An Emerging Crisis.

A new immigration crisis has emerged. Over the past few years more than 40,000 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have been showing up at the southern border asking for asylum because of the rising gang violence in their home countries.

So who is to blame for this influx of children? Frankly, there is enough blame to go around. One could blame the US for supporting corrupt Central American governments. One could also blame Mexico for adopting new immigration policies that make it easier for Central Americans to enter and cross Mexico. One could even blame the parents of these children for sending them on a perilous journey to a country that they believe won’t reject their traumatized children.

It is highly unlikely that these minors will be granted asylum. They will most likely be detained and processed. Some will be released to relatives in the US after paying bond, but most will eventually be placed in deportation proceedings.

The solution to this crisis is not simple, but something could be done to begin nipping this crisis in the bud. I believe that “something” is Immigration Reform. Immigration Reform will fix the current broken system and usher in a system that works.

A system that works is one that will allow 11 million of us living in the shadows to start living our lives in the light. A system that works will bring the backlogged Immigration Court system from the Stone Age into the 21st century. A system that works will secure the border and make it easier for foreigners to enter this country without having to risk their lives.

Sad as this crisis is, I’m glad that it has brought Immigration Reform back into the limelight. My wish as a parent is that when all is said and done, these children will end up in a place where they won’t have to worry about gang violence, or constantly be afraid of deportation. Until then, we all need to keep fighting for Immigration Reform.

 

Hope

hopeWEB

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.

 

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!

Is Change Really Coming?

I’m seated in a near-empty apartment, trying to digest everything that has taken place in the span of 10 months. Where there was a brown upholstered sofa, now stand two folding chairs. Where there was a glass-top dining table, stands a folding TV tray. My mattress sits on the bedroom floor, and I use mason jars instead of drinking glasses. I have lost many things but, thankfully, I haven’t lost hope.

 Last December, I went to see my no-nonsense immigration lawyer. I mean, this guy is a tell-it-like-it-is kinda guy. The very first time I met him, he pulled a Beyoncé on me and told me that it would be best for me to pack up my things and go back to my home country. He explained that my being out of status for close to 10 years, as well as working without authorization would really work against me in immigration court.

On my second visit, this 7-time winner of the ‘Rising Star Super-Lawyer’ award began to sing a different tune! Instead of reiterating what he had told me the first time, he pretty much pleaded with me to buy time and stay in the US. He disclosed that there were changes taking place in Washington, and there was a chance that I would benefit from them.

obama

Earlier last week, President Obama gave a speech in which he laid out his ideas for immigration reform. The president made it clear that there was going to be a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. I was really hoping that he would immediately stop all deportations, but sadly he didn’t. I found it really hard to come to grips with the fact that while he spoke, many like me were being arrested, processed and deported.

President Obama’s outline differed from the proposal made by a bi-partisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight”. In their reform plan, they said that they were going to give us a path to citizenship only when the border was secure.

How secure do these dudes want this already secure border to be? Didn’t they get the memo from the Pew Research Center that net migration from Mexico has come to a standstill? I’m no BS detector but I get the feeling that the 8 gangstaz have come up with a great stalling stratagem. My question to the Eight Gs is this: how many Billion $$ with a B will you continue to flush down the Department of Homeland Security for the sake of Border Security (B.S)?

That said, it is such a relief to know that there is going to be a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. My concern as a person in deportation proceedings is how long immigration reform will take. For me, the deportation clock is ticking. I probably have until December before I get deported. I know I’m biased, but I think that the first step in immigration reform should be putting a moratorium on all deportations. I really don’t want to be among the 2 million who will have been deported by Obama in 2014 if Congress decides to take its sweet time.

President Obama said that we, the 11 million, must be held responsible for our actions by jumping a few “tough, but fair” hoops which include: registering with the authorities (Done), passing security and criminal checks (I ain’t got nothin’ to hide), paying taxes (I’ve always paid my taxes), going to the back of the line (just as long as they let me work legally), and learning English (which I clearly cannot speak).

For someone like me who graduated from college, these hoops can be easily jumped, but what about the millions of undocumented immigrants who have no formal education and are unable to pass English language tests? Will they have to be deported or forced back into hiding? They, too, have contributed greatly to the building of this mighty nation. Some of them tear up when they hear the national anthem being sung, and others consider themselves Americans, even though they do not have the legal papers to prove it.

I, as well as the 11 million like me, don’t want freebies or something for nothing. We are smart, hard-working and industrious people. Just give us a chance to prove it. So please put us on a pathway to citizenship and do away with the stipulations. All these proposed hoops may sound tough and fair, but without realizing it they will end up scaring, alienating and hurting the same undocumented immigrants lawmakers are working so hard to help.

Is change really coming? I have a strong feeling it is and it may be sooner than we expect.

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!

409,849 immigrants deported and counting…

In the year 2012 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials announced that they had deported 409,849 immigrants.

Wow! I guess for that ICE deserves an applause and a cookie. Jokes aside, I would like to congratulate ICE for lying to the American people. They lie that they are “focusing resources on criminal and priority aliens (whatever that means), with more on convicted criminals.”

If they really were doing that then why did they arrest me? I had no criminal record. I was in fact a law abiding human being whose only crime was that I was an international student who had fallen out of status. My arrest was a waste of tax payers money…come to think of it, I’m also a tax payer! ICE, it just dawned on me that you wasted MY money arresting me.

The last thing I want to do is make this post all about me so lets get back to congratulating ICE because clearly they deserve it. ICE, I wanna congratulate you for breaking apart and tearing apart friendships, marriages and families. I hope you sleep well at night. Congratulations also for kicking out mostly poor and needy people. People who are tired, poor, homeless, huddled, all yearning to breathe free. As a victim of your overzealousness I congratulate you.

There is very little justice in the current immigration system. It really needs to be done away with or reformed. It is my hope that one day real justice will prevail and all the 11.1 million plus illegal immigrants will get to live freely in this country without fear of being deported.

“The New Colossus” a sonnet by Emma Lazarus (1849–87)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!