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.

 

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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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.