Submissions now closed. Thanks to all who participated!
America is, at its heart, a nation of immigrants.
In our book, Amor and Exile, we told the stories of American citizens whose lives spanned two nations because of their love for their partners from abroad. Their love rose above immigration laws, and their families have persevered in the face of increasingly punitive policies. In a world of migration and shifting borders, love, compassion, and respect for each other serve as bridges between nations and cultures. We, like many others, believe that spirit should remain at the heart of our foreign and domestic policy. Let’s reject hate, reach out to our neighbors, and embrace our roots as a nation.
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NOTE: Your reason for#BuildBridgesNotWalls could be as simple as a photo and story about your family, neighbor, or classroom (with permission, of course). Or, it could be an anecdote about your work, a paper you wrote, or a tale of your ancestry. Get creative and personalize your idea with an image that’s meaningful to you, share your name, and where you’re from (geographical location) – as much as you’re comfortable with sharing publicly.
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The trumpist barrage of immigration-related executive orders has come to resemble a wall of its own accord. Between the Muslim ban, halting refugee resettlement, expanding deportation criteria and ICE ranks and threats to cities that seek to protect their own residents, who needs border walls?
But border walls, at least, are porous, unlike the dense xenophobia emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The Israeli “Separation Barrier” or “Apartheid Wall” pictured above and below, which Trump loves, to be sure, is, as you can see, porous. I also crossed the line between East and West Jerusalem many times in the back of a work truck.
We know the border below, but does Trump have any idea how many people cross this border every hour? Does he have any notion of the interchange that happens between Juarez and El Paso — the culture and ideas and commerce and research that sustains the border region?
Does he know that walls are death sentences, that send migrants deeper into the desert? Or that walls are mere inconveniences, to be surmounted.
What is missing in Trump’s life that he wants to build more walls?
The people making these new policies for the U.S. — the band of white nationalists surrounding Trump and heading up his bureaucracies — choose walls, which is to say, they choose fear and isolation.
Walls, fences, barriers are symbols of failure. When we fail, we put up walls. Or land mines. Or drop cluster bombs. Is that the future we want for the southern U.S. Border?
We are about bridges. Building bridges between languages, cultures, nations and people. Because the whole world is just one narrow bridge. At least it was two weeks ago. But don’t be afraid.
“All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be overwhelmed by fear.” — Rev Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)
The big day finally arrived, almost two weeks ago. September 18, 2016. Marking ten years since we drove across the border in Nogales, AZ. It now feels like ancient history.
I think I sort of imagined back then that on September 18, 2016, we would be hovering over a sheaf of papers, ready and waiting to urgently send in the famous waiver application that would pave the way for Margo (and our family) to return to the U.S., soon after to be whisked back to the U.S. to reestablish our interrupted lives there. In reality, the scene at present is much more complicated, and just plain different than what I had first pictured.
The actual September 18th, 2016 went more like this for us:
Back in the spring of this year, we finally submitted Margo’s I-130 application, which I wrote about in my first “the tenth year” post. Rather unceremoniously, our lawyer submitted the files to USCIS, USCIS acknowledged their receipt of the application, and we haven’t heard anything back since.
Rather than sitting around biting our nails, basically, life just went on. I still work at Peace Corps Mexico, and Margo still builds thing for local folks who have requests for custom furniture. Our daughter is still attending a little Montessori school that lets us bring cupcakes in to celebrate her birthday with her classmates, complete with a lovely circle around the sun ritual that marks every year since her birth.
In fact, the only reason why September 18 is normally celebrated in this house is not because it marks the day we crossed into Mexico, nor the anniversary of my Mexican naturalization (it really does share that date) – but rather that it’s our daughter’s birthday. Why fate would have chose to combine 3 such event all into one date is beyond my comprehension, but it did make for a rather pleasant celebration opportunity this year, especially given that we have more reasons to be grateful for our life here than we have complaints – leading to a profound lack of urgency to return to the States.
Being a plant person, I’ll use a botanical metaphor. After 10 years, favorable conditions have led to our growth as a family, and we’ve put down deep roots. In the plant world, transplanting can be risky business. If the plant and its roots have been neatly contained in a smooth, enclosed container, it’s fairly straightforward to move it to a larger container or plant it out into the ground. In fact, it’ll probably be happy for you to do so, especially if it was cramped before. But if a plant has been growing freely in the ground, its roots spreading deep and wide into the rich soil, intertwining with rocks and other plants’ roots, drawing up plenty of fresh water and nutrients and leafing broadly into the bright sunshine, it’s not going to take so kindly to your digging under it, pulling it up, and severing its roots. Often, the plant dies back considerably before taking off again in another place. Sometimes it never quite survives the transplant, and just withers. In other words, if the plant is flourishing, there’s got to be a really good reason for you to go for the transplant.
I’ve pulled up roots a few times now in my life, first when I left NY to go to CA, where I met Margo; and again when Margo and I left CA. Each time the pulling up roots itself was not so traumatic – perhaps the previous conditions left my roots feeling cramped or limited somehow, and so they were ready for an upgrade. But the transplant to Mexico was complex. At first, it felt like I’d gone from fertile to rocky soil, and I wilted a bit – for a couple years. But like the mesquite trees here who slowly, but surely send their roots deep down to the subsoil to find water after which they pull it up for others nearby to share, I dug deep down inside and found inner reserves that I wasn’t previously aware of – in the form of resolve, patience, and commitment. I also discovered nourishment all around me in México, in the form of a home of our own, friends, culture, a growing family, future colleagues, and the vast beauty of the natural environment.
Considering what’s been invested into my flourishing again, I probably shouldn’t be surprised at my own hesitation at visualizing such a big move again, especially when there are no guarantees as to the outcome.
So when everyone asks, “are you going back up to the States?” (now that the 10 year waiting period has passed), the first thought in my mind is honestly “why?” and then, “flojera” (Spanish for an almost self-indulgent laziness). I have to confess, there are a few other external factors that don’t help us chomp at the bit for a return bid; namely the cost (>$5,000 USD), this year’s Presidential race ( I definitely won’t make ANY moves until after we see the outcome on Nov. 8), and the police brutality situation (my family members are brown-skinned).
Still, the main pull to return has always been, and will continue to be, the distance from family. We make it work through visits, and when they happen they are truly enjoyable. My daughter seeing her grandparents (my parents) only twice a year and me seeing my brother on average only once a year is getting old fast. But a few conditions for a move that I’ve conjured up haven’t presented themselves yet, namely, forward movement on the visa application (it’s a matter of time and then money), getting the title to our home so we can sell before a move (it’s taking forever), and me finding a really amazing job that would make a move worthwhile (I haven’t been looking, since the visa piece takes longer).
If this is painting a convoluted, circular picture as to what logic I may or may not be applying to a move northward, it’s not accidental. An unseen force seems to be holding those roots fast in place for now.
I am acutely aware that a factor in my being able to stay ten years in Mexico was an initial Herculean effort to find contentment within the confines of a limited situation. Therefore, I want to inject a heathy dose of suspicion into my complacency (I’ve noticed it in myself in other areas of my life besides my thoughts on moving north), and keep it present to make sure I am not selling myself or my family short – but I haven’t quite figured out how to make sure that I’m not letting the difficult years here or the U.S. media cloud what hasn’t yet but might emerge as a dream of a life in the north.
Writing and reflecting on this question definitely helps a bit, but then when one who is prone to plant metaphors tries to type out a coherent explanation as to why she just might not know what she wants yet (in terms of where she sees herself in 5 years), and then her husband of 12 years sends her 6 year old into the house holding the first mature avocado that’s fruited from the 12″ sapling from the Sierra Gorda that she planted her yard 8 years ago, where in the background orange butterflies flit among dozens of wild sunflowers under the bright blue sky, well, answers to elusive questions seem just as hard to find as they’ve been for the last 10 years.
Everyone is waiting with baited breath for the much-anticipated executive action to be announced by President Obama this evening at 8 pm. Everyone who sees immigration as an important issue, that is. My coauthor Nathaniel Hoffman described how most of immigration is a waiting game in Chapter 3 of Amor and Exile, The Binational Labryinth:
“Immigration to the United States, whether legal or illegal, is a waiting game. You wait to be eligible for a visa and then for your visa to be approved. Sometimes you wait five years or sixteen or twenty-three years for that visa. You wait three days to get deported or you wait a year for the immigration courts to clear their backlog before you get your hearing. You wait for your brother or your father to fill out the paperwork for you, for a letter back from the National Visa Center. You press two for Spanish and wait, on hold. You wait for a pardon. You wait and watch as Congress takes up immigration reform and drops it and takes it up again. You wait up at night for your loved ones to return home from work. You wait for dark to fall, for the floodlights to pass and then you run across the line and wait for transport. You wait for another mule with trunk space.”
Even if I were waiting, I wouldn’t even be able to listen in to the announcement, because I’ll be teaching English (I currently work nights) while it happens.
Part of me it not really waiting at all though. I was, for a few months. I wrote and circulated an open letter to President Obama in August when it became clear the plan for executive action was in the works. I spoke with Center for Public Integrity reporter Susan Ferriss about my thin hopes for inclusion earlier this week for her piece, “U.S. spouses of ousted immigrants await Obama plan.” However, when recent reports began to point to a probable emphasis on relief for parents of U.S. citizen children, I knew we’d probably be waiting this one out. There will likely also be the perfunctory nod to “highly-skilled” workers. There *might* be a bone thrown in for spouses of U.S. citizens via extended “Parole in Place,” but whether that will happen or not is yet to be seen, and even if it were, it probably would not extend to any of those undocumented spouses of those U.S. citizens who happen to be outside of the country.
No matter what happens, we will have to be clear about what this executive action is and what it’s not. The run-up to this executive action is being billed by some as “fixing the broken immigration system,” but please. You can’t possibly argue that giving tenuous relief to a small fraction of the individuals who need reform is a fix of a broken system. As immigration lawyer and advocate Prerna Lal puts it, she’s “still concerned about the millions left out by the plan specifics.” So this executive action is a Band-Aid, at best. Of course, human rights advocates like Ellin Jimmerson, Director of The Second Cooler, a documentary about the wide human rights offenses committed by the immigration system, narrated by Martin Sheen, have been saying it all along: if widespread human rights aren’t advanced by immigration reform, in the end, it’s not net progress. Sure, it’s a step, albeit small one. Even Obama knows that. Advocates and legislators alike believe that no matter the reach of this executive action, it’s no substitute for Congressional reform.
So no, this executive announcement probably won’t make a lick of difference for my family, especially because we are currently in Mexico. If we had decided to stay in the U.S. and wait it out under the radar as millions of others have done, there might be a slight chance we’d get relief from this. That remains to be seen, as it’s uncertain whether the action will extend to all individuals with 9(c) inadmissibilities. So yes, if it were that 9(c) cases could get relief from this, then yes, we would be left behind for having left the country to try and “get in line.”
‘Course, I won’t be alone in this, hundreds of thousands, probably millions of us will get left out. But this seems to be a recurring pattern, one that I’m not sure will ever be entirely rectified, even by a bill as large as HR15, for reasons which activists like Jimmerson expand on amply.
Which is why, for the moment, I am boycotting the waiting game. In my final chapters in Amor and Exile, I describe how I’ve toyed with the idea of pulling out of the waiting game entirely, not willing anymore to pin my life hopes on an act of Congress or an executive action such as the one on November 20th, 2014.
Ironically, November 20th is the Anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. I wonder if that was just coincidental? Most everyone down here is working today because we already celebrated the occasion on Monday (they do long weekends early), but instead of going to the downtown parade or to a party, I spent it with the editorial team for Amor y Exilio—the Spanish translation of Amor and Exile that is currently underway.
Even with the question of “did we miss out?” potentially shadowing over me during the aftermath of executive action, I would rather take the bull by the horns when it comes to the possibility of arrepentimiento. Rather than regret or question any of my past decisions to move to Mexico, to make this leap of faith, pasa lo que pasa, I would say no, I have no regrets. I prefer to embrace the fact that my husband was duly safe, at no risk of detention in these last 8 years. I am grateful for the freedom to have built our own home, in a lovely climate, and to have made lovely friends and to be making a life for ourselves.
Sure, it’s nice to think of what the future could hold when and if my husband is permitted to travel and/or reside alongside my daughter and I to my home country. Yes, I will be frustrated if the system once again fails to reward people who are trying to do the right thing. And there will still be that glaring recollection that Congress’s failure to move forward on a real fix is what’s brought us to this point.
But our time has not yet arrived. And so in the meantime, I see no reason to wait—just every reason to keep trying to move forward.
P.S. Today’s featured image was chosen for no other reason than it’s throwback Thursday, and it’s our 10-year wedding anniversary in just under one month.
Note: If you want to show your support, please leave your name, state, and # of your congressional voting district in the comments.
Querétaro, Mexico | August 7, 2014
Dear President Obama,
I’m aware that you are contemplating taking action on immigration and that White House staff is hard at work researching your options. Before anything happens, I wanted to make sure you heard my story, because I’m one of millions of Americans who stand to be affected by any decision you take—but our story is not often heard.
It’s been another hard year for us to be away from the United States. Not any harder than the last eight years that I have been away from my home country. But hard for different reasons.
When my father in New York was ill last December, I was unable to go visit and help him.
In California, where I lived and worked for seven years as a science teacher, two good friends had baby sons. I have not been able to meet them. One of my former students got married but I could only attend the wedding ceremony virtually.
From my home in Central Mexico, I watched one friend after another travel freely between the United States, Canada and Mexico, accompanied by their family members. I found out that a long-time dream I’ve had, to be a research associate of my alma mater, Cornell University, would not be possible. Even though the director of a lab was interested in collaborating, the University does not allow off-campus appointments.
Every time I experience these disappointments, I handle them the way I have in these past eight years of exile in Mexico—I focus on the other positive things happening in my life.
Exile? Yes, I have been living in exile in Mexico since 2006. I don’t like the sound of it, and I can’t say my plight is equal to that of other famous exilees, such as the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, or Malala Yousefi. But the reasons are ultimately the same—because of a political reality in my home country, I am forced to live away from my birthplace, and have been obligated to call another country home.
Sadly, I am not alone. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Americans are either forced abroad, torn apart from their family members, or forced underground in their own country, for the same reason that I am in Mexico: our broken immigration system. Thousands of us live abroad in isolation, subject to abject poverty and violence. Thousands of Americans’ family members—spouses and parents alike, are waiting indefinitely in their home countries to be reunited with their families. Thousands of Americans are living in the shadows in the U.S., as I once did with my husband, from 2001 to 2006.
What could possibly be causing this epidemic of Americans in exile? Why have I been unable to return to the U.S. all these years? The answer lies deep within the technicalities in current immigration law, statutes that were introduced with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. This law led to the plight I am in—that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Americans are in—today.
I’ve probably talked with thousands of people about this issue. The vast majority of Americans I speak with are truly confounded by this state of affairs. They ask me, “But why can’t your husband immigrate legally? You’re married!?” So I coauthored the book Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders (Cordillera West 2013) with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman, to try and answer that question. But even as we explored many different reasons behind the plights of families like mine, I am still no closer to accepting the status quo. I actually sent you a copy of the book last summer. After publishing, we raised enough money to deliver over 600 copies of our book to legislators and officials on Capitol Hill. And we’ve continued to share our stories with thousands of Americans since then. I hope you or someone in your staff had an opportunity to read it.
Because my husband was subject to a 9c immigration bar before we began dating in 2001, even when we were finally married in 2004, I was unable to confer legal status on him. He had come to the U.S. to work without papers, and had been stopped and sent back. Prior to the 1996 law, my husband would not have received a 10-year immigration “ban” for that. But in the true spirit of the marriage vow for better or for worse, I chose to stay with my partner, and that meant I took on the burden of his immigration status, even when we were told by lawyers that the only way we could obtain legal status for him was to leave the country for 10 years, in the hopes of being able to someday apply for a pardon and then maybe a visa.
This December is our tenth wedding anniversary. We have been in Mexico together for eight years. My husband has not seen my only living grandmother since then. He has not seen my only sister-in-law since we left California in 2006. I have not had income above the U.S. poverty level since then. I am afraid that even though we may make it ten years in Mexico, we will not be able to afford the legal process to try and return to the U.S. someday.
So much furious debate on immigration has yielded so few actual solutions in our Congress since I married my husband. Amor and Exile gives a thorough account of efforts like these and the history leading up to them, as well as other ideas for future relief. Some bills were more openly anti-immigrant than others. But finally, in 2013, we had hope with the comprehensive immigration bills, SB 744 and HR 15, which would grant relief to millions of hard-working undocumented immigrants. The American Families United Act, HR 3431 (now with several bipartisan co-sponsors), would help families like mine. Both bills would provide an opportunity for my husband to apply for a waiver immediately rather than continuing to wait.
But the frequent rise and fall of these bids leaves our families hanging on for dear life on this roller coaster ride on which our very futures depend. We hope and pray for legislative relief every day. Now, the long-term failure of Congress to act may finally compel you, Mr. President, to do something of your own accord. You tried for many years to prove you were “tough on immigration,” and you have received criticism for record-high deportation levels.
I knew you were doing this to try and provide the right conditions for Congress to move a comprehensive reform bill forward. But in the end, all that hard bipartisan work to pass a bill has been taken hostage by the radical Right. So I applaud you, Mr. President, for wanting to do something about the immigration impasse. It’s the right thing to do, especially in a nation of immigrants.
But here’s my fear: when that executive action is revealed, the one you have been deliberating for quite some time now, it will leave families like mine—like hundreds of thousands of others—out in the cold. I’m also afraid that after executive action goes into effect, backlash in Congress could make it even harder to pass bills that would provide relief to families like mine. If we can’t get relief from either executive action or these bills, our hard-working American families, who exemplify cherished American family values so much that we’re willing to risk life and liberty for our kin, will be left to languish in limbo, and left out of the opportunity to “get right” with the laws and live under one roof together today, in America, without fear.
I support the multitude of rationales to include millions of de facto Americans who contribute to our society on a daily basis with humane executive action. My family must be included in this reform as well. My spouse should be able to seek citizenship alongside me, as our daughter has, with all the attendant privileges citizenship confers, without the cruel and unusual punishment of a ten-year waiting period abroad with no guaranteed outcome. I should have the autonomy to decide where I will live with my family. As an American citizen, I should not have to choose between my husband and living in the U.S. My great-grandparents did not have to make that choice. Nor should hundreds of thousands of my counterparts have to choose between their family and their country.
President Obama, restore my faith that you kindled in your inaugural address last year, when you said, “Our journey is not complete, until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.” Be as creative as possible and use the full extent of your powers to take the lead in finding a way to include my my family—my husband—hundreds of thousands of our American families—in that vision, and in any executive action you take on immigration, so we do not have to make the decision between family and country anymore.
Nicole R. Salgado
California Voting District 18
and the Undersigned
Amber Henderson, Georgia, District 4
Rebecca Amirah Barragan, Texas, District 15
Jane McGroarty Sampaio, Massachusets, District 9
Meggan Macchado, Massachusets, District 9
Charlcie Cubas, Wisconsin, District 7
Krystal Loverin, Oregon, District 2
Linda Cedillos, Virginia, District 4
Shayna Elizabeth Diaz, California, District 4
Emily Bonderer Cruz, Texas, District 16
Rob Woodall, Georgia, District 7
Amy Koenig Da Silva, Massachusets, District 9
Shannon Ledezma, Texas, District 23
Israel Sanchez, California, District 53
Susan A. Davis, California, District 53
Elizabeth Sommo, Texas, District 15
Hannah Hoover, Texas, District 14
Kimberly Griffith, North Carolina, District 15
Angela Hernandez, Minnesota, District 4
Kamie Timms, North Carolina, District 10
Elizabeth Huerta, Texas, District 16
Laurie Hernandez, South Carolina, District 1
Madina Salaty, Kansas, District 2
Sylvia Malagon, North Carolina, District 4
Amelia da Silva, New York, District 23
Lucindia Dawn Torres, Oklahoma, District 1
Amanda Cameron, Colorado, District 1
Valeriano Serradilha, Georgia, District 6
Crystal Costella Mendez, Pennsylvania, District 8
Peggy Soto, Indiana, District 9
Sany Figueiredo, Georgia, District 7
Laura Lopez, Wisconsin, District 8
Maria Ferreira, Pennsylvania, District 13
Edgar Falcon, Texas, District 16
Allyson Batista, Pennsylvania, District 1
Kim Repp, Virginia, District 3
Raquel Warsing, Pennsylvania, District 3
Lana Janelle Heath Martinez, Virginia, District 7
Curt Clawson, Florida, District 19
Dawn Naveja, Illinois, District 5
Pamela Deligiannis Monroy, Virginia, District 7
Shirah Cahill, New York, District 22
Diana Cahill, New York, District 25
Moshe Cahill, New York, District 25
Ilana Stevenson, New York, District 25
Sonia Estrada, Oregon, District 5
Heather Ruark, Georgia, District 5
Joanna Eros, Pennsylvania, District 16 William Ruark, Virginia, District 7
Dana Cawthorn Bautista, Florida, District 19
Two major global news events — apprehensions of child migrants on the Texas-Mexico border and the latest flare up of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — converged for me this week in a prescient piece by by journalist/activist Jose Antonio Vargas in Politico. Vargas is the undocumented reporter whom we’ve written about here (and who, full disclosure, blurbed Amor and Exile).
He wrote an essay about being “Trapped on the Border,” presaging his detention at the McAllen, Texas airport four days later. In the piece, Vargas quotes an immigration attorney friend who messaged him, asking, “I am so glad you are visiting the kids near the border. But how will you get through the checkpoint on your way back?”
Meanwhile, half a world away, Israel, another land of checkpoints, was preparing a ground invasion against the people of Gaza.
These two stories, and their portrayal in the media, share a number of critical themes. Vargas’ rude introduction to immigration checkpoints in the American South, reminded me of the long-standing Israeli use of checkpoints to control, humiliate and persecute Arabs. The checkpoint is a blatant symbol of Israeli occupation, just as it was of South African apartheid. And as it’s become along our southern border.
The checkpoint presupposes the ID card, which allows governments to place people into winner and loser categories: Israeli/Palestinian, black/Indian/coloured, documented/undocumented, immigrant/native.
The checkpoint puts law enforcement, or soldiers, or national guard into the position of suspecting everyone; their job, by definition, is to impede human progress, not to promote progress.
The checkpoint is a militaristic metaphor that has no place in a participatory democracy like Texas.
The checkpoint breeds fear, as Nicole dramatically describes in her passage in Amor and Exile on crossing into Mexico.
The checkpoint dissolves essential freedoms, like the freedom of movement, the right to presumed innocence, protections against search and seizure.
A line from the Jasiri X video below sums up the ethic of the checkpoint: “criminalized without a cause at the checkpoint.” (Note the apparent handcuffs on Vargas in the photo above.)
This gets close to the issue here, and the larger notion of our broken immigration system. We are so far from the ideals of the 1965 revisions to the Immigration and Nationality Act that we no longer have any moral bearings on the meaning of immigration in the United States.
Vargas continues to ask us to Define American. In lobbying for abolishing the discriminatory quota system that the 1952 INA had cemented into law, then-President John F. Kennedy told members of the Italian-American community in 1963 that immigration to the U.S. was both a family affair and a way of building a nation:
We hope the Congress of the United States will accept these recommendations and that before this year is over we will have what we have needed for a good many years, which is the recognition that all people can make equally good citizens, and that what this country needs and wants are those who wish to come here to build their families here and contribute to the life of our country. — via The American Presidency Project
Vargas visited with child migrants at the border, kids who had come to the U.S. alone, like he did, in search of family and better fortunes. “I don’t think you can look in the eyes of these children and not know the kind of hell they’ve been through,” Vargas told The Guardian. “I don’t think you can look at them in the eye and tell them they have to go back to where they came from.”
The volunteer in the short video below, posted by Vargas’ organization, Define American, defines American:
The Border Patrol held Vargas for most of the day on Tuesday and released him, as a low-priority detainee, according to the New York Times, with a notice to appear before an immigration judge.
Amor and Exile argues that at least, at least, the American public (and elected officials) should see the plight of U.S. citizens like Nicole, who are forced into exile because of the arbitrary immigration status of their spouses, as a starting point for reforming the system. But apparently, we can’t even see the plight of children — small children fleeing gang violence and poverty as a starting point for compassion. Instead, our model policy for these children, for leaders like Vargas, for our historically fluid international border is the command and control model of the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, barriers and walls, militarization, suspicion and ethnocentrism and classism.
This is not the America (nor the Israel, for that matter) that I know. Our best hope is to take Vargas up on his call and really do the hard work of defining American, because I’m not sure I recognize her anymore.
Sharing my story and my opinions about immigration and reform has always created a haphazard mix of cynicism and optimism. Cynicism due to the lack of political will in Washington for so many years to create humane immigration policies. Optimism because no matter how many people I talk to, I always meet people who are outraged to hear our story and what happened to us as a result of draconian immigration laws.
My experience during our two most recent events in Mexico — in Patzcuaro, Michoacan and in Guanajuato, GTO — were no exception. Given the fact that Amor and Exile was a moonlighting project for both of us authors, we have limited amount of time to devote to its promotion, beyond social media. And being an individual affected by the “broken immigration system,” I take the lack of forward progress in these affairs particularly personally. So as invitations started to come during 2014 to give talks in different parts of Mexico, I was super delighted to know that this issue is important to others beside my immediate family and allies.
The trip to Patzcuaro was sponsored by the Patzcuaro and neighboring Morelia book clubs, hosted by Victoria Ryan of Hotel Casa Encantada, with Dara Stillman organizing. Although the list of incidental benefits to anyone in exile is short, for me, this trip ranked high on the list — 3 nights in an incredibly gorgeous B & B in the heart of a quaint Mexican mountain town known for its Dia de los Muertos celebrations on Isla Janitzio in Lago Patzcuaro. In addition to the official event on May 9th, Margo and I spent countless hours discussing the issue with dozens of expats who were extremely interested in the issue and our story. Many people expressed a lot of disgust and frustration with U.S. immigration policies for their inflexibility and inhumanity. The event with this crowd was seminal for me in a way because both individually and collectively, they encouraged me to “let loose” a little more in my political opinions on the issue. In the past, when in the public eye, I tend to make a lot of effort to frame things diplomatically, for fear of being considered inflammatory or controversial. But at the Patzcuaro event, since the people in our audience asked me to, I felt free to express my true feelings about a specific issue without worrying about how I said it.
A few uncanny coincidences also occurred in Patzcuaro. The first was that we were taken to a place that my family and I had stayed in the year before our daughter was born. We had the opportunity to converse at length with the owner, a Mexico City born intellectual who is an artist in his own right. Next, I found out that the Buddhist monk/author who had greatly helped me during my first years in Mexico had stayed across town while writing one of his books. I was invited to visit the retreat center, Casa Werma, and its amazingly beautiful grounds the day before we left. My hosts, Rine and Kai, direct the center and also offer workshops on meditation. After receiving a private session on meditation, I couldn’t help but wonder what forces were at work in the universe to introduce me to my husband 15 years ago, to the works of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche 13 years ago, to relocate to Mexico, struggle with relocation and more deeply understand the meaning of Buddhist wisdom as a direct result of the exile 8 years ago, begin to write of my own journey in exile 3 years ago, and then walk the same grounds where Rinpoche had written about the wisdom of “groundlessness” on Mexican soil this year. Rine called them “auspicious coincidences.” I fancy that something is going on beyond what I’ve directly perceived, and this kind of knowledge fuels my resolve to continue with this path.
In Guanajuato this past weekend and yesterday, although the events were less coincidental than Patzcuaro, they were no less auspicious. It was our first invitation to speak to a law class, and we were pleased to discover that the professor, Beth Caldwell, had found out about our book from the ImmigrationProfBlog last year and assigned parts of our book as reading. Caldwell is an Associate Professor at Southwestern University and is teaching a class in the Summer Law Institute at the University of Guanajuato during June attended by law students from the U.S. and Mexico. Upon meeting this past weekend, I was delighted to find out our families have some things in common, and appreciated how proactive Caldwell, who also has a background in social work, was about exposing her students to real-life stories that potential clients grapple with as a result of U.S. immigration policies.
During the talk, one of the students asked whether I thought that wider awareness or better access to information would have somehow impacted our life choices in the past. It was a really hard question to answer because it can be analyzed on so many levels — the personal for both Margo and I, the political (in terms of whether greater public awareness could influence policy). Looking back, I think my answer was more cynical than I would have liked. But then many questions later I continued to make optimistic comments, especially regarding the importance of outreach. I explained that the issue is often painful, but that sharing our story was ultimately therapeutic because it ceased to become just our own personal cross to bear. By externalizing the issue, it becomes available for others to take up — or not — and I am eternally appreciative of the compassionate souls out there who righteously recognize this issue as one of universal concern and worth shouldering along with those of us who are directly affected.
Exploring the many sides of this issue reminds me of discourse regarding evolving scientific matters — when something can be spun so many ways, and affects individuals, families and societies in so many ways, there aren’t really any simple answers. Discussion of the many facets of an issue can sometimes slow forward progress toward consensus. But one thing that is clear, and I knew this since before we even started writing the book, is that as long as so many people are in the dark about the very nature of our country’s immigration policies, and with so many people wanting to know the truth about the direction our country is headed in and how to steer it in a more humane and just direction, my moral obligation to speak out on the issue continues. I may not have the resources to bankroll political candidate’s campaigns in order to enact policies that are convenient to me, but I can keep participating in this discussion until I am unable, with whoever wants to join me.
Perhaps auspiciously, a message in a stained glass window at the University of Guanajuato states, “La verdad os hará libres.” The truth will set you free. A mantra for us all.
It will soon be a year since Amor and Exile’s publication in May 2013, and although more people than ever are speaking out and making their stories heard as to why they need immigration reform, the political scene has not advanced much in 2014. At the end of December 2013, we posted a 2013 year-in-review that summarized all the happenings in immigration reform since we had completed our book manuscript. As we go on the road several times during late spring and early summer of 2014, and celebrate a year since our publication, it’s a good idea to take a look at where we’ve come from since January and where we find ourselves now.
American Families United, one of the advocate groups that helped draft HR 3431, traveled to D.C. to lobby on behalf of family-based immigration reform, and got four new co-sponsors for the bill. The hopes had been that less controversial, less overarching bills (a.k.a. piecemeal legislation) could pass the House more easily. But we still have no word on when and if debate on this bill could occur: http://americanfamiliesunited.org/news?mode=PostView&bmi=1510580
In the month of love and valentines, Amor and Exile went on the road a few times and met with broad support for reforming family-immigration. If only Congress could reflect what the majority of people seem to want.
This seemed to be the month of debate where no one could really take responsibility for this mess. Obama and Congress kept tossing the hot potato back and forth to each other, as deportations, family separations, and the living in fear and hardship for millions of families continued.
And in the winner of all ironic politics, despite Obama having the closest family ties to immigrants of recent presidents, he is the toughest president in history on immigration, with a whopping 2 million+ deportations since taking office—and yet, despite this record, for certain members of Congress, it’ll never be enough: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/24/gop-immigration_n_5206390.html
After so many people’s hard work on this issue, it’s really getting overshadowed by endless obstructionism. To say that cultivating optimism for a positive resolution this debate is challenging would be an understatement. In our book, and in conversation with the public, we’ve seen where we’ve been, and what we currently face. The part about where we go from here is to be continued.