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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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BOISE, Idaho and QUERÉTARO, Mexico—Independent journalist Nathaniel Hoffman and writer-in-exile Nicole Salgado successfully raised enough funds—almost $12,000—to deliver copies of their new book, Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders, to every member of Congress. 228 individuals from a supporter base of over 500 people representing more than 28 states underwrote the “Send Amor and Exile to Washington” campaign. Hoffman and Salgado will travel to Washington, D.C. on June 12 and 13 to shed light on the plight of American citizens forced to live underground or in exile because of their relationships with undocumented immigrants.
“My memoir in Amor and Exile tells of my twelve-year experience being negatively affected by immigration law, and I’m excited that our elected representatives will finally have the opportunity to read about families like mine while they’re debating the biggest overhaul of our immigration laws in decades,” said Salgado, who lives in Querétaro, Mexico with her husband, Margarito, who is banned from returning to the United States for at least three more years. “It’s so gratifying to receive such overwhelming support from the broader community in sending our message—the stories of many—to Congress when it’s needed most.”
Across the United States, American citizens are forced underground, exiled abroad and separated from their spouses for a surprising reason. Amor and Exile is the story of these Americans—including Veronica, Ben, J.W., and Nicole—who fall in love with undocumented immigrants only to find themselves trapped in a legal labyrinth, stymied by their country’s de facto exclusion of their partners.
Hoffman, who covered immigration at newspapers for a decade, found the frustration that American citizens face when they marry immigrants who are subject to bans—or who are not even eligible for family-based visas in the case of gay and lesbian couples—was one of the most misunderstood aspects of our immigration system.
“Every time I explain what the book is about, someone insists that Americans can marry whomever they want and get them a green card,” Hoffman said. “Well, it just doesn’t work that way and hundreds of thousands of Americans have learned this the hard way.”
Hoffman visited both sides of the border to document the lives of these couples caught in the crossfire of America’s high stakes political fight over immigration. In his disarming and precise style, Hoffman also traces the historical relationship between immigration, love and marriage. Lending an authentic voice to Amor and Exile, Salgado delivers a searing first-person account of life in the U.S. with her husband while he was undocumented, her tortured decision to leave the country with him, and their seven years of exile and starting over together in Mexico.
Amor and Exile tells of love that transcends borders—a story shared by hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens—cutting through the immigration debate rhetoric and providing a courageous perspective for one of the most vexing policy problems of our time.
About the Campaign and Launch of Amor and Exile
The “Send Amor and Exile to Washington” crowdfunding campaign ended June 1 on Indiegogo.com, with full funding, allowing Hoffman and Salgado to launch their book in D.C. at a critical moment in the Congressional debate over immigration reform. Notes from individual funders to their members of Congress about the need for immigration reform will be delivered along with copies of the book.
Amor and Exile will be released to the public on Monday, June 10th, published under Hoffman and Salgado’s new imprint, Cordillera West Books. Book readings—the only two readings scheduled with Hoffman and Salgado together in 2013—will be held on Thursday, June 13th in Washington, D.C., and 6 p.m., Saturday, June 15th at Ukazoo Books in Baltimore. Check our Calendar for details in a few days …
Help ensure that Congress hears about American families divided and exiled by U.S. immigration law. Send a copy of our new book, Amor and Exile, to Washington with our Indiegogo campaign: http://igg.me/at/amorandexile/x/3113579
Across the United States, American citizens are forced underground, exiled abroad and separated from their spouses for a surprising reason. Amor and Exile is the story of American citizens—including Veronica, Ben, J.W., and Nicole—who fall in love with undocumented immigrants only to find themselves trapped in a legal labyrinth, stymied by their country’s de facto exclusion of their partners. Journalist Nathaniel Hoffman visited both sides of the border to document the lives of these couples caught in the crossfire of America’s high stakes political fight over immigration. In his disarming and precise style, Hoffman also traces the historical relationship between immigration, love and marriage. Lending an authentic voice to Amor and Exile, coauthor Nicole Salgado delivers a searing first-person account of life in the U.S. with her husband while he was undocumented, her tortured decision to leave the country with him, and their seven years of exile and starting over together in Mexico. Amor and Exile tells of love that transcends borders—a story shared by hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens—cutting through the immigration debate rhetoric and providing a courageous perspective for one of the most vexing policy problems of our time.
We’re rewriting part of Amor and Exile‘s conclusion and epilogue this week to reflect the rapid movement on immigration reform so far this year. “Finishing” is tough, especially since things are developing so fast.
Our book is one of multiple narratives—many stories. Nathaniel and I have kept that structure intentionally, and we happen to like it that way. We could have each chosen to write separate stories, follow a single narrative of a life torn apart by family separation or exile, but that would not entirely reflect reality. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author of “Half of a Yellow Sun,” writes: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” And so we continue with our crazy vision of telling many stories at once.
That isn’t to say that we don’t have common threads throughout the stories in our book. Quite the contrary—there are several themes that tie the stories together. One is the idea of waiting. It’s what all the people whose stories are told in Amor and Exile‘s tale have had to do, for years. It’s what thousands of Americans in exile or separated from their families by immigration law are doing. It’s what I’m doing at this very minute. The waiting could be described as nested at different levels, some common to others in my situation, other bits of waiting my own. Waiting for my opportunity to go to Congress and tell them why my family needs to be included in immigration reform. Waiting for word from a publisher. Waiting to get our message to enough people that it will actually make a significant difference.
Luckily, life in Mexico itself is one of carving deep reserves of personal patience—due to the uniquely different pace of life and bureacracy here as compared to U.S. culture. It prepares me well for the exhausting patience required of having half a life on hold, the American half of my life. It’s also allowed me to practice patience while getting a leg up on making the desired results happen.
Now, the personal and political have to a large degree become indistinguishable, and the waiting is infused with action. One group I’ve become active with, Action for Family Unity, is hoping that the reform plans being unveiled in the House and Senate will include families like ours. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of groups that represent interests like ours in Washington, like American Families United, some plans come close, but so far, we have no guarantees. Demonstrations are coming up next week. I won’t be able to attend—many of us exiled in a foreign country will be unable—but I made a flier for Act4Fams members in attendance to copy and hand out.
We need coverage of the upcoming demonstrations that will call attention to the plight of those of us—American citizen families—who have for too long slipped through the cracks of immigration legislation. We need to shift public opinion and influence reform plans. Those of us who can will hit the streets this weekend and next week to make sure our stories are known, to help advance our group’s interests. If you support our mission and want to attend a rally and take a copy of our flier, join us on Facebook and visit actionforfamilyunity.org.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep demonstrating my resolve, and continuing to carve my patience, from thousands of miles away. I’ll wait for the day that all this becomes unnecessary.