To more rights for mixed-immigration status couples in 2012

2011 brought a higher profile to the plight of mixed immigration status couples in the form of news articles and public campaigns, but there is still much work to be done to educate the public about the impact of immigration bars, detention and deportations on tens of thousands of American families.

U.S. Rep Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, held tours throughout the spring touting family reunification and the Dream Act. Most of the coverage focused on his call for President Obama to use his administrative powers to halt deportations of people with strong family ties to the Unites States.

The events that Gutierrez held included hundreds mixed-status families, however the spin often focused on the U.S. citizen children, which some polling has shown to be the most sympathetic victims of deportations, rather than spouses. Also, media coverage tends to label, or dismiss these stories as “Hispanic issues.” However, American citizen spouses also gained some traction in the press in 2011.

In one of the most high profile cases of the year, Pedro Guzman and his U.S. citizen wife, Emily Nelson Guzman, won a reprieve and were reunited [with video] in May after Pedro spent 19 months in immigration detention.

Being the spouse of a U.S. citizen didn’t help much. Emily could petition for him to become a legal resident, but in that scenario, an attorney told her, Pedro would have to leave the country before being accepted for reentry. He would also have to obtain a special waiver because of his arrest record. She was advised that his chances would be slim.

In May, Kevin Sieff wrote an interesting Washington Post story about the families of deportees trying to educate their kids in Texas.

In June, three exile bloggers were featured in a UPI wire story about the many online ties that bind their community together. Kelsey Sheehy, a reporter at Medill News Service, which I think is a service of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern (though it’s hard to tell for sure), starts with Cheryl Arredondo at Monterrey, What the Hell?.

Arredondo is part of a growing online demographic: American-born wives of deported immigrants who are using blogs, forums and Facebook to find support and sanity. Their spouses entered the country illegally and, when the immigration system caught up with them, their wives relocated to Mexico to keep the family together.

Erica Pearson at the New York Daily News wrote a similar story in July.

Bonding with each other online, the wives describe enduring months of separation or moving to their husband’s home country to face learning a new language or figuring out where to send their kids to school.

And in September, PRI’s radio program The World ran a piece from Britta Conroy-Randall that discussed the vibrant online club of “deportees wives,” quoting Emily Cruz, the Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez:

“I’m so happy because in Juarez of all places, I’m not afraid to go to the movies, we can go out and be about and be normal and not constantly be afraid,” Cruz said. “I feel more-free in Juarez, Mexico than I did in the suburbs of Phoenix.”

And as the year went on, more and more American spouses began to use the online petition site change.org to rally support for their families.

Another high profile couple was reunited in August—Tony and Janina Wasilewski were featured in the documentary Tony and Janina’s American Wedding. Janina was deported back to Poland and Tony, her naturalized Polish-American husband, fought a long battle to get her back.

2011 was also a fast paced year for same-sex bi-national couples. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Obama administration’s decision to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court leant much momentum to the movement for equal immigration rights for same-sex couples. Still, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security has not moved as quickly as many would like to either delay decisions on spousal visas until DOMA is officially repealed or to begin to grant them administratively.

Anthony John Maak and Bradford Wells, a married, bi-national couple from San Francisco, were denied a visa in August, but appealed the decision and Maak has not been deported yet, as far as I can tell.

Same-sex couples have had some success in winning stays of deportation, based on new DHS guidelines that require adjudicators to take into account an immigrant’s ties to the country before deporting them.

Sujey and Violeta Pando are one recent couple that has been able to stay together after Sujey won a delay pending establishment of the new deportation guidelines. Henry Valendia and his husband, Josh Vandiver, won a similar reprieve in June. And a Connecticut congressional candidate, Mike Williams, and his Dutch partner Bart Hoedemaker, raised the issue in August, when Hoedemaker’s job was to come to an end, costing him his work visa.

And then there is this couple, which makes an excellent point:

In 2012, our book, Amor and Exile, will tell the stories of more mixed-status couples—both gay and straight—to demonstrate that a broken immigration system affects the rights of American citizens in very serious ways. We look forward to continuing this dialogue here, on our Facebook page and through my Twitter feed, where most of these links have appeared previously. May the new year be prosperous for the ever-winding American experiment with democracy!

An excerpt from “Commemoration”

As Nathaniel can probably also attest, it’s a juggling act to have two blogs at the same time. I tend to write deeply personal posts, often about motherhood, culture shock, and conservation issues on my personal blog. But when it comes to how my life is affected by the political circumstances we write about in Amor and Exile (that also affects many other couples), these subjects overlap.

This is an excerpt from my most recent post on my blog The Succulent Seer. It’s about me getting Mexican citizenship and celebrating my daughter’s first birthday within a few days of each other:

The possibility of running out of money hasn’t occurred to me for at least 10 years, back when I was struggling to get on my feet as a recent college graduate. But when they turned me away at the SRE doors and I sat down on the bench outside with the baby, after 5 years of underemployment, and contemplating the possibility that my application for citizenship had been for naught, I wondered if heartless bureaucrats would continue to empty my pockets until I failed to even qualify for either a visa OR citizenship—and then how would my husband and I be together? I broke down in tears. So as to not get stuck in the paperless limbo land that my husband lived in the U.S., I decided to go ahead and reapply for the visa at the eleventh hour, on September 15th, the day before Mexican Independence Day. It was the last day I could submit my papers.

We were down in the commercial district making our way to the bank to transfer money to the INM coffers for the right to be here another year with my family when I got a phone call from my contact at SRE. Only that I couldn’t answer because I’d just dropped my cell phone on the ground and I could hear nothing on the other end. I ran outside to get my husband’s cell phone, ran into the grocery store to put credit on the phone, and ran back out to call my contact. “Is Syracuse spelled with a ‘Y’?” he asked. I stammered yes, wondering if this really meant my wait was over.

I’ve included the link to the full post if you want to read it there.

Summer Family Reunion, Mission Impossible, Part II

A friend of mine is a midwife educator and we took a few classes with her before our baby was born. In one of them, on the topic of pain, she introduced us to a great saying: FEAR is False Expectations Approaching Reality. It buoyed me at the time in the hopes that labor wouldn’t be as painful as I expected. Although I can’t say the birth of my daughter was less painful than I feared, I can say that traveling to the U.S. with her was.

There were many things that allowed my FEAR to be just that—false expectations. Some things were better than I worried they’d be, and some things were worse. But overall, it was a much more pleasant experience than I imagined—as another American friend who’s a long-timer in Mexico has suspected may be the case with me, I might be psyching myself out to be pleasantly surprised in the end. Not a typical personality characteristic of mine, but when it comes to love and exile, it can be a useful tactic.

The cost was not a problem because I did not keep track of how much money I spent like I have on other trips. Why bother? Keeping track of my receipts wouldn’t change how much I had to shell out, that I’ve been unemployed for the last 24 months, or that my financial safety net is developing some seriously large holes. In the end, I had enough to get back home.

The family reunion was a success, if you don’t count the fact that my husband wasn’t there. But then again, neither were several aunts, uncles, and cousins…so why be nit-picky? The important thing was that my daughter got to see her grandparents (my parents) again, meet her uncle (my brother) and his fiancée, her great-aunt & uncle and a couple of their relatives, a good handful of my high school friends, and a large number of my parents’ friends from work.

One unexpected dynamic was that despite his absence, Margo had a much stronger presence than past trips, and I chalk that up to him being present through our daughter. She looks a lot like him, questions directed to me about her invariably brought him up, and many people intuited how much she (and me, by default) must miss him.  So it was nice not having to tiptoe around the subject of his absence like a big white elephant.

I’d done my grieving over not being able to get a Canadian visa for Margo for travel. I’d prepared myself emotionally and let loose a few floodgates en route to have the best mindset possible upon arrival. Sure, a few tense moments occurred as can happen with anyone traveling with kids and aligning parenting philosophies with the grandparents. But I was surprisingly solid when it came to not falling apart.

It might have been because I convinced myself, as I told our daughter, that there were some good things about him staying home: he had to work, we saved money, someone had to feed the chickens and the bunny and the cats and water the garden, someone had to watch the house. So when we’d make our phone calls, it felt more like he was serving a purpose back home than languishing lamenting about not being with us. That was fortunate.

I also might not have had time to grieve his absence since I was so darn busy taking care of the baby. Besides fully co-parenting with my husband, we also had someone coming in a few days a week to help with the baby for the month before we left, and so I was used to getting a large amount of help with the baby at all hours. Her grandparents were great with her, feeding, entertaining, and bathing her to everyone’s delight, but spending the nights getting up alone with her and putting her to bed during Fourth of July fireworks and the days prior were more tiring than normal.

One FEAR that was more true than I expected was the exhaustion factor of the actual bus and air travel by ourselves. But even so, it was kind of funny to see a couple in the airport with two young kids bickering over some aspect of parental care mid-escalator ride. In the state I was in, baby hanging from the sling, (albeit balanced nicely with backpack weight), with luggage in tow, I smiled knowingly at the woman and said, just breathe. She looked surprised for a moment but then smiled back at me. Then they went back to their bickering and I thought to myself, I don’t have to deal with that aspect of traveling together, even if my back is aching!

The author and her daughter at her parents' home in NY

Another silver lining to the exhaustion was that all of that extra time with the baby by myself also led to something special—we bonded like when she was a newborn, and that was perhaps the sweetest unexpected benefit of all.

When I got back to Mexico, I got some feedback from friends with children that gave me some insight about the fact that, although I may have unique circumstances as to why my husband isn’t able to travel with us, it’s surprisingly common for many of my friends to fall into the traveling alone with kids department. One friend related how her husband is stuck in the PhD program from hell for almost 10 years, which has forced her to strike out camping on her own with two small boys. A new American friend here in Mexico traveled alone with not one but two kids up to the States in June—not because her husband doesn’t qualify for a visa but because he forgot to renew it. Others travel alone because their spouses can’t get time off work.

Although I feel womanly solidarity in that we all face similar challenges with our children and I empathize with their spouses’ unavailability for travel (and I also bow down to their ability to juggle multiple infants alone!), when I mentioned this to Margo, as well as the pros of the “holding down the fort” argument, he wasn’t 100% convinced. “Yeah that’s all true, but I would like to go.” Knowing he’s someone who doesn’t express their wants and needs often, his words didn’t fall on deaf ears. And perhaps that is the one expectation that most disappointingly approached reality: that on the subject of traveling together as a family,  reunion or otherwise, bright sides or not, ultimately we didn’t have any choice but for Daddy to stay home.