Fumbling toward fireworks

Author’s Note: Something fairly big happened in our immigration journey in the past few months, news that, given how much of a watershed moment it represents, I really would have expected myself to have shared sooner. And yet, for reasons I explore below, I have been mulling over how to share, or perhaps unconsciously putting off the sharing. Several years ago when we were writing Amor and Exile, and I had more time to figure out how to write about and share my experience; and it wasn’t as difficult to simply give myself the creative space for my story to bubble forth. Nowadays, finding time for reflection, or taking an idea and expanding it, is a rare luxury. But given this new development, I’ve kept asking myself, what can I say about this? It’s hard to know what to say when you’re still getting your bearings. But then good ol’ Fourth of July approached, stirring memories and feelings about the US of A, and soon after emerged a question, the answer to which is at the heart of where we stand for the next few years. This is a work in progress, friends.  
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A art therapist colleague of mine once told me about a favorite piece of writing advice she’d once received: “write what you want to know.”

I want to know: “how can I, a person who rarely takes no for an answer, who has fought and won many battles, campaigns, and endured daily struggles, who knows what she wants and how to get it, whose nickname is ‘stubborn,’ ‘thorough,’ and whose very name means leader of the people; how can I be stuck in this multiyear limbo… how can I be on the cusp of the very opportunity for freedom that we ostensibly have been seeking for the last 16 years… how can I finally have arrived at the moment of truth, the time to move forward, the chance to capitalize; and yet, all I can seem to do is ponder the possibility.

Wouldn’t it seem that, after 10 (closer to 11 now) years of exile that I’d at least have gotten the pondering out of the way? Or was it that I was so protective of my heart, after how badly it’d been hurt previously, after those first years of lawyer visits, that I wouldn’t even allow myself to entertain the possibility of a door opening, couldn’t let myself be deluded into the idea that a future back in the U.S. could be possible, lest it be a cruel joke, as it has been for so many people, and could very easily be for us?

And yet now, it seems one nod has been given, the I-130 sort. I’m not even sure exactly what it means. Yes, you (to Margo), we acknowledge you claim you may have the right to a spouse visa based on the claim that you are married to an American. Is that what that means? That doesn’t include the several dozen other steps yet to be taken en route to the (still) possible visa (never a guarantee, even after paying the rest of the estimated costs for the whole application process, approx. 7500 USD – and that’s more than half of what I make in a year now to support our whole family, even as an employee of the US embassy).

And so, just like that, a new reality, a door has opened, and now a decision must be made. Or so it seems. And so the idealistic leader who got this whole ball rolling in the first place looks at the troops and says, “what are you all waiting for?” But the spiteful little girl, the one who thought, you didn’t want to play with me, so now I’m going to ignore you, is sulking in the shadows. The worn-out working mom who’s been pulling 50 hour work weeks regularly just wants to veg on the couch. The incessant reader of sensationally negative news about the racially charged violence in the U.S. is cowering indoors, freaked about the potential harm she could lead her family into with a move back to the States, not unlike the fear some Americans experience upon absorbing negative press about Mexico (whether that’s a well-founded fear or not is up for debate at another date). The ever-skeptical accountant who takes one look at the scant balance sheet and shakes her head, catching the glance of the ever-practical logistics planner, who folds her arms over her chest and sighs, imagining the gargantuan tasks ahead to relocate a family all the while aligned with the intricacies of an unpredictable immigration application process ultimately leading to a job search for a rather scattered boss who’s been out of her home nation for 11 yrs.

And hence, the conductor has her hand on the chain, wanting to blow that whistle, but the VIP passengers haven’t quite made it onto the train, which is still idling in the station.

Yes, we are idling in limbo, and I’d really like to know why. Uncle Sam, it is because you (inadvertently, I’ll allow you – I’m still that forgiving) forced out one of your own with friendly fire and she’s spent too much time and energy healing her wounds in a foreign land to be able to come home? Or is it that lovely México has truly seduced me with all her charms and I am now hopelessly under her spell? Is it possible that I couldn’t have foreseen that in the end, it would be a little of both?

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And just like that, the I-130 was approved. And now I, a daughter of liberty, am attempting to summon the metaphorical troops, to brave what’s next. Whether that’s figuring how in sam hell we are going to afford this, whether our chances of waiver approval are the best or not, whether it’s the wisest investment to make when we have so little to invest, whether my family can bounce back from the pinball effect of the last twenty years of international migration, whether I really know my country anymore, whether I can or have to or will ever be able to or should let go of Mexico after seeing me through and providing me refuge and sustenance during some pretty dark times in the last eleven years, or whether  I can ever forgive my country for being the main cause of all this mind-bending anguish in the first place, and whether the moment will ever arrive where the fireworks of happiness and relief rain down over us when we look back and say, “we’re done with this” …. whether that day will ever come, remains to be seen.

The tenth year – II

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.

Jalisco, Mexico, September 2006
Highway in Jalisco, Mexico, 2006

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:

The piñata
The cupcakes
The mezcal

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.

Piñata top and garambullo

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.

Xotol and pollinators
First fruit

The Sunday Rumpus Feature |Amor and Exile Reviewed in The Rumpus

Amor and Exile made the front page of The Rumpus.net, a popular online literary magazine, in today’s The Sunday Rumpus Feature. Allison Cay Parker gave it a great review, here are some excerpts:

“Although I can now boast intimate familiarity with many infuriating aspects of our country’s immigration system, the truth is that in relative terms our process was an emotional and logistical cake walk compared to what Amor and Exile coauthor Nicole Salgado, her family, and other bi-national couples represented in this timely, urgent book are experiencing. The crucial difference impacting their cases: the “undocumented” status of their foreign-born partners.

Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders reads as one part memoir, penned by American expat Nicole Salgado, and one part journalism, researched and written by Nathaniel Hoffman (editor of TheBlueReview.org). Combining forces, the coauthors have produced a story that is in turns informative and deeply resonant, and that captures the complex, often contradictory set of laws and emotions that govern the lives of immigrants and their families. […]

At its heart, Amor and Exile is a plea for the reunification and repatriation of American families. The book’s unique contribution is that it illuminates the ways in which our increasingly punitive immigration laws, designed to criminalize and remove migrants in the name of national interests, in fact force many ordinary Americans into financial and emotional hardship and deprive them of rights otherwise considered inviolable in our society—chief among them, the “freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life,” which the U.S. Supreme Court defends under the Due Process clause of the Constitution.”

The review says many more great things about Hoffman and Salgado’s writing and the impact the book can have, but you’re better off reading the review in entirety yourself, here. Thanks to Allison Parker for the review, and to The Rumpus Sunday editor, author Gina Frangello, for selecting Amor and Exile for this Sunday feature review.

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Amor and Exile goes to Nayarit, Mexico

Nicole Salgado will present Amor and Exile on Tuesday, February 4, at 11 am in La Penita de Jaltemba, Nayarit. Nathaniel Hoffman will Skype into the conversation. 

The reading/discussion is sponsored by Writers Who Love Mexico, and will be held at the Xaltemba Restaurant and Gallery in La Penita de Jaltemba, near Rincon de Guayabitos, Nayarit. Hoffman will be available for questions via Skype. Books will be available for sale or to be signed. We hope you will join us! For inquiries about the event, please email Susan Cobb at susan@susanjcobb.com. Visit the Writers Who Love Mexico Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Writers-Who-Love-Mexico/176439342391052 for more information.

For attendees who would like to obtain a Kindle version of the book prior to the event, visit http://amzn.to/11dNDPd

lapenitajaltembaFB header

Free Amor and Exile Kindle Ebook Giveaway, Jan. 23-24!

Amor and Exile for Kindle on iPad mini

Congress is back in session and 2014 will be another do-or-die year for immigration reform.

Free Kindle Book: Amor and Exile
Amor and Exile, Kindle version on ipad … your choice, at http://amzn.to/11dNDPd

To promote meaningful debate and public awareness about immigration, deportation and exile, we will be giving away copies of the  Amor and Exile Kindle book on Thursday and Friday of this week!

Our Kindle version can be read on almost any computer, tablet or smartphone, not just on Kindles.

Here’s the details:

  • When: Thursday, January 23rd through Friday, January 24th (48 hours!)
  • Where: The Amor and Exile Kindle Page: http://amzn.to/11dNDPd
  • What: Download the free ebook for yourself or gift to a friend by clicking the “Give as a Gift” button on the Amazon page!

NOTE: We’d like to move thousands of copies of the book next week and need your help! Please plan to download a digital copy of Amor and Exile from the Kindle store next Thursday and Friday, even if you already have a copy of the book! You can use it as a backup copy, gift to a friend or use it to beef up your digital library. If you support immigration reform or human rights, please share this special opportunity with everyone in your circles! And thanks for all of your great reviews of the book as well!

Here’s a short sample message for your Twitter: Get @amorandexile for #free, Th-Fri, Jan. 23-24 from the #Kindle Store: http://amzn.to/11dNDPd #immigration #goodreads

If you have any questions about the giveaway or how to gift a book to a friend, please email one of us. Thanks again for your support!

***** UPDATE *****

Our giveaway resulted in over 1400 downloads of Amor and Exile in 2 days. We got into the top 500 Kindle books overall, and were #1 for political science and emigration/immigration books on Kindle for a day. Thanks to everyone who participated!



The Final Countdown

Less than three days to go until we are on Capitol Hill delivering copies of Amor and Exile to our nation’s elected officials. The level of preparation anxiety and nervousness that everything will work out is indicating that the reality of our trip has finally sunk in.

Insofar as that we were able to successfully underwrite our “Send Amor and Exile to Washington” campaign by a diverse number of contributors nationwide, I feel very optimistic and confident that our project has the right kind of support from the public. And in terms of the two public readings we will be having, the first in our nation’s capital at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) headquarters in D.C., and the second in Baltimore at Ukazoo Books, I’m very excited about starting to gain wider exposure for our book.

On the other hand, I’m naturally nervous about how well our message will be received by legislators and how successfully we will execute our goal. I’m not a professional lobbyist and much of this will be new for me. In my role as author/activist, I hope that we are able to carry out what we set out to accomplish.

Publishing a book gives you a sense of unparalleled accomplishment and getting great feedback for the project is very affirming. It’s definitely a privilege to be able to travel to D.C. to deliver our book to our government as a result of the goodwill of so many others—both friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, those in similar situations—even people who don’t know us but who share our vision.

This author-activism thing is pretty exciting, but it’s not that glamourous. Personal sacrifice is required to fulfill this trip. We go into debt to initially order books, we leave our families and our day jobs behind to do this. In a rare splurge to augment my ratty 2006 or older wardrobe, I got some expensive new clothes to wear in D.C. I had to use my credit card, something I *never* use for shopping, because it just so happened that this very same week, I couldn’t use my U.S. debit card because my bank suddenly thought that I was fraudulently using my card in Mexico, until I explained I have a residence down here.

I am blogging in between dropping off my husband off at work and going to the passport office for 2 hours this morning. I will head out again this afternoon to pick him and the passport up before I dash off to work for the afternoon. Can’t forget the Mexican document that will allow me to leave the country without issue on Wednesday morning en route to the U.S.—I even managed to not forget to take my vitamins.

Even though it’s been twelves years of boarding flights without my life partner and the very reason why I’m taking part in this trip is because of him, I NEVER get used to traveling without him, have never stopped resenting having to leave him at home. But of course I am not alone in that. Just invoking the thought of why is enough to steel me for the hectic and stressful, albeit exciting days ahead. In just this past week, 3 friends will have major life upheavals due to the laws that we go to appeal to in Washington.

Nicole Salgado San Miguel 2013
The author and her family | Photo by F.R. Salgado

One friend had to leave her husband in Mexico while she returned to the states with their daughter. I thank her for alerting me to the need for a dual citizen to have both country’s passports to leave the country without problems. Another friend will leave the U.S. with her two sons to go be with her fiancee in El Salvador. Yet another will relocate with her daughter and infant son to be with their father, her husband, in rural Brazil soon. Their travels will be much more heartwrenching than mine. It is because of them and many more like us that I’ll happily incur the personal sacrifices to go to our nation’s capital to make good on the vision to make our stories known to the American government and public.

It’s why on Wednesday morning I will kiss my daughter and husband goodbye, leaving them with about $50 in our Mexican bank account, putting our fate into other hands now. The optimistic side of me, the one who knows how far we’ve come, agreed wholeheartedly with my Mexican brother-in-law last night when we were talking about what we were going to do this week, vetting every last misgiving down to the fear that our book could someday be used for some ill will. He said, “every good deed can be used for bad or for good, but you will never regret doing what you’ve done.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Countdown to D.C.

Seven days until we go to Washington to deliver Amor and Exile to Congress. Even though we’ve already bought plane tickets and are thick into planning trip logistics, part of me still “no le ha caido el veinte.” That’s what they say here when something still hasn’t hit you yet.

Maybe it’s because I’m still so far away, in Mexico. I haven’t been to Washington in decades, but its policies affect me daily.

Maybe it’s because I’m still incredulous—and not only that we surpassed our campaign goal to raise $11,000 to send a copy of our book to every member of Congress. It’s still sinking in that we are finally done with our book, something that took over 3 years to complete and that’s required some serious trials of endurance to accomplish as a team.

There are times when this whole ride still seems somewhat dream-like (sometimes nightmarish). I got on this roller coaster nearly 12 years ago, when I met my husband, who is Mexican, in San Francisco in 2001. That’s when everything began to change for me. I discovered that our country has an undocumented class. I discovered that in many cases, marriage makes no difference any more. I had to decide whether to leave my country to keep my marriage together. I had to say goodbye to my friends, my family, my career as a science teacher. I moved to Mexico.

I’m currently sitting in the office of the Secretary of Exterior Relations. I took the bus here in the scorching, pre-rainy season Querétaro heat to get a Mexican passport. I need it in addition to my U.S. passport because I’ve been naturalized here since 2011. Becoming a Mexican citizen isn’t something I set out in life to do, but it was something that made economic and practical sense since my husband and I have to be here at least 10 years until he is eligible to apply for an I-212 waiver of his permanent bar from legally immigrating to the U.S. I am getting a Mexican passport so I can legally leave this country to go to my home country’s capital next week to ask that my husband, my family and millions of others like us might someday have a chance at getting a passport too.

They are very kind to me here, but of course, they are just as much about the rules as they are in the U.S. When I had to pay an unexpected $90 for a passport that I would really prefer to not purchase given my bank account’s precipitously low level, I tried to remember why I am doing this. It’s all for the long run—for my family’s well-being, to travel in good international stead, so I can claim my rightful spot among the many voices asking for legislative redress of a decades-long difficult situation—in person—no longer from afar.

n and m sf march 2006
Nicole Salgado and her husband in San Francisco in 2006

When I was 23 and fell in love with my husband, I soon found out how much we were up against, and my world turned upside down. A long-time activist, I became silenced by fear, by disempowerment, for many more years than I could have imagined. I came close to losing faith in the system. But little by little, once in Mexico, as my cynicism about returning someday converted to self-reliance and survival (and sometimes thriving) in a developing country, I very slowly began to find my voice again. And then came Amor and Exile, after several years in it. I’ve regained some guarded hope in 2013—not just because of my own strength, but also with the support of others. I didn’t know it when I was 23, but I know now that I was never alone—that millions would experience my fate. Their stories, their struggles, are part of what propels me forward.

Perhaps what’s become clearer than ever as a result of this labor of bringing light to the very dark debate over immigration is the following: for every negative commentary or political prediction I hear about this issue, I observe something really positive. Not only is every single one of us who’s separated from our spouses, in exile, or living undocumented in the U.S. not alone—there are millions—but we all have families and friends who want us back safe in our communities. And they have friends too. We have friends and family who are willing to close the distance on thousands of miles and the seemingly similar distances in political rhetoric between where we are and where we want to be. That is the difference between what I knew at 23 and what I know now, and that is what I will try to remember every moment that I’m making it known while in Washington, D.C. next week.

Welcome: Action for Family Unity

Action for Family Unity collage of photos of families separated or in exile due to immigration law

Our stories just keep coming out, and out, and out. The farther we come out, the more scary it feels, but it also feels so wonderful to read and hear the words of our supporters as they join the call to legislators to help bring us home.

These past two weeks have been really amazing. Just last month, I was thinking it would be hard to get families like ours (in exile or facing exile due to immigration laws) organized into a cohesive political force to be dealt with. But then I put out a call asking if anyone knew of specific organizations dedicated to lobbying for our issues. There aren’t many—our presence on the media map is very sparse, despite our large numbers. There are a wide variety of organizations doing great advocacy work and coming up with exciting solutions, too many to list here. But if you’re interested, Prerna Lal, one of my favorite immigration bloggers, suggested a list of sites to start with here.

One thing happened after another. A fellow exile blogger, Raquel Magaña, got back to me with a few ideas of people to be in touch with. The first was Ellin Jimmerson, director and producer of The Second Cooler, a moving documentary that focuses on how immigration is a human rights and workers’ rights issue (Thank you Ellin).

Next thing I knew, I was messaging like crazy with other women in exile—in the U.S., South America, Mexico, South Korea. This was nothing new for many of them—they’ve been in touch with each other for a while—a long time for some, and attracting press to put our issues on the map. But my efforts on activism have been isolated to advocacy back in 2006 (the SF marches) and getting my memoir out over the last 2 years, with the occasional petition signature, and I hadn’t been a part of any online forum before.


But I also got the sense that the call for action was burning really bright for some women. We’re supportive of the broad movements, we’re supportive of the more specific ones, like those of the DREAMers. But we’re also afraid of getting left out of upcoming reform (Some might say we’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell, but we’re going to try anyways). So suddenly, we formed a group. It has a name and plans for action and collaboration and everything. It all happened so fast. We submitted our pictures and a beautiful mosaic image of them was made. We shared our stories, some intensely personal and not for public eyes. We began building trust in the best way possible without having met our colleagues before, while making up your own rules. We did a petition.

Raquel summed it up well with this comment:

“You will find that every one of these women has a story to be told… and those stories will be told, with heart, with passion, and with the truth of how their individual rights have been overlooked. These ladies will conquer the truth in this history made in their pens and that should promote a government official to execute some relief NOW. When threatened to be overlooked, there is organization. Family unity…there are too many to ignore.”

I am totally floored by how we’re managing to collectively surf this wave of energy we all have, to DO SOMETHING on behalf of our families and others like ours. I have no idea where all this will lead. This is purely voluntary, we all have day jobs, and no financial base to grow from. But I do know that I am feeling a hell of a lot more inspired than I was a month ago, when I wasn’t sure of what I could do beyond writing my story.

I believe in the power of the critical mass. And I wouldn’t be ashamed if we didn’t “make it” this time. As I’ve said before, I’m in this for the long haul.

Most importantly, we’re coming together. For action. Which brings me back to the petition. I wrote it with the help of others and I think it’s very powerful. It sums up our goals pretty well. All the comments I’ve read by my friends, family members, people I don’t even know, bring tears of joy to my eyes. And we hope it will continue to get signed like crazy. Help our group out with that, would you? And stay posted, as this probably won’t be the last thing you’ll hear about it.

Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/petitions/president-obama-and-congress-bring-home-american-families-in-exile#