In Memoriam

Today, UCLA alumnae and immigration activists Tam Tran and Cinthya Perez died in a car accident in Maine. Though I knew neither personally other than having had a conversation with Cinthya in regards to why I had added her as a friend on Facebook, I feel that this post is necessary in a way that few others on this blog are.

Tam and Cinthya were enormously important to the Dream Act movement. They proved that undocumented immigrants can be successful and did what many of us should have been doing long ago – giving voice to those who could not speak for themselves. More importantly, they were a prime example of what can be accomplished with hard work and dedication, and served as a counter-argument to nativist cries that immigrants are detrimental to US interests.

Tam was a PhD student in American Civilization at Brown University and Cinthya was the first undocumented student to attend Columbia’s School of Public Health. Tam testified before Congress and her family was detained because she spoke up for her rights. I can’t imagine any individuals more important to US interests.

I’m echoing another blog post when I say let’s not forget Tam and Cinthya. Let’s remember that they were great women, not numbers in a system that refused to recognize them as such.

It’s a great, sad irony that this news comes to us only a couple of days before students all across the country receive their diplomas.

So long Tam. So long Cinthya. I celebrate your lives.

Canada

I’m in the process of figuring out whether I can apply to Concordia University’s English MA (with creative writing focus) so that I can get Canadian residency upon graduation. I found out two days ago that Quebec is offering residency + a fast track to Canadian citizenship for any student who graduates from a Québécois university. I totally would not mind moving to Montreal if it meant I could live my life with much more freedom and dignity.

I just sent an email to one of the assistants at the English department to find out if I should apply by the April 1st deadline (without fellowship offers) and then possibly defer for a year, or if I should apply in December (with fellowship offers). I also have no idea if they even accept nonfiction candidates, but it seems as if they might not. I don’t have a 35 page fiction portfolio and I doubt I could churn one out in the two weeks I would have to submit my work to professors for letters of recommendation.

If it turns out I should apply right now, then I will be traveling to Berkeley for a couple of days to get transcripts and speak to professors (i.e. beg for letters). I don’t think Concordia would be very happy with two-year-old letters of recommendation.

I love Montreal. I love Canada. I’m tired of sitting around, wasting my life, while some bureaucracy shuffles through the motions of attempting immigration reform and ultimately falls flat on its back.

If I apply in April and somehow manage to figure out financial stuff, I could be out of here by September.

There are many things to think about, such as whether I want to leave the United States and never return, but for now, I’m more concerned with logistics.

Put the labels away + ethnocentrism and immigration

If there’s one thing I’ve realized lately, it’s that I detest being labeled and categorized. There’s a reason I don’t put “Dreamer” or “Dreamie” in my self-description – it would limit me to writing only about that issue. It would define the persona of this blog; I wish to avoid narrow descriptions and definitions of the self. We are not all single elements; we are many things – we contain multitudes (thanks Whitman).

I do not want to be defined by what I am not: not an equal member of society, not a real person in the minds of many people across the United States.

I exist as a fragment of undefined details: I am a Mexican, and a criminal. I am illiterate and I stole your job. I came here to have children who would be my anchor babies. I invaded your country and stole someone’s identity. I don’t pay taxes.

Nor do I wish to be defined by political orientation. I could care less about conforming to a label. I don’t necessarily consider myself anything other than a liberal; that term is general enough to satisfy me.

Once you are labeled, you have to do things which maintain your status as an individual associated with that label. Despite ideas of individuality, Western culture is very much dependent on categorization and grouping. Individuals are at once feared and respected because they subvert the status quo.

I’ve been thinking about why people dislike immigrants and worry about immigration reform, and I can only come up with one or two reasons. Once we get past the anti-immigrant rhetoric of hatred and lies, the only plausible reasons are xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

Immigrants don’t cause trouble, except in the voting booth. They pay taxes, lower the crime rate in their respective neighborhoods, send their kids to school, and contribute to the cultural diversity evident in any major city in America. If immigrants don’t actually cause significant problems for most people, why are they so feared?

One answer is that behind all the allegations of criminality and assumptions of cultural origin, white people are afraid of losing power. How else would you explain the absolutely ridiculous assumption that every immigrant is from Mexico? Is there any logical reason for people to believe that immigrants come to America to have lots of children and to exploit the system? Why is foreign education undervalued in America, so much so that people with Master’s degrees end up cleaning toilets instead of teaching or conducting research?

Ethnocentrism explains everything. Americans have created a culture of judgment and comparison in which America is the best. This is why America has delegated itself as the enforcer of democracy and fixer of all things. The main aspect of ethnocentrism is entrenched racism. To believe that you are the best means to relegate others to positions of power beneath you. But what happens when more and more people from countries which you consider beneath you come to your country? What happens when white America is no longer white? What happens when, for the first time in your country’s history, the president is not a white man?

Well, for one thing, people become scared that they’re losing their power, even though the power they have is essentially nonexistent. What power do white Americans have now that they won’t have anymore because Obama is president? Voting districts have already been gerrymandered to hell anyway. Does collective power somehow diminish because there is an “other” in the most high-profile position of the developed world? That’s something to consider.

Note that I don’t believe that every American is racist. I believe that people like Lou Dobbs play on the inherently racist undertones of imperialism and ethnocentrism to scare the average person into believing that immigration is a negative thing. It’s funny to me that immigrants from Africa are not characterized as dangerous, at least not as dangerous as Latinos. I don’t really have a clear reason for why this is. Americans are certainly stereotypically afraid of African-American people, just as much as Latinos, if not more. Why isn’t Glenn Beck talking about Africans coming and taking American jobs? Well, I guess now that I think about it, it’s because that would be openly racist, and he’s not really racist, is he?

Forced ambivalence and the simplification of immigration issues “because I said so”

This is a post I started several weeks ago, so I wanted to finish it. It starts below:

Just read an interesting August 27th blog entry by Maira Kalman of the NYT. At first, I was excited to see another voice speaking in what seemed like support of immigration. As I kept reading down the page though, it became evident that Kalman’s position is ridiculously simplified and makes assumptions about the nature of immigration, “legal” and “illegal.” While she reflects on and seemingly celebrates the diversity seen in her neighborhood in (I assume) Brooklyn, she naively rejects the overwhelming facts of the unjust immigration system currently in place in the United States. At first glance, she seems very supportive of some sort of change to the system; yet gradually, any observant reader will realize that she’s advocating the status quo; if not the status quo, at least the willful ignorance that pervades this country, the idea that if it doesn’t concern you, you can simply ignore it and move on.

Posting a blog entry full of non-sequiturs (both illustrations and cutesy ideas) does not excuse you from this statement:

“What of the 12 million people living here who are undocumented? They are here illegally. Do they deserve to stay? There are groups lobbying for immigration reform. At community centers you meet dedicated organizers and undocumented people, and you think these are GREAT people and they CANNOT be sent back to their countries of origin. The problems are SUBSTANTIAL: Health care. Employment. Taxes. Detention facilities. Impenetrable bureaucracies. Is it naïve of me to think, while acknowledging the myriad problems, that the system is basically just?”

What in the world lead Kalman to believe that the system is just? Could it be the separation of families due to the flawed petition/visa system? Could it be the deportation of US citizens to Mexico? Maybe she doesn’t know how USCIS has broken the law, time after time, by not allowing derivative beneficiaries of green card petitions to maintain original priority dates; I am one of those beneficiaries, as are several others I know. Instead of being productive members of society, we’re forced to wait ten more years while USCIS plays the “because I said so” card. Or could it be selective memory? After all, Kalman herself is an immigrant.

Perhaps she should take a good look at what is happening in this country before making such statements and then following them up with shows of appreciation for diversity through images of mango lasse drinks and boxes of cookies from Pakistan. “Think small,” she says, “It helps me handle the complicated too-muchness[sic] of it all.”

Gee, Maira, could you think any smaller than the last sentence of your blog? “Happy to be here,” are you? Maybe you should be the first to get back in line.

Scare tactics

People come up with the stupidest shit on the internet, things they would never say to you in person because they would look like the complete idiots that they are.

Example:

“chris1974, my point was that I would like to see real immigration reform whereby parasites incapable of filling out an application and waiting are kept out, and people with something substantial to offer are sought out. Nice try, but the reason California is bankrupt is because they have twelve to fifteen million illegal aliens sucking them dry.”

Really? Let me see some statistics, because I can prove that legalizing immigrants would be financially beneficial for the United States. My proof can be backed up with facts. Where’s your proof?

Furthermore, I came here legally, so where’s your point now? The immigration system failed me as a legal immigrant, and now I’m undocumented.

Example:

“We are coming close to the breaking limit in terms of infrastructure, government services, pollution, and natural resources. We have 700,000 illegal aliens in our prisons! We can’t afford sidewalks here in Nashville! Illegal Mexicans kill more Americans every year than 9-11!”

Now that last one just made me laugh. First, I didn’t realize I was a Mexican. Secondly, immigration reduces crime. That’s right, check this article. Immigrant communities have lower crime rates because they mostly stick together and try to succeed.

Where’s this 700,000 figure coming from? Unsubstantiated rhetoric again.

I wish I had the time to disprove every scare tactic spewing sheep.

There’s no other witnesses, just us two

I removed some blogs from my follow list, mainly because I follow too many blogs and it seems to be affecting Blogger’s ability to update my new item list on the dashboard. If you don’t post something every couple of days, I usually stop following. The exceptions are people who are important to me in one way or another, usually because they always post interesting things, so I’m willing to wait them out for a bit.

Found an interesting blog that I’d like to share with you: Jong-Min lives on the east coast and blogs about being undocumented. I haven’t seen a lot of well-written blogs by undocumented people, so this is a really good example of one. Check it out. I’m not the only undocumented writer on the internet.

On the subject of writing and the DREAM Act, I’m continuously amazed at the rancor and infighting taking place daily on the DREAM Act forums. You’d think a community of similarly disenfranchised people would stick together instead of trying to prove how much better they are than the rest. For a group of students who are supposed to be the enlightened future of the nation, they sure do act like a bunch of fucking idiots.

Example: one guy constantly asks every new female poster what she looks like and whether or not she’ll date him, and argues with other people who tell these new posters to be aware of this tool. If you search for threads where he’s posted, I guarantee you’ll find some mention of how much of a player he is, and how ugly all the girls on the forum are. He also has a wonderful blog where he writes about his daily failures in the realm of picking up girls, grammatical/spelling errors included.

It’d be nice if this community were an actual community, but I guess that’s also a dream that will be unfulfilled.

Speaking of unfulfilled dreams, immigration reform is going down the drain fast. I hope Obama decides to stand up for what he advocated during his campaign.

I finally updated my links list in the sidebar. Sorry if you linked to me from your blog and never got your link back until now. I’m working on it, and Blogger’s template sucks. I need to switch to WordPress.

Please read this article

Two weeks ago, Newsweek ran this article, by an undocumented student who was forced to drop out of Berkeley after one semester because of financial hardship. I wish there had been more interaction between undocumented students at Cal. While there was probably nothing anyone could have done for her, at least she would have had support from those of us who were in the same situation. I know what it’s like to want something so badly and then to have to let it go. I did spend three and a half years at community college before transferring to Berkeley.

The good thing about this article is it shows how driven undocumented students are. We are not here to steal your wages or destroy your country. We’re here to make a life for ourselves which includes the possibility of going to college, falling in love, getting married, and everything else Americans take for granted, including the right to a driver’s license and federal aid. I’m sure that this girl will eventually return to Berkeley to earn her degree, and that she will succeed.

Every immigration related article or post or youtube video that has enabled comments inevitably receives comments from people who are afraid of immigrants, notwithstanding the fact that most Americans are descended from immigrants. How ironic. Most of these posters know few arguments besides the argument of “invasion” and “ILLEGALS ARE TAKING OUR JOBS!!!!” It’s disheartening to see so many people swayed by fear. I’m definitely going to get some bigot commenting about how I should stop stealing his job and go home, much like I did when I posted something about the DREAM act a couple of months ago.

Then there are those who think that becoming “legal” is as simple as following some sort of quick, painless, but expensive process. Most of these people have no idea how much time I and other “illegal” and undocumented immigrants have spent trying to figure out this supposedly “easy” process. Think before you speak, that’s all I ask. Look through immigration procedure and tell me how easy this process is. Tell me that if you were in my situation, you’d have already figured it all out, or would have gone back to your country. It’s easy to say something like that when you don’t have to make the hard decision.

Good news about my immigration status + questions you probably can’t answer

Today I received a notice of approval (Form I-797) of my petition for permanent residency from the USCIS. What this means is that I am past the first half of the permanent residency process, and my application has been sent to the Department of State National Visa Center (NVC). After it gets to the NVC, I will begin the process of getting my visa (technically my green card), but it will take some time.

I’m surprised that I got this notice so soon, because I submitted my petition in November 2007. The USCIS shows that for my type of petition, they are currently processing cases filed in 2002. Granted, that status page hasn’t been updated since May 31st, but I’m sure there’s no way they processed seven years of petitions in two months. I think I got very lucky.

I called the NVC to see if my information has been sent there yet, but no luck. Hopefully by the beginning of September I’ll be able to access my file there in order to find out what the next step is.

The thing that worries me is that this process concludes with an interview, which has to be conducted at a consulate. This means that I would have to go to Russia, and this also means that my petition would be void because I am out of status and cannot leave the country without receiving a ten year ban. I’m sure my family will have to speak to our lawyer about this. I can’t find any information about it online, which is frustrating.

I’ve also been reading the visa bulletin charts incorrectly. What I thought was the correct priority date for my type of petition turned out to be the wrong one. Look here for the August visa bulletin, then look at the first chart. My preference category is 2B because I’m unmarried and over 21 and my mother is a permanent resident. What I was reading before was 1A, which is for US citizen filers. Actually, if the courts decide to let me keep my original priority date, I would be classified as a 2A, because I was supposed to be a dependent until I aged out.

What this means is that the visa process will take 7.5 years instead of 4 years, unless I somehow get lucky again and bypass a bunch of people who are waiting in line.

Question number one: what do you think of this situation? Did I get really lucky?
Question number two: can I avoid having to do an interview abroad?
Question number three: is there any chance of not having to wait seven years for this visa?

I’m happy that I passed the USCIS background checks and my petition wasn’t denied, at least. I’ve made some progress.

Here are two flowcharts, one for the USCIS process, and one for the NVC process.

Itinerary and decisions

For a moment, I wished I had stayed in Berkeley and accepted USF’s offer of admission. There are several compelling reasons to stay in California. I’d be close to my family, and for an undocumented student who hasn’t been able to get a steady job, moving to Virginia is a really stupid idea. I also like California, at least northern California, and love San Francisco. If I could choose a place to live at (in?) for the rest of my life, it might very well be the Bay Area.

But Hollins seemed like a better fit that USF, mainly because it was unfamiliar. Staying in SF meant seeing the people I’d become used to seeing, spending time with them instead of spending time writing. Hollins was a good choice a couple of months ago.

I remember when I first came to Berkeley (or Oakland, rather) and went to be in my new room in my new home. I had an intense feeling of disorientation and fear, as if going to bed in a strange new place were the most frightening thing I’d ever experienced. I’m pretty sure that when I go to bed in Virginia on the first night, I’ll be quite terrified, if only because now, help will be three thousand miles away instead of three hundred.

I think I’ve figured out my itinerary for the next three weeks or so. I’ll fly out of Los Angeles, connect somewhere in the midwest, and end up arriving in Raleigh, NC. After that, it’ll probably have to be the Greyhound bus to Roanoke, although I’m a little scared of traveling at all at the moment, because of the increase in deportations.

Two things before I crash for the night, both relating to different aspects of friendship:

1. To my new friend – don’t give up. I hope fate sends you here again for this message.

2. Thank you for saying this: “The undocumented immigrant thing must be really hard. I was reading through your blog and it hit me suddenly that it hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk for you. You must have really worked to get where you are– America can be really hard, I guess– and I really admire that.”

I don’t think anyone realizes the difficulty of being undocumented, and so I appreciate what you said. I have tried to work hard. I think I’m very optimistic about everything because I know things couldn’t really be any worse for me. I always think about those people who aren’t really doing anything with their lives and what I would give to be them, to have a chance to do something.

It looks like I will be able to take part in a class action lawsuit against the USCIS (US immigration service). If the court rules in our favor, I’d get my priority date shifted six years back, to 2001, meaning I would get my green card in a matter of months. I hope the case goes to court very soon.

Facts

There seems to be some confusion regarding my legal status. Here are some facts:

I’m 25 years old and currently undocumented. If all goes well, I’ll be 30 when I get my green card. I’ve lived in the US since I was 11. There are several ways to expedite the petition process:

The first: I can get married to a US citizen. This is the quickest, as well as the stupidest option, unless I marry someone for love. It is illegal to marry for green cards. Who wants to marry me!?

The second: I can have an employer petition for me, at which point I will work for said employer until I receive a green card. This option is not readily available to me because employers have to prove that they could not hire a qualified US citizen for the same position. Because I only have a BA (two actually), employers can still prove that I’m not better than most American hires.

The third: President Obama can sign the DREAM Act into law, giving me immediate conditional permanent residency because I attended and graduated from a US high school as well as graduated from college.

The fourth: The USCIS (immigration service) can work to speed up the processing of visas available for immigrants, as well as give me back my original dependent petition priority date, which was in 2001 (the date my parents applied for green cards for the whole family). Currently, my priority date is in November 2007, when my independent petition was submitted by my parents. The current priority date set by USCIS is in January 2003. Once the USCIS priority date reaches November 2007, I’ll be eligible to receive a visa, and following that, a green card. The priority date is supposed to move month by month, but sometimes it regresses.

I came to the US legally. I’m undocumented because my visa expired and I aged out (turned 21) before my parents received their green cards. Therefore, I wasn’t eligible for a green card as a dependent. My sister received her green card because she was a dependent at the time their petition was accepted.

I’m ineligible for federal financial aid, government grants, various scholarships, and I’m unable to get any loans because I need a US citizen cosigner. I’m also unable to legally work unless an employer is willing to sponsor my petition for permanent residency.

Hope that settles some confusion.