The Immigration Reform Battle Goes On.

Whenever people talk about the Undocumented or “illegal” immigrant, they are in fact talking about me. You see, I’m an undocumented immigrant and it really irks and hurts when I hear hate and lies being spewed about the Undocumented by anti-immigration proponents. These xenophobes claim that we the Undocumented are criminals and parasites who need to remain in the dark, get deported, or magically wished out of existence.

A few weeks ago, the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill was on the Senate floor where it was discussed and debated upon. The loudest mouths in the Senate also happened to be foes of immigration reform. Senators like Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, and Chuck Grassley, among others, stood up and railed incessantly against the bill. When the time came for the Senate members to vote on the Gang’s bill, it was passed with a vote of 68-32.

This bill is far from perfect. If it gets passed in its present form, about 4 of the 11 million Undocumented won’t meet the criteria for legalization and will either get deported or driven deeper into the shadows.  Those legalized are bound to fall out of status if they become unemployed for more than 60 days. With this bill, E-Verify will become mandatory and communication between ICE and local police will be more streamlined, making it easier for them to target people who look, act, or sound “illegal.”

Now that the Senate has passed the bill, the ball is in the House’s court and what will happen to it from here on out is anybody’s guess. So far, Speaker John Boehner who is the speaker of the House doesn’t seem keen on passing the Senate bill. Thanks to gerrymandering, Republican members of the House don’t have much of an incentive to pass it. More than 200 of them have less than 25 percent Latinos in their districts.

Ultimately, the passing or the killing of the immigration bill will boil down to whether the Republican party cares more about appeasing their Caucasian constituents, rather than winning the next presidential election. Many believe that this bill will not pass unless Speaker John Boehner commits career suicide by passing it in the House without the full support of the majority who for the most part happen to be conservative House Republicans.

Looking at the facts, it is quite clear that the path ahead for the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill won’t be easy. Some even believe that it will downright take a miracle for the bill to pass. I believe in miracles and I’m confident that immigration reform will pass this year, simply because it’s about time a bill legalizing 11 million Undocumented Americans, like me, was passed.



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.


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:


// Sorabji’s Deportation Tilapia Bruschetta//

Serves 2-4 humans

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


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!

What’s Your Game Plan?

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the Democrats and Republicans in Congress had a kumbaya moment and passed the immigration reform bill. If that happened, what would your game plan be? Presently, nobody quite knows how the reform bill will look. However, there are about four things that people predict you and I will have to deal with if, or when, the bill is signed into law.

1. Coming out. This is probably going to be the hardest and scariest decision you’ll have to make because of its consequences. There are many ‘what if’s’ that you will need to ask yourself: “What if I’m forced to tell my employer that I used fake documents to get the job?” “How will I go about paying my back taxes?” “If I come out and fail to pass any one of the many requirements they have, will I be deported?” “Do I have the money to pay fines as well as possible attorney fees?” “What will my friends and family members say when they learn that I’m undocumented?” These, among many other questions, should be considered before you decide to come out of the shadows.

2. Fines. We will probably have to pay a fine of some kind. Let’s face it, we broke the law and since this is not 1986 and our president is not Ronald Reagan, I doubt that someone is going to walk up to us, thank us for being undocumented and then give us Amnesty. Though we don’t know how much the fines will be, my guess is that unless Congress does away with the “fine the illegals” idea, the fines will be anywhere from $1-$2,000 a person. It’s important to consider the paying of fines as a possibility and figure out where you will find the money to pay them.

3. Temporary visas. We may or may not get a renewable temporary visa to stay and work legally in this country. My hope is that we’ll get green cards and that we won’t have to leave the US for the visas or green cards to be processed. Leaving of course would mean more spending in order to become legal. The truth of the matter is that most of us aren’t rich and it would be nice if Congress did us a kindness and really put that into consideration as they work on the immigration bill.

4. Waiting and waiting and waiting. Waiting is something that we immigrants are used to. Some of us have waited patiently for decades, with the hope that the American people would officially acknowledge our existence and toil to legalize us. If lawmakers like the “Gang of Eight” and Marco Rubio have their way, we’ll all be required to go to the back of the Green Card line. This line still has individuals in it who applied to come to the US way back in the 80s. That was when parachute pants were in, and bangs that reached for the heavens were said to be “totally rad.” The way the current immigration system works, it may take us a couple of centuries to get the papers needed to live and work legally in the US. Congress needs to figure out a way to speed up the Green Card process. Otherwise, they would be letting us die of thirst at the side of the fountain.

If congress passes the immigration reform bill, we’ll all be able to hit the reset button of our lives. We’ll finally be free! We won’t need to look over our shoulder for ICE agents or freak out when someone knocks on our door. We’ll be able to tell the whole truth about ourselves to anyone and everyone, and we’ll no longer be preyed on because of our undocumented status.

There is no better day than today for you to be strong and courageous. It’s time you worked on a game plan just in case Congress does the right thing and allows us to live and work legally in this great country.


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.


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.

Coming to America.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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