Auspicious Coincidences and the Widening Circle

Sharing my story and my opinions about immigration and reform has always created a haphazard mix of cynicism and optimism. Cynicism due to the lack of political will in Washington for so many years to create humane immigration policies. Optimism because no matter how many people I talk to, I always meet people who are outraged to hear our story and what happened to us as a result of draconian immigration laws.

My experience during our two most recent events in Mexico — in Patzcuaro, Michoacan and in Guanajuato, GTO — were no exception. Given the fact that Amor and Exile was a moonlighting project for both of us authors, we have limited amount of time to devote to its promotion, beyond social media. And being an individual affected by the “broken immigration system,” I take the lack of forward progress in these affairs particularly personally. So as invitations started to come during 2014 to give talks in different parts of Mexico, I was super delighted to know that this issue is important to others beside my immediate family and allies.

The trip to Patzcuaro was sponsored by the Patzcuaro and neighboring Morelia book clubs, hosted by Victoria Ryan of Hotel Casa Encantada, with Dara Stillman organizing. Although the list of incidental benefits to anyone in exile is short, for me, this trip ranked high on the list — 3 nights in an incredibly gorgeous B & B in the heart of a quaint Mexican mountain town known for its Dia de los Muertos celebrations on Isla Janitzio in Lago Patzcuaro. In addition to the official event on May 9th, Margo and I spent countless hours discussing the issue with dozens of expats who were extremely interested in the issue and our story. Many people expressed a lot of disgust and frustration with U.S. immigration policies for their inflexibility and inhumanity. The event with this crowd was seminal for me in a way because both individually and collectively, they encouraged me to “let loose” a little more in my political opinions on the issue. In the past, when in the public eye, I tend to make a lot of effort to frame things diplomatically, for fear of being considered inflammatory or controversial. But at the Patzcuaro event, since the people in our audience asked me to, I felt free to express my true feelings about a specific issue without worrying about how I said it.

patzcuaro reading3
Nicole and family with Dara Stillman and Victoria Ryan in Patzcuaro, Michoacan.

A few uncanny coincidences also occurred in Patzcuaro. The first was that we were taken to a place that my family and I had stayed in the year before our daughter was born. We had the opportunity to converse at length with the owner, a Mexico City born intellectual who is an artist in his own right. Next, I found out that the Buddhist monk/author who had greatly helped me during my first years in Mexico had stayed across town while writing one of his books. I was invited to visit the retreat center, Casa Werma, and its amazingly beautiful grounds the day before we left. My hosts, Rine and Kai, direct the center and also offer workshops on meditation. After receiving a private session on meditation, I couldn’t help but wonder what forces were at work in the universe to introduce me to my husband 15 years ago, to the works of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche 13 years ago, to relocate to Mexico, struggle with relocation and more deeply understand the meaning of Buddhist wisdom as a direct result of the exile 8 years ago, begin to write of my own journey in exile 3 years ago, and then walk the same grounds where Rinpoche had written about the wisdom of “groundlessness” on Mexican soil this year. Rine called them “auspicious coincidences.” I fancy that something is going on beyond what I’ve directly perceived, and this kind of knowledge fuels my resolve to continue with this path.

In Guanajuato this past weekend and yesterday, although the events were less coincidental than Patzcuaro, they were no less auspicious. It was our first invitation to speak to a law class, and we were pleased to discover that the professor, Beth Caldwell, had found out about our book from the ImmigrationProfBlog last year and assigned parts of our book as reading. Caldwell is an Associate Professor at Southwestern University and is teaching a class in the Summer Law Institute at the University of Guanajuato during June attended by law students from the U.S. and Mexico. Upon meeting this past weekend, I was delighted to find out our families have some things in common, and appreciated how proactive Caldwell, who also has a background in social work, was about exposing her students to real-life stories that potential clients grapple with as a result of U.S. immigration policies.

guanajuato event june 2014_2
Nicole and family with Prof. Caldwell at University of Guanajuato Summer Law Institute, June 16, 2014

During the talk, one of the students asked whether I thought that wider awareness or better access to information would have somehow impacted our life choices in the past. It was a really hard question to answer because it can be analyzed on so many levels — the personal for both Margo and I, the political (in terms of whether greater public awareness could influence policy). Looking back, I think my answer was more cynical than I would have liked. But then many questions later I continued to make optimistic comments, especially regarding the importance of outreach. I explained that the issue is often painful, but that sharing our story was ultimately therapeutic because it ceased to become just our own personal cross to bear. By externalizing the issue, it becomes available for others to take up — or not — and I am eternally appreciative of the compassionate souls out there who righteously recognize this issue as one of universal concern and worth shouldering along with those of us who are directly affected.

Exploring the many sides of this issue reminds me of discourse regarding evolving scientific matters — when something can be spun so many ways, and affects individuals, families and societies in so many ways, there aren’t really any simple answers. Discussion of the many facets of an issue can sometimes slow forward progress toward consensus. But one thing that is clear, and I knew this since before we even started writing the book, is that as long as so many people are in the dark about the very nature of our country’s immigration policies, and with so many people wanting to know the truth about the direction our country is headed in and how to steer it in a more humane and just direction, my moral obligation to speak out on the issue continues. I may not have the resources to bankroll political candidate’s campaigns in order to enact policies that are convenient to me, but I can keep participating in this discussion until I am unable, with whoever wants to join me.

guanajuato event june 2014_5
Stained glass window at University of Guanajuato

Perhaps auspiciously, a message in a stained glass window at the University of Guanajuato states, “La verdad os hará libres.” The truth will set you free. A mantra for us all.

The Spring 2014 Window—Fast Closing

It will soon be a year since Amor and Exile’s publication in May 2013, and although more people than ever are speaking out and making their stories heard as to why they need immigration reform, the political scene has not advanced much in 2014. At the end of December 2013, we posted a 2013 year-in-review that summarized all the happenings in immigration reform since we had completed our book manuscript. As we go on the road several times during late spring and early summer of 2014, and celebrate a year since our publication, it’s a good idea to take a look at where we’ve come from since January and where we find ourselves now.

January

The word on the street in January was that “late spring” was going to be the moment for immigration reform. But maybe September too. Wasn’t this what they said last year? http://www.politico.com/story/2014/01/comprehensive-immigration-reform-congress-senate-house-2014-101612.html?hp=l2

In light of the renewed attempt to get immigration back into Congressional debates and to help American voters participate in the movement and inform themselves, the coauthors of Amor and Exile gave away nearly 1,500 copies of the Kindle version of Amor and Exile during 3 days in January.

John Boehner hired a shiny new immigration policy analyst for his office, and announced that a new House plan on immigration would be revealed soon: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/26/us/politics/house-republicans-to-offer-broad-immigration-plan.html?_r=1. Unfortunately, we never saw any results from that grand plan.

A big name in online media was getting pretty irritated by the delays in immigration reform four months ago. I wonder what Kos would have to say now? http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/01/28/1273128/-Republicans-still-being-dicks-on-immigration

American Families United, one of the advocate groups that helped draft HR 3431, traveled to D.C. to lobby on behalf of family-based immigration reform, and got four new co-sponsors for the bill. The hopes had been that less controversial, less overarching bills (a.k.a. piecemeal legislation) could pass the House more easily. But we still have no word on when and if debate on this bill could occur: http://americanfamiliesunited.org/news?mode=PostView&bmi=1510580

February

In the month of love and valentines, Amor and Exile went on the road a few times and met with broad support for reforming family-immigration. If only Congress could reflect what the majority of people seem to want.

Amor and Exile had the honor of being hosted in La Penita de Jaltemba, Nayarit for a reading, and a week later, a lively discussion of Amor and Exile was held at the Cabin in Boise, ID.

Some analysts seemed to think immigration reform was inevitable in February: http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-02-07/the-end-of-the-immigration-debate

Nicole’s family joined her to speak about the Amor and Exile project to a group of Mexican fourth-graders at the Instituto Thomas Jefferson in Queretaro, Mexico. Even the eleven year olds “got it” better than some politicians seem to.

March

In a boost to its literary credentials, Amor and Exile was featured on TheRumpus.net, reviewed by Alison Parker: http://therumpus.net/2014/03/the-sunday-rumpus-feature-love-and-immigration-in-amor-and-exile-by-nathaniel-hoffman-and-nicole-salgado/

April

This seemed to be the month of debate where no one could really take responsibility for this mess. Obama and Congress kept tossing the hot potato back and forth to each other, as deportations, family separations, and the living in fear and hardship for millions of families continued.

Perhaps in foreshadowing to what might end up a series of painful-to-observe theatrical performances by politicians with an immigration issue prop in upcoming elections (at least for those of us affected by it), even Jeb Bush stepped out with his take on immigration, calling it an act of love: http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2014/04/07/3423496/jeb-bush-act-of-love-border-crosser/. As if these ladies don’t know that all too well.

four in exile
Nicole and three friends in exile in Mexico. Photo by Jose Membrila.

Nicole was the hostess of a reunion of four American women in exile in her home in Querétaro, Mexico—one newly exiled in January and the rest exiled for more than seven years.

The Washington Post weighed in on Obama’s refusal to take resounding action on the immigration impasse: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/few-rewards-for-the-obama-administration-in-its-rigidity-on-deportations/2014/04/08/e5423db6-be9a-11e3-b574-f8748871856a_story.html

And in the winner of all ironic politics, despite Obama having the closest family ties to immigrants of recent presidents, he is the toughest president in history on immigration, with a whopping 2 million+ deportations since taking office—and yet, despite this record, for certain members of Congress, it’ll never be enough: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/24/gop-immigration_n_5206390.html 

May

And in May, it looked like the right hand doesn’t even know what the left hand is doing… Boehner griped to Ohioans about the immigration impasse: http://www.chron.com/opinion/editorials/article/Immigration-impasse-5449547.php. I wonder what he wanted the Madison Rotarians to do about this—invite the Party over for Tea?

After so many people’s hard work on this issue, it’s really getting overshadowed by endless obstructionism. To say that cultivating optimism for a positive resolution this debate is challenging would be an understatement. In our book, and in conversation with the public, we’ve seen where we’ve been, and what we currently face. The part about where we go from here is to be continued.

Amor and exile in the eyes of a fourth-grader

As a follow-up to my post about our visit to ITJ Campus Queretaro to talk about Amor and Exile, I thought I would post a couple of lovely reports from fourth-graders at ITJ from the closing ceremonies of their unit on migration. I had to work this morning but a friend who has a child at ITJ sent me the photos of the reports via Facebook message.

ITJ_kids_writeup_blog_amorandexile2
Report on Amor and Exile from fourth-graders at ITJ Queretaro. c. 2014 by the report authors

It was interesting for me to see how our story is viewed from the eyes of 10 or 11 year olds. It’s cool how they picked up on things that we didn’t even say. And even cooler how they were able to inspire me back with their reflections on our story.

ITJ_kids_writeup_blog_amorandexile
Another report on Amor and Exile from fourth-graders at ITJ Queretaro. c. 2014 by the report authors

Thanks again to the teachers at ITJ Queretaro for including us in your great, reality-based education model. And thanks to the students for your great reviews. Now if only you could export your learnings up north…

**Errata noted since publication: the students are fourth-graders, not third-graders as originally posted. My apologies!

Migration Talk at ITJ Campus, Querétaro

Margo and I visited the Instituto Thomas Jefferson, an American school in Querétaro, on Monday, January 27th. We went to discuss our experiences migrating between the United States and Mexico and the Amor and Exile project. Our talk was part of a bigger cross-curricular unit for the fourth graders at ITJ, headed up by my friend and colleague Heather Ruark.

Some stats on the talk:

  • 104  4th grade students
  • Throughout the migration unit, students are asked the following driving question: What is it like to move to another country?
  • The unit includes the following topics:
    • Geography, specifically Mexicans who move to the States, and human migration in general;
    • Writing – non fiction, biographical essays;
    • Reading – The Circuit, a juvenile autobiography by a former migrant worker in the fields of California.
  • At the end of the unit, students create a final project consisting of a photo essay gallery of Migration Stories to and from Querétaro

Margo and I had given a similar talk to high school students at the PrepaTec de Monterrey (ITESM Campus Queretaro) prior to the publication of Amor and Exile. But I was particularly impressed by these young students’ level of interest and thoughtful reflection on the topic, particularly considering their age—ten and eleven years old. The kids really enjoyed the book trailer, and had dozens of questions for us, ranging from what our favorite foods and colors are, to what the name of the law that prevented Margo from legalizing in the U.S. was—we had a field day spelling out the IIRIRA of 1996. 🙂

Heather commented that it was a really great experience to be able to get into the subject in such depth. By inviting many speakers from different countries who live in Querétaro and by allowing the students to explore both sides of the issue, they enable students to analyze the complex reasons for illegal immigration and the societal impact of migration in both directions. She also mentioned that the unit is well received by parents, even to a extent greater than she imagines it might be received in the United States.

We were glad to have this opportunity to share our story on a personal level with the students at ITJ, and help foster awareness of this complex issues amidst our next generation of global leaders.

ITJ 1 27 2014
Nicole and family after ITJ Talk, January 2014

Amor and Exile Year-In-Review 2013

An Amor and Exile Year-In-Review, 2013 timeline

2013 was a big year for Amor and Exile and for the pro-immigration movement. Brush up on the issues of the past year with this Amor and Exile Year-In-Review for 2013.

January

Obama administration announces stateside waiver processing, creates relief for some families (Take Two, Southern California Public Radio)

February

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

March

April

May

June

  • “Send Amor and Exile to Washington” campaign raises over $12,000 and delivers a copy to every member of Congress, the nine Supreme Court justices, President and First Lady Obama and Vice-President Biden and other D.C. officials
  • A&E featured on the News and Politics section of BlogHer (BlogHer.com)
  • Nicole and Nathaniel launch A&E on the East Coast with the first public readings at AILA D.C. headquarters and Ukazoo Books in Baltimore, MD
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) calls for relief for exiled/separated families with colleague letter supporting Amor and Exile (amorandexile.com)
  • Nathaniel launches A&E in Boise at Hyde Park Books, with Nicole skyping in from Querétaro (facebook.com)
  • SB 744 passed in the Senate (New York Times)
  • A&E discussed in “All About Family” (Baltimore Jewish Times)
  • Nathaniel’s work as Idaho journalist and A&E highlighted (Idaho Press-Tribune)
June collage
Clockwise from bottom L: Constituent letters to Congressional reps; Nicole and Nate meet with Rep. Luis Gutierrez; Nicole and Nate after hand-delivering over 100 copies of A&E; Nicole on Capitol Hill; Nicole at Ukazoo reading in Baltimore; Nicole, cover designer Gilad Foss and Nate in Baltimore; Nate and Margi Hoffman mailing books to D.C. officials; and the audience at the A&E launch at Hyde Park Books in Boise, ID.

July

  • Nicole launches A&E in Mexico with Nathaniel skyping in, starting in Querétaro at the Casa del Atrio (amorandexile.com)
  • A&E and Nicole’s story covered in Boulder, Colorado (Boulder Weekly)
  • Nathaniel hosts reading at the American Friends Service Committee in Denver with a call-in by Nicole
Top: Nicole at La Casa del Atrio reading, Querétaro, México; Nicole and friends of A&E at the Querétaro reading
Top: Nicole at La Casa del Atrio reading, Querétaro, México. Bottom: Nicole and friends of A&E at the Querétaro reading

August

  • Reading in San Miguel de Allende, home of J.W. Lown, profiled in A&E
  • Edgar Falcon marries on the border in highly publicized wedding on the El Paso/Mexico border (Texas Tribune)
August collage
Clockwise from top: San Miguel de Allende reading, Nicole with supporter at SMA reading, U.S. citizen Edgar Falcon marries Mexican citizen Maricruz Valtierra at U.S./Mexico border in August.

September

October

  • HR 15, a comprehensive immigration reform bill largely based on SB 744, is introduced in the House of Representatives (ImmigrationImpact.com)
  • Nathaniel shares A&E at the International Institute of the Bay Area on October 24th
  • A&E and Nicole and Margo’s story featured on PRI The World (PRI The World)
  • Rift surfacing between some immigration reform activist groups (prernalal.com)
  • House Reps Pearce (R-NM) and O’Rourke (D-TX) sponsor the American Families United Act (AFU website)
Amor and Exile in October 2013
Nathaniel signs copies of Amor and Exile at reading at the International Institute of the Bay Area in October.

November

  • Nicole and Margo’s story featured alongside series of profiles of SF Bay Area immigration activists (SF Bay Guardian)
  • Town-hall discussion of A&E and immigration issues at Rediscovered Books in Boise and Baltimore event co-hosted by Chizuk Amuno and Beth-El congregations (amorandexile.com)
  • Illegal Immigration and Marriage,” discussion of A&E with Nathaniel and Nicole on “Midday with Dan Rodricks” (WYPR.org)
  • Pre-Thanksgiving Reading of A&E in (Nicole’s hometown of Syracuse, NY (Post-Standard | Syracuse.com)
Amor and Exile in November 2013
Clockwise from upper L: Nate on the air with Nicole on the Midday with Dan Rodricks show; Nicole skyping in from Mexico with Deyanira and Ben at Rediscovered Books reading; the audience at the RD Books reading in Boise; the audience at the reading at the Jefferson Clinton Hotel in Syracuse, NY; Nicole and her grandmother, Thelma Kinney, at the Syracuse reading, the day before Thanksgiving.

December

  • Immigration reform officially “dead” for 2013 (Hispanic News Network)
  • Fight for comprehensive immigration reform shaping up for 2014 (Grand Island Independent)
  • A&E available on Kindle in the Amazon Prime Lending Library
  • A&E has sold over 1,000 copies and hosted 14 public readings in the U.S. and Mexico in its first six months.
  • Giveaway days planned in January to coincide with the start of the Congressional session, to help elevate the debate on immigration reform—stay tuned!

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.

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.