The Amor and Exile Thanksgiving Tour

Nicole and Nathaniel are traveling on the East Coast of the United States over the Thanksgiving week with book events in Baltimore and Syracuse. On Sunday, Nov. 24 (tomorrow), two synagogues in Baltimore — Chizuk Amuno and Beth El — will co-host a 2 p.m. discussion with Nathaniel, who grew up in Baltimore and attended school at Chizuk Amuno through middle school. The event will be followed by a dessert reception.

Nov 28, 2011 New Yorker CoverOn Wednesday, Nov. 27, Thanksgiving Eve, Nicole and Nathaniel will host an immigration discussion in Syracuse, New York, at the Jefferson Clinton Hotel in downtown Armory Square. Details of the event are on Facebook; the hotel is located at 4:16 S. Clinton Street in Syracuse and starts at 7 p.m. Nicole grew up in Syracuse and will be attending the event in person, a rare joint appearance by the authors of Amor and Exile!

More Amor and Exile events are scheduled for February and March in Boise, including the first Amor and Exile Book Club discussion and the launch of a new local writers series in Boise. See our calendar page for more details and please let us know if your book club is reading Amor and Exile!

The authors are available for book club discussions anytime via video chat and are eager to discuss the book with organizations that have an interest in immigration policy, journalism, memoir writing and self-publishing. In November, the City Club of Boise hosted Nathaniel at a salon-style conversation at the home of Bill and Nancy Russell, a wonderful forum for discussing the immigration issues of the day.

Do consider leaving your review of Amor and Exile on our Kindle and paper book pages at Amazon and on Goodreads!

Recent events and press for Amor and Exile

The Rediscovered Reading, Boise
Deyanira, Ben and Nicole at Amor and Exile reading at Rediscovered Books in Boise.

Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders has been featured at several public events and earned media spots across the U.S. in the last month.

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 7.23.22 PMIn September, Amor and Exile received a positive review from immigration lawyer Teresa Statler in AILA Voice, a quarterly publication of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (September/October 2013 issue, Reader’s Corner, pg. 17). In her review, “Love in the Time of Deportation and Many More Heart-Wrenching Stories,” Statler had this to say about Amor and Exile: ‘Salgado movingly speaks of her own and of other Americans’ ‘disenfranchisement’ and exile abroad due to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act… Hoffman’s legal information is very accurate, thanks to several AILA members with whom he consulted while writing this book… Let us hope that in this time of potential immigration reform, members of the House especially read these gripping personal stories of immigration and feel moved to make changes in the law that are long overdue.’

In events, on October 24th, Nathaniel joined the International Institute of the Bay Area in San Francisco, CA for a wine and cheese reading and discussion. Nicole skyped in long distance from Piedra Grande, Edo. Mexico, where she was leading a volunteer training for Peace Corps Mexico. Both authors dialogued with the audience about the challenges of life in exile and the hopes for immigration reform.

rediscovered2Prior to the event, on Tuesday, October 22, Amor and Exile went global on PRI The World, a program of the BBC, when Jason Margolis, a reporter with PRI released his story featuring Nathaniel and Nicole’s work in: “American citizens, in love and in exile, are waiting for immigration reform,” a 5-minute radio spot with accompanying transcript. Immediately following the SF event, Nathaniel was also interviewed  on KQED, a local San Francisco NPR station, about his work with Amor and Exile.

The first week in November, Amor and Exile was featured at the Krieger Schechter Day School Book Fair in Baltimore, Maryland (map). Later that week, on November 7th, Nathaniel and the staff of Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho hosted a town hall style discussion of immigration reform featuring the stories of Amor and Exile and others like them (map). Nicole joined the discussion via Skype from Mexico. Also in attendance were Ben and Deyanira, one of the couples from the book, who recently returned to Idaho from a 3-year exile in Mexico; Leo Morales, communication director of the ACLU of Idaho; and Ashlee Ramirez, a representative of American Families United (AFU), an organization that supports HR 3431, the American Families United Act. Ramirez was in Idaho meeting with Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador, a Republican who is seen as key to any progress on immigration reform in the House.

A few weeks later, Rebecca Bowe, a reporter with San Francisco Bay Guardian, profiled Nicole for an article she was writing about SF Bay Area immigration activists. Nicole’s story was included in the series of profiles of undocumented activists because although she herself is an American citizen, she is a former SF Bay Area resident now in exile due to immigration law, now “agitating from exile.” The article, “Undocumented and unafraid,” came out on Tuesday, November 12, 2013, and Nicole and Amor and Exile are highlighted on pgs. 1, 6, and 7.
This Thursday, November 21st, Nathaniel and Nicole will participate in the radio show Midday with Dan Rodricks (WYPR), a Maryland-wide, live public-affairs talk show, to discuss the book, and promote the Chizuk Amuno reading on November 24th. The show will air from 12 to 1 pm EST, with callers and email questions and will be streamed live at the link above.

Be sure to check out, share and/or comment on one of the above articles and learn more about recent activity in Congress regarding family reunification oriented immigration reform. And view our Events page to catch one of our upcoming events.

Why Politicians Can’t Understand Mixed Immigration Status Families

Golden Gate Bridge

As we prepare to take Amor and Exile to San Francisco for a serendipitous event this week at the International Institute of the Bay Area, immigration reform efforts in Congress appear as stalled as ever. But the same cannot be said of action in the streets. Just last week, in San Francisco, immigration activists temporarily blocked a bus carrying deportees.

“Us, the community, have to step up and prevent the separation of families and keep our communities together,”  protester Dean Santos told KTVU.

[box type=”info”]Join Nathaniel Hoffman and Nicole Salgado (who will attempt to Skype in from the field) on October 24 for a discussion at the International Institute of the Bay Area, 657 Mission St., starting at 5:30 pm (reception). Free event, open to the public. RSVP on Facebook.[/box]

The protest in San Francisco followed larger protests and direct action training in Arizona three days prior in which activists also blocked  “deportation buses” in Phoenix and Tucson. The consistent and clear calls for keeping families together — to “prevent the separation of families,” as Santos put it above — have not been heard in Congress nor in the halls of public opinion. Even when an actual member of Congress, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, a Chicago Democrat, travels around the country, for years, talking about keeping immigrant families together and keeping American families together, even when he’s arrested for it, the message does not come through.

Paloma Noyola Buena | Wired
Cover of November Wired Magazine showing Mexican math whiz Paloma Noyola Bueno.

Why? Why is the American public and the majority of Congress deaf to these calls for family unity? There are at least two reasons, hinging on the political and the personal realms. Politically, there is momentum to transform our immigration policy from one emphasizing family unity and family migration, as we have since the 1960s, to a more utilitarian focus on labor markets.

The super-positive pro-immigrant campaign coming out of Silicon Valley, the one that’s all over my Facebook feed, embodies this shift in many ways. While they are doing cool things like training activists in hacktivism, and they support a broad legalization program, their line on immigration reform focuses on workforce needs in the tech sector, innovation and talent. It’s exemplified by this month’s cover of Wired Magazine, a story about a young math whiz in Matamoros headlined “The Next Steve Jobs.” While the story is ostensibly about innovation in pedagogical techniques, the cover shot and the protagonist’s proximity to the border are clear references to immigration. Good ones, but, references that largely ignore relationships and families.

These sentiments away from family-based immigration are echoed in the Senate immigration bill, S. 744, which eliminates sibling sponsorship, limits green cards for adult children and kills the diversity visa in favor of new, merit-based visa tracks, tied to workforce needs.

Still, the Silicon Valley version of keeping families together could be re-couched in terms of networking. One of the arguments in Amor and Exile is that people frequently come to America for jobs, to be sure, but they come because someone told them about a job. A cousin, a brother, a mother who is already here put them in contact with a potential employer. Migration of any sort is a highly networked activity, built on relationships. That’s something that the LinkedIn set could easily sink its teeth into, echoing the family values arguments that anti-deportation activists are making.

The second reason politicians are not hearing the pleas of families separated through deportation is much more odious. It has to do with another central argument of Amor and Exile, that our immigration system is built from the dominant racial dynamics of the era. The fact is, many in Congress and many Americans in general do not see immigrant families, mixed-status families or bi-racial families as having equal claims to family values. Dean Santos, cited above, is portrayed in the media first as a former deportee, a stranger in our midst, and thus a second class citizen. His ties to the United States, to political activism and to relatives and friends here, are secondary.

Until the recent overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples were officially viewed as second class citizens for purposes of immigration (and many other federal benefits) as well. That changed, in no small part, as public sentiment toward gay marriage shifted in the wake of several years of super positive press coverage of gay couples. Everyone, it turns out, loves a wedding.

Which is why I was very pleased to see another form of direct action in August, as U.S. citizen Edgar Falcon wed his Mexican bride, Maricruz Valtierra, from opposite sides of the Paso del Norte bridge in El Paso. According to the El Paso Times article, Customs and Border Protection officials said border weddings are performed with some regularity in El Paso. We need to see more of these border weddings. Congress needs to see the white dresses and the mariachi bands and guests bearing blenders and wooden spoons. And Congress needs to hear from the teary parents of the betrothed who are forced to Skype into the wedding parties.

The immigrant youth movement is keyed into this fact; the annual Dreamer Graduation in Washington, D.C., included a wedding ceremony this past July, a lesbian wedding no less. But, and this is a key point, there will be no sudden outpouring of public, mixed-status weddings until something is done to curb the record numbers of deportations. I had a conversation with a strong immigration activist recently and throughout our talk I assumed she was already public about her husband’s undocumented status. But at the end of the conversation, when I asked her about possibly quoting her, she said no, that no one knows about his status. That it’s too risky still, too personal.

That is a key difference between the marriage equality movement, which is on such a roll in the public eye and the courts, and the immigration reform movement, which has been stymied in Congress. There are serious consequences to losing a state marriage equality fight to be sure, including violent repercussions. But they are different from the consequences of losing a public battle for a spousal green card, which can result in detention, separation and exile for families.

There are growing numbers of congressmen who have been to these weddings and know these couples, such as Rep. Beto O’Rourke in the CSPAN clip below. Every member of Congress has access to our book, Amor and Exile, and if they lost it, we’d be happy to send another. But let’s get them down to the border to see these regular border weddings, rather than the barbed wire and drone tours, which are so much more popular.

The Hebrew concept of ‘The Stranger’ and immigration reform

Diego Rivera

“You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

As a child, these words from the Book of Exodus, uttered each year at the Passover meal, my extended family gathered around fold up tables, defined religion for me.

Copy of Immigration sermon - Google Drive

Because you, yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt. The Passover traditions implore us to act as though we were ourselves, literally, strangers in the Land of Egypt. We are encouraged to welcome strangers to our tables each year, commanded to retell the story of the exodus.

[box]Remarks by Nathaniel Hoffman, co-author of Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders with Nicole Salgado, Cordillera West Press (2013) delivered August 11, 2013 at the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.[/box]

While the immigration history of America is indeed unique, the greater story of humanity is one of perpetual migration.

The Hebrews of the Torah, and Jews throughout the ages, have been strangers wherever we have sojourned. Egypt, Babylon, Western Europe, the streets of New York, certainly here in Boise, Idaho.

Diego Rivera
From the Diego Rivera mural, Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on this Continent at City College via When Paint Meets Purpose.

We are perpetual strangers who adapt quickly to local ways and yet are always reminded that we are strangers. We learn to hunt and fish, go to rodeos, eat hot dogs in jelly—and yet we remain outsiders—strangers— in certain ways.

But the English term stranger is problematic and does not capture the full essence of the Jewish concept of the “ger.” The Hebrew word for stranger, ger, is from the same root as the word for settling down, Gar, to live, to sojourn, to reside. The Hebrews were settled in Egypt for some 400 years prior to the Exodus. Their community grew and they were integrated, at least at first. A young Moses grew up behind the palace walls. And yet the Hebrews remained strangers in Egypt as well, eventually abused by later pharaohs and forced to flee.

And when they came out of Egypt, they became strangers again, for the Hebrew word ger has yet another meaning: a convert. The ancient Jews’ passage through the Red Sea and 40 years wandering in the desert offered another kind of strange conversion, a key moment in the development of Western thought that is seldom considered by Western scholars. It was the Jews’ passage out of Africa and into the Near East, into what would become the Judeo-Christian legal system and religious tradition. The wandering Jews, exiles from Egypt, developed a new society, based on the tribal culture of the desert and the religious and scientific advances of Ancient Egypt. They were strangers twice-over: gerim in Egypt, though thoroughly Egyptian, and gerim, converts, in the desert, forming a new community but perpetual strangers in seeking to join that community.

That second Biblical sojourn out of Egypt, out of Africa, parallels the kind of human migrations that science continues to reveal today. Migrations of strangers who settle, join new communities, but always bring their ideas and beliefs and knowledge and food and dance with them.

An excerpt from Amor and Exile:

This tale could go back even farther to the early reaches of human history, when direct human ancestors first encountered one another in the most intimate of terms. The history of early human migrations is still unsettled, but recent evidence from Australia and Asia points to at least three human ancestor subspecies that intermingled in the millennia after early humans traveled out of Africa. Sixty to eighty thousand years ago, according to some scientists, modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) first paired with Neanderthals, a separate human subspecies, in Western Europe and East Asia and later on with the recently discovered Denisovans, another archaic human group, throughout southern and eastern Asia and Oceana.

It is still not clear how or when the offspring of these early human migrants arrived in the Western Hemisphere. Estimates range as widely as 40,000 to 12,000 years ago. But when European explorers “discovered” the New World in the 15th Century, their arrival heralded a whole new era of immigration love stories.

Even before the establishment of the union, the Atlantic Coast was well known for its mélange of cultures and nationalities and races. Conquerors and the conquered, travelers and settlers, slavers and the enslaved, Protestants and Catholics and Muslims and Jews and animists and Yorubas all met in the early colonies and explored all of the possibilities that came with seeking their fortunes, building a nation, defending territories and falling in love. This, of course, is a generous reading of American history—the conquest of America’s indigenous people was brutal and the young nation was clearly built on the back of African slave labor. But there is no doubt that amidst that brutality, there were also instances of humanity and love between members of different ethnic groups.

These relationships—both the loving ones and the many abusive ones— are what the early 20th Century black scholar W.E.B. DuBois called the “stark, ugly, painful, beautiful” fact of American life.

America is a nation of immigrants. As Oscar Handlin wrote in his 1951 book, The Uprooted: “Once I thought to write the history of American immigrants. Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”

But like the ancient Hebrews, in every generation we forget where we came from. Even from the very first settlers on our shores, we confused the immigration equation. In the Disney version of the Pocahontas story, it is the native peoples of this land who are portrayed as exotic and foreign—”strangers in their own lands,” as Native American educator Cornell Pewewardy put it.

White settlers wrote their discomfort with foreign sojourners into our earliest laws, banning miscegenation, or inter-racial marriage, as early as the 1660s. Though African people settled in this country at the same time as white Europeans, our early immigration and marriage laws were designed to bolster the institution of slavery and maintain European control. Citizenship has always been tied to the dominant racial ideology in the United States.

Just as African Americans adopted themes from the Exodus story as they fought off the shackles of slavery in the 1800s, Mexican Americans can claim the mantle of strangerhood today.

Juan Diaz, who was deported back to Mexico from Nampa in 2008, feels like stranger in his own land, after a lifetime in the U.S.

Excerpt from Amor and Exile:

 There has always been trauma in leaving La Virgen. But over the years the trauma of northward migration, a special form of exile invented again and again by millions of rural Mexicans throughout the latter 20th Century, became normal. Juan went North for the first time in 1990, seeking a nest egg to attend college, to study medicine, or maybe animal science, like Nicolas. But he liked the nest egg better than the idea of furthering his studies, so he kept going North—six times in 19 years. He crossed the porous border like everyone else, rebuffed again and again by the Border Patrol—he’s forgotten how many times—until he made it to the interior where he was welcomed with paid work, with freedom of movement and association, with the NFL and college ball on TV. Where his brothers and sisters and father were eventually welcomed with papers.

Juan worked as a breakfast cook and housekeeper in Mammoth Lakes, California, and in a wood products plant in Nampa, Idaho. He worked and he went home to La Virgen to renew his ties with his mother, to his mother country. But his exile—this uniquely Mexican form of emigration—was slippery. At first he left home out of economic necessity, unable to find the kind of salary he desired in La Virgen. He followed the example of his father and left home seeking his fortune abroad. But as the fruits of that fortune grew and the economy in La Virgen further stagnated, he accepted this economic exile as his new reality, in many ways giving up on La Virgen. His life abroad—eventually more than half his lifetime—became just his life.

Now Juan is exiled back to his own hometown, banned from allá, pre- vented by U.S. immigration law from settling down with his family, getting a work permit and eventually citizenship and living the American dream.

Fast forward to today. Congress has the opportunity to make gerim like Juan—a stranger in all of the ancient Hebrew connotations, migrant, settler, convert to the American Dream—whole again. Juan’s American wife, Veronica, is a stranger in Mexico today, living there with their four children, unable to return with her husband to the United States.

The Obama administration, while supporting the idea of reforms, has continued deporting strangers from our midst at historically high rates—more than any other president in our history. He is approaching 2 million deportations this year. While this may be counter to our Biblical tradition and counter to the stated rationale of family unification in our official immigration system, it is in line with our own history of welcoming the stranger with fingers crossed behind our backs.

As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, an early thinker in orthodox Judaism wrote a century and half ago:

 “Therefore beware, so runs the warning, from making rights in your own State conditional on anything other than on that simple humanity which every human being as such bears within. With any limitation in these human rights the gate is opened to the whole horror of Egyptian mishandling of human beings.”

But there is another American trait which gives us comfort this morning as well. An undying optimism and herky jerky arc toward justice. As British comedian Ricky Gervais, who wrote and direct the British version of The Office said of the difference between Americans and Brits:

“They’re slightly smarter. They’ve got better teeth. They got more ambition. They’re slightly broader. But the big difference is the Americans are more optimistic. And that’s due to the fact that Americans are told, they can become the next president of United States. And they can. British people are told, it won’t happen to you. And they carry that. They carry that with them.”

I’d like to end with one more reading from Amor and Exile that reflects on this unique American optimism:

Americans have always possessed a certain well-documented optimism when it comes to our futures, our abilities, our rights. It’s right there in the founding documents: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Any American child can grow up to be President of the United States. We don’t, but we could. We can all be rich, but we’re not. We can go wherever we want, whenever we want. Or at least we believe we can.

We travel freely across state lines and across most international borders because we are Americans and we are free. In January 2011 I walked into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, from El Paso, Texas, over the concrete channel that is the Rio Grande. I was carrying a large green backpack and I passed a Mexican soldier who did not even look me over. It was an official international crossing point and no one checked my passport. No Mexican official asked me a single question.

Our optimism is infectious, intoxicating, addicting even, though it’s also rife with bootstrapping myth and false hope. Mexican-American writer Richard Rodriguez, writing about the legacy of farmworker rights activist Cesar Chavez for The Wilson Quarterly, identified this uniquely American optimism as the catalyst for the rising tension along our border with Mexico:

“If you would understand the tension between Mexico and the United States that is playing out along our mutual border, you must understand the psychic tension between Mexican stoicism—if that is a rich enough word for it—and American optimism. On the one side, Mexican peasants are tantalized by the American possibility of change. On the other side, the tyranny of American optimism has driven Amer- icans to neurosis and depression—when the dream is elusive or less meaningful than the myth promised. This constitutes the great irony of the Mexican-American border: American sadness has transformed the drug lords of Mexico into billionaires, even as the peasants of Mexico scramble through the darkness to find the American Dream.”

 

 

House Reps: Who’s Responsible for Immigration Reform?

In a transcript of an appearance on Univision’s “Al Punto con Jorge Ramos,” House Representative Steve King claimed that, “it isn’t [his] responsibility to solve that problem,” in reference to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. This is the same Rep. King (R-IA) who has compared undocumented immigrants to dogs and asserted that he’s picked up immigrants with calves the size of cantaloupes, a remark that’s earning him the distancing of fellow House Republicans John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Raul Labrador.

But on the subject of responsibility, it raises a good point as to whose role it is to deal with the issue of immigration reform. King asserts that the full responsibility for their illegal status lies with the immigrant him or herself, because they step into the situation willingly. One could assume that the next logical assumption is that undocumented immigrants want to alleviate themselves of that responsibility, i.e. through amnesty. However, I’d be hard pressed to think of an undocumented immigrant that I know who is asking someone else to take responsibility for them. Far from it, actually, especially given how hard workers most of the undocumented immigrants I have ever known are. They are usually the ones who are taking responsibility for many others—their American citizen children, their American citizen spouses, their family and extended family members back home. Without even wanting to, millions of undocumented immigrants shoulder economic responsibility for American citizens. They pay taxes into the IRS coffers and into a Social Security system that they will never see a dime from—to the tune of $11.2 billion dollars in 2010—which, when compared to giant American corporations who pay little to nothing, makes you wonder, why the misdirected vilification?

Beyond those who have citizen or permanent resident spouses or children, it’d be difficult to name an undocumented immigrant who hasn’t contributed in some responsible way to American society by contributing to the economy, producing crops, building homes, caring for young children, preparing food, working in virtually all aspects of American industry, in some way adding their daily bread to the fabric of American society, whether seen or unseen. Denying their contributions does not make them or their contributions disappear.

The undocumented immigrant whose level of responsibility I knew best was the one who I lived with in the U.S. until 2006—my husband. We moved to his home country of Mexico in 2006 because, despite being legally married and seeking avenues for legalization for several years, I could not assume the legal responsibility of adjusting his status, although we were legally married.  Ironically, in the end, it was my husband the undocumented immigrant, who was the one who took primary financial responsibility for our family, in that he was making better income despite our disparate educational backgrounds, and allowed me to pay off my car loan, as well as my college loan, five years early.

But the panorama never looked better than bleak for obtaining legal status for my husband, despite several trips to lawyers. In 2006, I was working as a science teacher and finishing up my Masters. That same year, House Rep. James Sensenbrenner proposed laws that would have made it a felony for me to even drive in the same vehicle as my husband. One state after another passed laws that treated undocumented immigrants more and more harshly. I doubted the political will of Congress to finally live up to its country’s immigrant legacy and make good on its debt to the millions of individuals who have contributed for decades to American society, regardless of the piece of paper they did not hold.

Almost a decade after we’d married in California, I ended up in Mexico with my husband, we had a daughter, and I’d almost given up hope that I’d ever get back to the United States with him. I’d made my peace that maybe we might never go back because the political climate in Washington is as fickle as the wind that blows. But then that spark of political will stirred this past January, as we were finishing the manuscript of Amor and Exile. Those who’d been hopeless for so long suddenly were taken with optimism once again. We organized, we rallied, we lobbied, our messages were well received.

Many people didn’t want to engage in the rollercoaster ride of hope, fear, optimism, and pessimism. They’d been let down too many times before. They didn’t want to be let down again. But many felt it was different this time, that we were reaching a critical mass of support for immigration reform, and that we really had a chance at progress. Now many of us are questioning again.

It’s partially because there are some politicians who are bound and determined to make sure our hopes are ignored, that our demands go unanswered, that societal justice continues to go unserved. Another part is that we who are living this struggle on a daily basis are tired. We have lives, we can not go on fighting indefinitely. We also wonder when our fellow citizens will care enough to go to bat for us with their elected officials and help drive the support for this effort home—essentially, to bring our families home.

I may have found the way to survive, I’ve got my Plan B’s, and I might still thrive in the long run. But I have counterparts whose lifelines are much thinner. So much work has been put in by thousands of activists, lobbyists and legislators toward immigration reform.

So whereas some legislators may not see 11 million undocumented people’s fate as their responsibility, let me take a stab at a response to King’s assertion. They don’t want to be your responsibility, Rep. King. They want to be officially recognized for the responsibilities they’ve already taken on and met in a way that often exceeds the level of responsibility that many Americans will ever know.

And to go a step further, I’d assert that yes, it is the role of legislators to deal with immigration law—which is, in fact, the reason why undocumented immigrants have the illegal status that they do. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) changed the rules of the game in a drastic way in 1996, criminalizing undocumented immigration to an unprecedented extent that has had far-reaching effects not just on the lives of 11 million undocumented immigrants, but also in the fates of hundreds of thousands of their U.S. citizen family members, and members of their communities. An extent that some might say, changed the face of immigration in a country founded by immigrants.

Thankfully, many legislators still see it as their role to assume responsibility for fixing a broken immigration system that is currently causing more harm than it should. Even Speaker of the House John Boehner, who appeared wholly unsupportive of SB 744 just last month, has conceded the “need to educate members about the hundreds of issues involved in fixing our legal immigration system and the problem of those who are here in an undocumented fashion.”

I have an important reminder for House representatives. Even if you don’t see undocumented immigrants’ fate as your responsibility, surely you would agree it is your responsibility to answer to American citizen constituents. And in the very least, you should read your mail. So I very respectfully ask you to please read the piece of mail that arrived in your Washington offices last month. That was when you received a copy of my book Amor and Exile, which I coauthored with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman. It describes the stories of more than 12 different Americans like myself who have had their families split up or who’ve had to move abroad because of the fall out from laws like IIRIRA—which, being a set of laws passed by Congress, are indeed the purview of Congress. Kill a few responsibilities with one stone: read Amor and Exile.

d.c. tripMAIL
Constituent letters from supporters who sent Amor and Exile to Washington, D.C.

Mexico readings of Amor and Exile | Lecturas de Amor and Exile en México

In the next two weeks, Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders will be presented for the first time in Central Mexico, with readings in Querétaro and San Miguel de Allende, hosted by Nicole Salgado. At both events, co-authors Salgado and Nathaniel Hoffman will read excerpts of the book with a short summary in Spanish, and answer questions from the audience. Hoffman will attend virtually, via the Internet. Both events are free and open to the public. Copies of Amor and Exile will be available for sale at the events.

The Querétaro reading will be this Wednesday, July 24th, at 7 pm, at the Casa del Atrio, Allende Sur 15, in Querétaro´s historic downtown. The San Miguel de Allende reading will be Saturday, August 3rd at the San Miguel Public Library in the Sala Quetzal, entry from Relox-50, San Miguel Centro Historico.

In Amor and Exile, Salgado details her inability to legalize her Mexican husband because of a permanent bar that he incurred due to a previous illegal entry, and how they arrived together to Querétaro in 2006 to wait out the 10 years before he can apply for legal entry. In addition to providing the backdrop of U.S. immigration policy history, journalist Hoffman tells the stories of more than 12 couples torn apart or displaced by current immigration law, including the experience of former San Angelo, Texas mayor and current San Miguel resident, J.W. Lown.

Amor and Exile offers a new perspective on a problem that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families. As U.S. legislators debated immigration reform in June, Hoffman and Salgado raised more than $12,000 dollars to publish their book, travel to Washington, D.C., and deliver 550 books, to each of the members of Congress, the President and Vice-President, the Supreme Court, and other officials, along with letters from constituent supporters. Amor and Exile provides important perspective for the current immigration reform debate going on in Congress and demonstrates why millions of people need a more humane immigration policy that reestablishes families’ autonomy.

We hope you will join us! You can obtain more information about the local events by contacting nicole@amorandexile.com

101-queretaro-casa-atrio
Casa del Atrio, site of upcoming Amor and Exile reading in Querétaro, México

En las siguientes dos semanas, las primeras dos lecturas de Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders serán en México Central, por coautora Nicole Salgado. En los dos eventos, los coautores, Salgado y Nathaniel Hoffman, leyerán excerptos del libro y estarán dispuestos para contestar preguntas de la audiencia. Hoffman estará presente por medio de internet. En las dos ocasiones, la entrada es abierta al público y gratuito y libros estarán a la venta.

La lectura en Querétaro será este miercoles, 24 de julio, a las 7 pm, en la Casa del Atrio, Allende Sur 15, en el Centro Histórico de Querétaro. La lectura en San Miguel será en la Sala Quetzal de la Biblioteca Publica de San Miguel de Allende, entrada por Relox 50-A, Centro Histórico.

En Amor and Exile, Salgado detalla la imposibilidad de legalizar su esposo mexicano debido a una barra permanente que él tuvo por una entrada ilegal previa, y como llegaron a Querétaro juntos en 2006 para esperar 10 años antes de que él puede solicitar una entrada legal. Coautor y periodista Hoffman relata la historia de la política migratoria en los Estado Unidos y las experiencias de mas de 12 parejas con situaciones como Nicole, que han sido afectados negativamente de parte de leyes migratorios actuales de Estadosunidos.

Amor and Exile ofrece una nueva perspectiva sobre un problema que afecta cientos de miles de Americanos y sus familias. Mientras legisladores Estadounidenses debatieron reforma migratoria en junio, Hoffman y Salgado recaudaron mas de $12,000 dólares para publicar su libro, viajar a Washington, D.C. y entregar 550 libros, a cada uno de los miembros de Congress, el presidente y vicepresidente, la Suprema Corte y otros oficiales. Amor and Exile provee importante perspectiva para el actual debate en Congress de Estadounidos, y demuestra porque millones de personas necesitan una política migratoria mas justa que restablece la autonomía de las familias.

Esperamos que nos acompañen. Se puede conseguir más información acerca de los eventos locales al escribir nicole@amorandexile.com

sala quetzal mural
Sala Quetzal, San Miguel Public Library, site of August 3rd reading of Amor and Exile

 

 

 

Immigration bans will keep some same-sex couples in “amor and exile”

Jenny and Ottie

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act,” or DOMA, opens up the U.S. immigration system to same-sex couples. Tens of thousands of Americans are now able to sponsor their partners for immigration purposes, entitling them to green cards and eventual citizenship.

Glenn Greenwald
Glenn Greenwald, Guardian columnist in exile.

Binational couples celebrated the end of DOMA all over the world, as many have been forced into exile, unable to live in the United States legally with their partners. Glenn Greenwald, journalist for The Guardian who recently broke the NSA snooping scandal, lives in Brazil with his partner, David Miranda. They could now benefit from the end of DOMA by applying for a spousal or fiancé visa—they have already demonstrated to the Brazilian government that their relationship is the equivalent of a married couple, and Greenwald earned full immigration benefits there.

From Amor and Exile:

“Greenwald said that they would like to live in the United States at some point, as it would be convenient for his work as a frequent television and radio commentator. But they are also happy in Brazil. He also does not want to be a poster child for same-sex couples in exile, though he writes about it from time to time.

Greenwald, a frequent critic of President Obama’s continued War on Terror policies and other federal issues, says that the Obama administration’s refusal to defend DOMA is one of the best things the administration has done. The courts will overturn the law and immigration judges will be able to grant spousal benefits to same-sex couples, he says.”

Yesterday’s news proved that prediction correct. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas told the American Immigration Lawyers Association conference in San Francisco today that the agency has been keeping track of immigrant visa applications from same-sex couples for the last year and will expedite their review, now that the agency officially has that authority.

But some percentage of the estimated 24,000 same-sex binational couples in the U.S. and the many couples living abroad will now face the same immigration hurdles that other binational couples like Nicole and Margo have faced—bans from the United States because of their immigration history.

Our book anticipated the end of DOMA in this way. Up until yesterday, all same-sex couples faced a different set of immigration barriers—the total lack of access to the immigration system. Today, many will face the same barriers that millions of straight couples have faced since 1996.

Greenwald’s immigration case is relatively straightforward since he met his partner abroad and Miranda has no immigration violations on his record. But J.W. Lown’s partner, whom I call Gabriel in the book, to protect his identity, is subjected to a 10 year ban, as is Jenny Phipps’ wife, Ottie.

J.W. Lown
J.W. Lown at his ranchito near San Angelo, Texas in May 2012, his first visit home since moving to Mexico.

Lown is the former mayor of San Angelo, Texas, a Republican, and for the past four years, a real estate agent in San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico. Gabriel entered the United States illegally and stayed for more than a year, earning a 10 year ban. He contacted the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City recently and they told him he’s not even eligible for a tourist visa.

“He went to the embassy and they said to come back in 2019,” Lown told me this morning, adding that DOMA is a life changer. But it’s not going to be a simple visa application for J.W. and Gabriel—they are going to have to apply for an extreme hardship waiver and prove that it’s been a hardship for them to live abroad. J.W.’s story of fleeing south with Gabriel on the eve of his fourth swearing-in as the popular mayor of San Angelo, will probably help the application process, but they will need to consult a lawyer, go to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez twice and take the risk of a denial, a process that is detailed in Amor and Exile.

Jenny and Ottie
Jenny Phipps and Ottie Pondman on their wedding day last year in Zoetermeer.

Jenny and Ottie are even further away, in the Netherlands, and are really unsure of how to proceed. They can’t afford a lawyer and are not even sure why Ottie has a 10-year ban.

“We don’t know how it’s going to affect us yet because Ottie still has that 10 year bar,” Jenny said. “We’ve just been kind of numb from the news. It’s like, what do we do now, what can we do now? Are we locked, imprisoned for the next six years?”

More than 900 people joined a conference call today with Immigration Equality, a group that has been fighting to overturn DOMA and help binational same-sex couples access the immigration system. They had questions about visa waivers, when to apply for immigrant status, how to explain previous tourist or work visas in light of new family-based applications and many other questions. Immigration attorney Prerna Lal posted this list of immigration benefits that the end of DOMA allows, along with a list of continued barriers for gay and lesbian couples.

Also today, the comprehensive immigration reform bill, SB 744, passed the U.S. Senate, and while it does not include any provisions specifically for same-sex couples, gay couples now have an equal stake in the bill, in the wake of DOMA’s demise. That means that eased hardship waiver provisions in the bill could help couples like JW and Gabriel and Jenny and Ottie as well.

The Senate bill now moves over to the House, which has its own, still unclear agenda on immigration reform. One thing is clear however: the marriage equality movement succeeded in a big way yesterday in convincing the nation that relationships forged in love should be treated equally, regardless of gender or immigration status. If that same momentum carries forward for the larger immigration reform effort, American citizens stand to benefit in numerous ways, not the least of which is the power to determine whom they choose to marry and where they choose to live.

Dear Colleague, Re: Amor and Exile, From The Honorable Luis V. Gutierrez

We are honored that Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Chicago) is recommending Amor and Exile to his colleagues in the House, all of whom received a copy within the last week… copied below is a memo that went out to members of the House this morning:

Subject: Immigration, Judiciary: Dear Colleague: Amor and Exile Tells the Story of Families Separated or Exiled by Immigration Laws

Amor and Exile Tells the Story of Families Separated or Exiled by Immigration Laws

From: The Honorable Luis V. Gutierrez
Date: 6/21/2013

This week, a remarkable book was delivered to your office that I hope you will read, share, and learn from.  Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders, tells the story of U.S. citizens who fall in love with undocumented immigrants only to find themselves trapped in a legal labyrinth, stymied by our nation’s immigration laws.

Journalist Nathaniel Hoffman visited both sides of the border to document the lives of couples split apart by borders or exiled from America.  His coauthor, Nicole Salgado, provides her firstperson account of life in the U.S. with her husband while he was undocumented, her decision to leave the country with him, and their seven years of exile together in Mexico.

I had the opportunity to visit with Nathaniel and Nicole in my office earlier this week and have found the stories they write about — and the story Nicole still lives — very powerful in conveying what is at stake in our nation’s immigration debate.  They raised the funds from supporters in 28 states to be able to provide copies of their book to every Member of the House and Senate so that we come to know and understand the American citizens whose lives we are talking about when we discuss immigration, deportation, and efforts to reunite families.

I hope you will take a look.

For more information, see http://amorandexile.com, http://facebook.com/amorandexile or http://twitter.com/amorandexile

Sincerely,

Luis V. Gutiérrez

Member of Congress

authors with rep. gutierrez 6.13
Nicole Salgado and Nathaniel Hoffman, coauthors of Amor and Exile, with Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, June 2013