Saturday, April 30, 2016

Black Lives Matter Co-Founder: The Immigration Challenge No One Is Talking About


In TIME, Opal Tometi, Executive Director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration and a Co-founder of Black Lives Matter, writes that "We must repeal the 1996 immigration laws."  Despite the attention that news outlets and presidential candidates are giving the issue, the most devastating policies immigrants face—the 1996 immigration laws—are barely on the radar. As a result of these laws, millions of immigrants have been victims of fast-track deportations and unjust, arbitrary detention; families and communities have been torn apart; and entire generations of immigrants have been criminalized.

April marks the 20th anniversary of these draconian policies. The best thing we can do to mark this anniversary is to repeal them.In the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, President Bill Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996. This legislation expanded the grounds for detaining and deporting immigrants, including long-term legal residents, and was the first law to authorize the now widely used fast-track deportation procedures.

Following AEDPA, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) was signed into law in September 1996. The law made sweeping changes to allow for deportations to be retroactive and broadened the types of crimes that could result in deportation. As a result, many immigrants, including those with legal residency, became deportable for non-violent offenses, including relatively minor ones, such as marijuana possession, jumping a subway turnstile or selling bootlegged DVDs. Many of these offenses are not even classified as crimes on the state level.


April 30, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Article of the Day: Solution to Hoffman's Choice for Unauthorized Workers: Creating New Incentives to Report Unlawful Workplace Discrimination by Andrew J. Glasnovich

Solution to Hoffman's Choice for Unauthorized Workers: Creating New Incentives to Report Unlawful Workplace Discrimination by Andrew J. Glasnovich, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, School of Law, Students April 14, 2016 34 Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Online (2016)

Abstract: This Article will identify how federal law protects unauthorized workers from class-based discrimination and will define the proper scope of relief for violations of these laws. First, this Article examines a conflict in federal law that creates an incongruence between the purported right to a workplace free of discrimination and the corresponding claims for relief available to unauthorized workers. Next, this Article proffers a new analytical framework, based on state law examples, to resolve this legal quagmire, arguing that current jurisprudence does not apply to anti-discrimination statutes. Finally, this Article proposes that Congress amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) to correct the U.S. Supreme Court’s misapplication of immigration law, which stripped unauthorized workers of the basic protections of dignity and workplace security.


April 30, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 29, 2016

U.S. Capitol Historical Society Annual Symposium Focuses on Immigration Legislation

Immigrants-for-web-rectangleThis 1887 image from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper shows immigrants on the deck of the steamer Germanic. (Library of Congress)

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society is pleased to announce its annual spring symposium, Congress and a Nation of Immigrants, 1790-1990: From the First Naturalization Act to the Simpson-Mazzoli Act.

The symposium opens with a reception and keynote address at 6 pm on Thursday, May 5 in room B338 of the Rayburn House Office Building. It continues on Friday, May 6 in room 325 of the Russell Senate Office Building.

Keynote Address
Thursday, May 5 at 6 pm, room B338, Rayburn House Office Building
Speaker: Paul Finkelman, Symposium Director,
Ariel F. Sallows Visiting Professor of Human Rights Law, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan,  Senior Fellow, Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism Program, University of Pennsylvania

Featured Speakers include Gabriel “Jack” Chin (University of California, Davis School of Law), 
Mariela Olivares (Howard University School of Law), and  Kunal Parker (University of Miami School of Law).  Symposium speakers will tackle a range of topics that examine Congress and immigration law through various lenses, including race, quotas, politics, and popular culture. As speakers consider immigration law and related issues, they will detail and challenge popular perceptions of racial, ethnic, and political differences in American society from 1789 and the Alien Acts through the Simpson-Mazzoli Act in 1986.

This event is free and open to the public.  Pre-registration is requested, by clicking here or by calling (202) 543-8919 x38 and leaving a detailed message. See below for the program. Can’t make it to the program? We’ll be live-tweeting as much as we can from @USCapHis #immigrationhistory.


April 29, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Article of the Day: Black-Box Immigration Federalism by David S. Rubenstein


Black-Box Immigration Federalism by David S. Rubenstein, Washburn University - School of Law April 13, 2016 Michigan Law Review, Vol. 114, 2016

Abstract: In Immigration Outside the Law, Hiroshi Motomura offers a triumphant account of undocumented immigrants as “Americans in waiting,” with moral and legal claims to societal integration. Central to Motomura’s project, and my focus in this Review, are the hydraulics of immigration authority when the congressional spigot is closed. With Congress gridlocked, the executive branch and subfederal jurisdictions have rushed to the void. These political developments, in turn, have spawned a mix of constitutional questions about how separation of powers, federalism, and individual rights apply, or should apply, to the field of immigration. Motomura blends elements of constitutional structure and rights into a mold that I call “Black-Box Immigration Federalism.”

Outwardly, Black-Box Immigration Federalism reduces to the seemingly simple formula that “federal law” preempts state and local law. The formula looks about right and many commentators seem to accept it on faith. Yet beneath the formula’s tidy veneer is a cache of legal uncertainties, complexities, and potential contractions. More specifically, Black-Box Immigration Federalism treats the federal government as an undifferentiated whole, and from that starting position embeds some or all of the following propositions. First, the federal government can freely choose to make law by statute, regulation, or otherwise. Second, nonbinding federal policies qualify as law. Third, immigration “law in action” takes presumptive precedence over Congress’s laws on the books. Fourth, executive enforcement policies, which are not binding as against the federal government, are nevertheless binding on state and local jurisdictions. Fifth, restrictionist state and local immigration policies are presumptively preempted through incorporation of an “equality norm” into Supremacy Clause challenges.

Black-Box Immigration Federalism is a serious idea with serious intellectual backing. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. United States hints at something like it, albeit with mixed signals. This Review’s three-fold aim is to bridge some gaps between immigration and constitutional theory, provide alternative views to Motomura’s in these regards, and explain why Black-Box Immigration Federalism should not be taken for granted — perhaps especially by immigrant advocates. If nothing else, caution is warranted before placing faith in structural arrangements that simultaneously consolidate federal power and relax checks against it, which is precisely what Black-Box Immigration Federalism portends to do.


April 29, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigrant Doctor's Role in Bringing the Health Dangers of NFL Football to Light in Film "Concussion"



Last fall, the film Concussion opened in theaters across the United States.  In the event you missed it, you might catch it on cable, Netflix, or otherwise.  An immigrant is at the centerpiece of the story of the film.  This NPR radio story explains.

 The film put the spotlight back on the dangers of football. Will Smith portrays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the immigrant from Nigeria who was the first to publish research on the degenerative brain disease he called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Omalu, a forensic pathologist, noticed something strange in 2002 when performing an autopsy of Mike Webster, a famous former player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the years following his retirement, Webster suffered from mental and financial problems. He died at age 50 of a heart attack, Omalu said.

Dr.  Omalu came to Seattle, Washington in 1994 to complete an epidemiology fellowship at the University of Washington. In 1995, he joined Columbia University’s Harlem Hospital Center for a residency training program. He next trained as a forensic pathologist at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh. Omalu holds eight advanced degrees and board certifications, including a Masters in Public Health (MPH) & Epidemiology in 2004 from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from at Carnegie Mellon University in 2008.  Omalu is currently chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California and is a professor in the UC Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.


April 29, 2016 in Current Affairs, Film & Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Apprehensions of Undocumented Migrants Falling

Check out this chart from Bloomberg (in response to Trumps claims about undocumented migrants "pouring" over the border):



April 29, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Inside A Georgia Immigration Court, One Man Fights To Stay With His Family


Caitlin Dickerson of NPR offers insights into the goings-on of immigration court.  Thousands of immigrants go through the Lumpkin, Ga., immigration court yearly. More than 97 percent of them lose and are deported. NPR follows the case of one man whose lawyer thinks he has a shot at winning.

The case involves Shawn, who came to the U.S. legally from Guyana in South America when he was 10. He grew up in New York City, married his high school sweetheart. He has three kids, and in 2005, they moved the family to a suburb of Atlanta. Shawn was arrested at home in 2011. He had four ounces of marijuana, two digital scales and plastic baggies. Shawn says he smoked weed but he didn't sell it, but he was convicted of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. He went to jail for a year and a half, and that conviction makes him a priority for deportation. 

Shawn ultimately lost in immigration court and lost an appeal.  He faces removal from the UNited States to a country he has not lived in for many years.


April 29, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals in 2016: 183,017; Deaths 1,244

The disastrous, forgotten 1996 law that created today's immigration problem: The immigration reform Hillary Clinton wants could be limited — or even undermined — by a law her husband signed.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

LL.M. Program in Immigration and Nationality Law

FBI arrests brother of San Bernardino terrorist and 2 others on marriage fraud charges

Richard Winton and James Queally of the Los Angeles Times report that federal agents arrested three people, including the older brother of San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, on charges of marriage fraud, conspiracy and lying to federal investigators earlier this morning. Syed Raheel Farook, the brother of Syed Rizwan Farook; his wife, Tatiana Farook; and her sister Mariya Chernykh were all arrested Thursday morning and charged in a five-count indictment filed in federal court that centers around a fraudulent marriage between Chernykh and Enrique Marquez, who has been charged with aiding in the deadly December attack in San Bernadino.  In the course of the investigation into the terrorist attack, federal investigators determined that Marquez received money to marry Chernykh, who took part in the wedding only in order to gain legal status in the U.S. FBI agents interrogated Chernykh as part of the probe into the terror attack, and prosecutors say she lied during those interviews, saying she lived with Marquez, when she actually resided in Ontario. All three are expected to appear in federal court later today.


April 28, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Throwback Thursday: James C. Romo and Richard Avila

A not-very-throwback photo of James C. Romo

In 1976, Editor-in-Chief James C. Romo and Executive Associate Editor Richard Avila published their article The Undocumented Worker: The Controversy Takes a New Turn, 3 Chicana/o Latina/o Law Review 164 (1976).

The piece starts with this timeless statement: "Amid the economic and political unrest now troubling the nation there is a growing concern over the influx of undocumented immigrants."

But what's particularly timely about this piece is that it analyzes the early legislative history of 8 USC § 1324a(h)(3) (“authorized to be so employed * * * by the [Secretary]”), which, of course, is central in the United States v. Texas legislation.


April 28, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

NYT Video: Raised with Guerillas in Colombia

Raised With Rebels is a short NYT video about Mélida, a young girl kidnapped by Colombian rebels when she was nine. I could see this being a useful classroom tool.


April 28, 2016 in Current Affairs, Teaching Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Article of the Day: Borderland attachments: citizenship and belonging along the U.S.–Mexico border by Heidy Sarabia


Borderland attachments: citizenship and belonging along the U.S.–Mexico border by Heidy Sarabia. Citizenship Studies, April 2016.

Abstract This article reveals how economic resources and legal status (vis-à-vis the U.S.) shape national attachments and citizenship practices in the context of the U.S.–Mexico border. Through the comparison of middle- and working-class Mexicans, this article highlights how middle-class Mexicans with tourist visas to travel to the U.S. develop what I call transborder citizenship, while deported working-class migrants – legally banned from returning to the U.S. – engage in what I call transnational citizenship. For middle-class Mexicans, transborder citizenship is exhibited through their frequent cross-border experiences and cross-border citizenship practices; however, they remain rooted locally in Mexico. In contrast, for working-class return migrants, transnational citizenship is defined by their restricted mobility even while they retain personal, social, and economic ties with the U.S. Ultimately, return migrants feel dislocated and uprooted in Mexico. The article uses data from observations and in-depth interviews with Mexican nationals living in the border town of Mexicali, Mexico, conducted from June 2009 to August 2010.


April 28, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New Data on 637 Detention Facilities Used by ICE in FY 2015

TRAC Immigration has a new report on the immigrant detention system. 

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention system depends on hundreds of jails, prisons, and other facilities largely owned as well as run by others — some by local government agencies and others by private, for-profit companies. Using beds in these facilities that are widely scattered across the country, ICE manages a large complex system with daily flows of individuals both into as well as out of ICE custody. In addition, an even larger number of individuals already in ICE custody are continually being transferred among these facilities.

A total of 325,209 individuals left ICE custody last year, while 39,082 were still detained at the end of FY 2015. The reasons for which individuals were released from ICE custody varied markedly by detention facility. Nationally, the most common reason for leaving ICE custody was because a detainee was being deported; this reason was listed in 55 percent of recorded departures last year. The next largest group were detainees released on bond or on their personal recognizance while their cases were pending. Others were released because their cases had concluded and they had been found to have a lawful right to remain in the country.

According to detailed government records on each individual who entered, left, or remained in ICE custody during fiscal year 2015, the agency used a total of 637 different facilities last year. While many of these 637 detention facilities were concentrated along the southwest border with Mexico, one or more facilities existed in every one of the fifty states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. Some of these were temporary holding rooms, others were designed for long term stays. Some held only a single person on one occasion during the entire year, others had tens of thousands pass through their doors during this same period. For facilities on which daily costs were available in the records released by ICE, per diem rates ranged from as low as $30 per bed for a short-stay (under 72 hours) facility to a high of $168.84 per day, with lower rates for high volume usage.

This report presents an overview of ICE's custody system, and accompanies a series of reports covering each detention facility. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University developed the database on which these reports are based using the stay-by-stay records from each detention facility that at least one individual entered, left or stayed at during the past year. These detailed records were obtained by TRAC through Freedom of Information Act requests to ICE.


April 27, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Manus Island Detention Held Unconstitutional

Manus Island regional processing facility,
photo by DIBP images

This week, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court held that Australia's detention of asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island is unconstitutional. Specifically, the court held that detention "breached the constitutional right to freedom" for the hundreds of detainees at the facility, the WSJ reports.

In the wake of this decision, Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter OP'Neill requested that the Australian government "make alternative arrangements" for the detainees.

Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton responded by saying "people who have attempted to come illegally by boat to Australia and who are now in the Manus facility will not be settled in Australia."

Just where detainees will be resettled is not yet known. "Options include moving them to Nauru or to a purpose-built detention center on Australia’s Christmas Island, about 1,600 miles off the country’s northwest coast."


April 27, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

From the Bookshelves: Equal Citizenship and Its Limits in EU Law: We The Burden? by Paivi Johanna Neuvonen

Equal citizenship

Equal Citizenship and Its Limits in EU Law:   We The Burden? by Paivi Johanna Neuvonen

The research monograph Equal Citizenship and Its Limits in EU Law: We the Burden is a critical study of the scope of EU citizenship as an 'equal status' of all Member State nationals. The book re-conceptualises the relationship between the status of EU citizenship and EU citizens' fundamental right to equal treatment by asking what indicates the presence of agency in EU law. A thorough analysis of the case-law is used to support the argument that the present view of active citizenship in EU law fails to explain how EU citizens should be treated in relation to one another and what counts as 'related' for the purposes of equal treatment in a transnational context. In addressing these questions, the book responds to the increasing need to find a more substantive theory of justice for the European Union. The book suggests that a more balanced view of agency in the case of EU citizens can be based on the inherent connection between citizens' agency and their subjectivity. This analysis provides an integrated philosophical account of transnational equality by showing that a new source of 'meaningful relationships' for the purposes of equal treatment arises from recognizing and treating EU citizens as full subjects of EU law and European integration. The book makes a significant contribution to the existing scholarship on EU law, first, by demonstrating that the undefined nature of EU citizenship is fundamentally a question about transnational justice and not just about individual rights and, secondly, by introducing a framework within which the current normative indeterminacy of EU citizenship can be overcome.


April 27, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigration Article of the Day: Removal in the Shadows of Immigration Court by Jennifer Lee Koh


Removal in the Shadows of Immigration Court by Jennifer Lee Koh, Western State College of Law April 24, 2016 Southern California Law Review, Vol. 90, Forthcoming

Abstract: The crisis in immigration court adjudication is well-documented. This Article contends that critiques of immigration adjudication are incomplete and understated, because they have failed to account for the following reality: the vast majority of persons ordered removed never step foot inside a courtroom. Even when cases are filed with the immigration courts, a substantial number result in removal orders irrespective of the merits of the case. Removal in what this Article calls the “shadows of immigration court” have far eclipsed standard removal proceedings. The Article provides a descriptive account of five types of removal orders that comprise immigration court’s shadows: (1) expedited removal at the border, (2) administrative removal of non-lawful permanent residents with aggravated felony convictions, (3) reinstatement of prior removal orders, (4) in absentia orders for failure to appear in immigration court, and (5) stipulated removal orders following waivers of the right to a court hearing. The Article identifies several concerns that apply to mainstream immigration court proceedings, and asserts that those critiques are amplified in the shadows of immigration court. It concludes by arguing for more sustained inclusion of those shadows in reform proposals directed at improving immigration adjudication.


April 27, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Safe Passage Project Hiring Executive Director


The Safe Passage Project, founded and directed by Prof. Lenni Benson at New York Law School, is hiring an Executive Director!  From the position announcement:

Safe Passage Project ( is a young, well-respected not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure no child faces immigration court without a knowledgeable lawyer. U.S. immigration law provides options for child refugees fleeing abuse, violence, and persecution. Without counsel children may not know their rights nor be able to obtain relief from deportation. Safe Passage Project staff recruits, trains, and mentors pro bono lawyers who represent these children throughout New York State. In addition some staff members provide direct representation.  

Originally created as a clinical program at New York Law School (“NYLS”), Safe Passage Project incorporated as a separate not-for-profit organization in 2013. While maintaining a strong relationship with NYLS, Safe Passage Project also partners with lawyers, law firms, and alumni from many other law schools. Safe Passage Project now has an annual budget of $1.2 million and a staff of over 10 full- and part-time employees (including a staff social worker), and currently works with over 300 volunteers, both lawyers and nonlawyers. In 2015 we assisted over 550 youth with support from The Robin Hood Foundation, the Americorps Program, and other foundations and individual donors. Safe Passage Project has a supportive Board of Directors, many with legal knowledge with deep commitments to the mission. Our Founder, Lenni Benson, is a nationally recognized professor of immigration law at NYLS, and served as chair of the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York from 2012 to 2015. Our Board Chair, Pam Foster, is the Managing Director for Program Operations and Associate General Counsel at The Rockefeller Foundation.

The Position:

Having outgrown its origins as a law school clinic, Safe Passage Project is seeking to create a powerful new program model and to launch a new chapter with the help of a dynamic, dedicated leader who will serve as the new Executive Director (“ED”). Safe Passage Project has grown rapidly since 2013 in response to a dramatic increase in the number of youth needing assistance and representation in immigration court. The new ED will need to rise to these challenges and opportunities with strategic skills in fundraising, management and building support from many different stakeholders.

The successful candidate will be an intelligent self-starter and strong fiscal manager aligned to the mission of Safe Passage Project. The ED must be able to represent the organization skillfully in the community; build partnerships; advocate on behalf of Safe Passage Project, its clients, and its mission; and work closely with the Board and the organization’s supporters. We seek someone who can bring long-term stability, who can both manage and inspire staff, and who will maintain flexibility as the needs of our clients and volunteers change. The ED will be responsible for maximizing resources (raising significant financial support every year), managing staff and volunteers, and serving as the external (and internal) face of the organization.

Specific Responsibilities:

●      Champion the mission of Safe Passage Project to ensure that no child faces immigration court alone, acting as the internal and external face of the organization.

●      Lead fundraising activities, supported by the Associate Director, Operations and Development, maintaining close relationships with foundations, individuals, sponsoring organizations, corporate donors, and government agencies as well as identifying new funding sources.

●      Strategize how best to meet the needs of Safe Passage Project clients and Safe Passage Project pro bono volunteers, supported by the Associate Director, Legal Services.

●      Oversee fiscal management, including working with staff, accountants, and the Board’s Finance and Audit Committees to develop, adopt, and manage the operating budget.

●      Oversee and manage the multiple grants Safe Passage Project currently operates, including city, state, and federal grants as well as grants from private funders.

●      Work collaboratively with the Board of Directors, staff and key volunteers in developing strategic plans and proper governance.

●      Represent Safe Passage Project on advocacy issues at the city, state and federal level.


●      Seven to ten years progressive management experience, ideally in a legal services organization.

●      A focus on not-for-profit legal work and/or immigration law is strongly preferred.

●      Proven skills in building partnerships, developing new funding sources, and leading new initiatives, including experience with grant applications.

●      Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.

●      Experience with engaging and supporting individual and organizational volunteers to increase their interest in the organization and its mission.

●      Strong fiscal skills with experience in creating and controlling operating and program budgets of comparable size or greater and in complying with grant requirements.

●      Working knowledge of technology used in legal service delivery and in fundraising.

●      A demonstrated record of leadership and success in strategic planning, organizational development and problem solving.

●      Strong people skills necessary to developing successful professional relationships.

●      J.D. preferred.

●      New York City experience and familiarity with some of the communities we serve is preferred.

●      Spanish fluency is strongly preferred.

●      Experience working with young or start-up organizations is preferred.

To apply please submit a cover letter, resume and two references to Megan Eiss-Proctor at[email protected]

Applications reviewed upon submission. Applications will be accepted until May 27, 2016 or until the position is filled.


April 26, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

On Being Undocumented: In Constant Search

Guest Blogger: Carla Lopez Perez, First-year law student, University of San Francisco School of Law:

It was around this time nine years ago that I took to the internet to try and figure out who I was. I was seventeen years old at the time and like most youth I was struggling with my identity. However, unlike most youth, I was struggling because my parents had dropped a bombshell on me that changed my life. At the age of sixteen my parents revealed to me that I am an undocumented immigrant by telling me that I did not have papeles (“papers”). They told me that I was unlike the rest of my peers, and because I was different I would need to stay quiet about my immigration status. This was all in the name of safety. At the time all of this confused me. All of this had unfolded because I wanted to be like all of my friends at school and obtain my drivers license.  Instead, I found myself trying to figure out what papers my parents were referring to.

In the year that followed, I felt myself become two different people. My family and I were living in a conservative town located in the California Central Valley, and as a result my parents instilled a deep rooted fear of coming out of the closet about my immigration status. At the time this made sense, things were slightly different back then and there were few people coming out of the shadows. I grew up in a world where immigration raids were taking place at work, school, and even in the “safety” of people’s homes. I would hear about these raids on the news and over the radio. For me, the early hours of the morning—when home immigration raids are usually conducted—would be filled with much panic and anguish, as I lay awake in my bed—afraid that either my parents or I would be next.

In order to avoid this fate, I felt like I had to hide who I truly was by wearing some sort of invisibility cloak. I did not even tell any of my closest friends. To make matters worse I also felt like I had to hide who I was at home because my parents did not like to talk about anything immigration related. They are the “out of sight, out of mind” type of parents. I lived day to day unable to talk about my identity and learn more about what being an undocumented immigrant meant. I felt isolated and when the time came to apply to college I ended up telling two school faculty members. Telling them gave me hope that I would be able to learn about myself and talk to someone about what I was going through. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I was further told to hush. Fed up and puzzled I got on the computer, went to the internet, and typed in words like “illegal,” “immigrant,” and “alien.” What I encountered was a sea of search results depicting undocumented immigrants in a negative light. This made me feel ashamed of my immigrant identity and my family’s immigration history. I wanted nothing to do with being an immigrant, and I was angry at my parents for having brought me to the United States.

These feelings and attitude followed me all the way into winter quarter of my first year of college until out of coincidence I came across a support group for undocumented students and allies. Curious, I decided to attend the meeting under the guise of an “ally.” That meeting forever changed my life. For the first time I met others like me, others who did not have papers. With the help of the group, I slowly began to feel comfortable in my own skin. I slowly began to learn how to be undocumented, and by the end of my first year of college I was opening up to people about who I was, an undocumented person.

I grew into this identity and learned how to navigate the world as such. By the 2012, after having graduated from college, I had become somewhat of a master in being undocumented but had yet to become an expert in the art of finding a job that would pay under the table. Fortunately, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was announced that year. I and more than a half million other undocumented youth were able to file petitions hoping to gain a glimmer of temporary stability even if it meant having to re-apply for stability every two years. 

Since being told at the age of 16 that I am an undocumented immigrant, an alarming, constant fear has lived deep inside of me. It has been paired with the feeling of not knowing who I am or feeling like I don’t belong anywhere because I am too American for Mexico but too Mexican for the United States. However, on December 15, 2012, everything I had felt, everything I had known was yet again turned upside down. My DACA petition had been approved and I immediately embarked in a new chapter of my life navigating the process of figuring out who I am – again.

It has been over three years and I am still in the process of learning who I am. My most hated questions till this day are being asked “Describe yourself,” “Tell us about yourself,” or “Give us a mini autobiography.” I get stuck on these questions and almost always get frustrated at not being able to explain who I am in the allotted time and space given to answer the question. This Pandora’s box of confusion usually begins with my self-assessment: “Am I undocumented or am I DACAmented (term coined for people who have DACA)?”

I am not the only one with these struggles. Over the course of the last few years there have been various studies and stories published regarding undocumented youth identities. A leader in pushing these stories out has been America’s Voice. One story that resonates with me is that of Mariella Saavedra. In a article titled, “My DREAMer Identity and Its Complexities,” Saavedra wrote:

“For the domestic students, I was Mariella from Miami. That made sense to me too, except suddenly there was less room to address my Peruvian identity. The answer to ‘Where are you from?’ became more complex. I would say ‘I’m from Peru, but I live in Miami.’ It was during my college years that I also became ‘Latina’ and a ‘woman of color.’ These were labels that I did not identify with, that I am slowly now understanding.

After leaving Middlebury, I went to New York to pursue my graduate studies. Then, I felt more Vermonter than Miamian. Once again, it felt as if my Peruvian identity was being pushed to the back shelf.

Now, whenever anyone asks, I just say that I’m from Peru and live in New York, but it feels wrong to leave out the other parts of me. Especially the Miami part.

As DREAMers (another marker), we are often identified by our state. Although I have never identified with Florida as I have with Miami, it feels wrong to leave out my home city altogether.

Oftentimes, it’s assumed that all DREAMers ‘feel American.’ I have never fully felt this way. The fact that I am many things makes it hard to answer whenever someone asks me where I’m from.

Simplifying all that I am into one term – ‘American’ — strips away too much of my identity.

Yes, I want to be a part of this society. I want to be able to work, drive, and identify myself like any other person does. Yet, labeling and trying to fit people into categories (sometimes for political reasons) does not do justice to the culture and qualities that we as DREAMers bring to this country.”

Knowing that you can log onto the internet and come across articles like this means that someone who may also be struggling with their identity can do the same, feel a little less alone and a little bit closer to navigating the complexities of being an undocumented immigrant. The thought of this brings me some peace of mind.


April 26, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)