “Gang’s” immigration bill. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you see it), scandals and natural disasters made it possible for the senators to mark up the bill without much interference from anti-immigration nutcases.

I, along with fellow immigration reform junkies, followed the markup process on the interwebs, as well as on CSPAN. It was great watching the “Gang of Eight” systematically quash every amendment brought forward with the intention of killing their Immigration bill.

Fighting off poison pill amendments from Republican members of the “Gang of Hate” was no easy feat. Ted Cruz, the Canadian- born Hispanic Senator from Texas, whined and whined incessantly, like a 3 year old, whenever his poison pill amendments were rejected.

Anti-immigration Senator Jeff Sessions from the suthern state of Alabama constantly regurgitated lies concocted by immigrant hate groups like NumbersUSA and FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform). He matter-of-factly claimed that, if legalized, we, the Undocumented, would pretty much steal jobs from just about every living US citizen.

At the end of the markup, the enemies of immigration reform were defeated and the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the “Gang of Eight” bill with a 13-5 vote!

Next, the bill will go to the Senate floor where it will be discussed, debated upon and voted on. The general desire is for it to pass the Senate with at a 60+ vote majority. When it passes (and I have faith it will), the bill will move to the Republican-dominated House.

What happens to the bill in the House is anyone’s guess. That said, time is running out and now is the time for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. We, the Undocumented, can’t wait to come out of the shadows and get a fair shot at living the American Dream. For so long we have been living the American Nightmare.

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

IMG_9564
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.

An Immigration Bill Has Emerged!

Exactly a year after I was put in deportation proceedings, an immigration bill has emerged. Drafted by 8 Senators known as the Gang of 8, the Border Security Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (phew, what a mouthful!) just might save me and others from getting deported…that’s if it is speedily passed and signed into law.

Immediately after being signed into law, the Department of Homeland security will have six months to come up with a plan to secure the US borders. I wish them luck. Meanwhile, the government will take those 6 months to prepare for the barrage of applications from undocumented immigrants desiring Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status.

If eligible, we’ll all be allowed to live and work legally in the US, as well as travel outside of the country. We would also have to pay about $2,000 in fines over a 10y-year period. Learning English, taking a civics test and paying back taxes (if the IRS says we owe them) would also be requirements. The bill states that for 10 years, we will not be able to access the same federal benefits we never had access to in the first place. After 10 years of not joining a gang and not driving drunk, both of which would be grounds for deportation, we’ll then be able to apply for a green card. 3 years after that, we’d be allowed to petition for citizenship.

Those who came into the country after December 31, 2011, are simply out of luck and, when caught, will be processed and deported. The rest of us will have to prove that we have  lived continuously in the US since we got here, and we will have about a year to come out of the “shadows” and apply for RPI status.

If, like me, you are in removal proceedings, or have been ordered deported, have no fear. You, too, will be eligible to apply for RPI status, if you’re still around when the bill is passed. This is why it is wise to buy more time. If, at present, you haven’t yet been ordered deported, tell your lawyer to ask the judge to delay your deportation on the grounds that you are eligible for RPI status. Another thing that will come as a relief for many undocumented immigrants is that those who made false claims to US citizenship, misrepresented themselves or committed fraud will be given waivers. In other words, they’ll be forgiven!

The path to legality and, eventually , to citizenship won’t be easy. To quote Senator Bob Menendez, one of the authors of the bill, “This is a long pathway. It is a long pathway, but it is an achievable pathway.”

A year ago this month, when I was face to face with two ICE agents, the words Immigration Reform weren’t even in my vocabulary. A year later, I eat and breathe immigration reform. So much has happened so fast! Because of that, I’m hopeful that someday, somehow my deportation will be halted, and that this bill, which is still a bill and not yet law, will find its way into President Obama’s hands. I’m hopeful that it will be signed into law, making me and millions like me beneficiaries of immigration reform.

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.

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.

Times, they really are a-Changin.

For years, anti-immigration groups like NumbersUSA, Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)* have been using fear to keep the undocumented in this country mute and afraid. By spewing out slanted statistics, and xenophobic rhetoric, they have been very effective in brainwashing gullible citizens to dislike the undocumented.

 My favorite folk singer, Bob Dylan, sang a song called  Times, “They are a-Changin’.” Indeed, the Bobster was right. Times they are a-changing for the 11 million of us who are undocumented.

On the 5th of this month, House Republicans and Democrats held a hearing to wrap their minds around this immigration “issue.” The session was interrupted by a group of young protesters called Dreamers, who repeatedly chanted, “Undocumented and unafraid!” This act of defiance is emblematic of the sentiments many young undocumented immigrants in this country have. We’re tired of being used, but seldom appreciated. We’re also tired of being afraid, and we’re willing to come out into the open to speak our minds, despite the consequences.

Anti-immigration fanatics (you know yourselves) know that we are all onto them. The American people are no longer buying their tripe. These clowns now seem scared and shaken, and they ought to be because the time has come for the undocumented to be acknowledged, appreciated and helped.

In 2007 President George W. Bush brought forward a bill to legalize undocumented immigrants. Sadly, his bill fell 14 votes short of the 60 that he needed to push toward a final vote. Fast forward to 2013 and everyone, except those who have been living under a rock, agrees that the immigration system is broken. NOW is the time to fix it through comprehensive immigration reform.

So to those who are asking me and my compatriots to self-deport back to México, even though many of us aren’t from México, we have this to say to you: We are no longer afraid. Either join us, or get out of our way because immigration reform will happen this time. Whether you like it or not. Times, they really are a-changin’.

http://www.humanlifereview.com/index.php/component/content/article/68-2012-fall/205-hijacking-immigration