Guest Post: A Personal Look at the First Generation of Undocumented YouthC I was a DREAMer before the DREAM Act

The immigrant rights movement has reached one of the most important milestones of the last two decades. Finally, politicians are responding to the demands of advocates asking to reform a broken immigration system that has marginalized millions of undocumented immigrants. We see this in the form of Senate Bill 744 proposed by the Bipartisan Senate Coalition referred to as the Gang-of-Eight which is by far the most comprehensive piece of legislation we have seen in recent years. Such progress is due to the masses of brave DREAMers (undocumented youth) that came out of the shadows to declare their legal status for the purpose of telling their stories to the American public.

Senate Bill 744 incorporates many of the provisions outlined in the most recent legislative proposal known as the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) with added flexibility in the requirements for legal permanent residency by removing the age cap of 30 for applicants. DREAMers residing in the U.S., who entered the country younger than 16 years of age and prior to December 2011, would be eligible for Legal Permanent Residency (LPR). This proposal is now inclusive of the elder generation of undocumented youth, those of us who came prior to the DREAMer movement. We were not called DREAMErs as the only known label used to identify us was illegal alien. That is because the term DREAMer did not exist until after 2001 when the first version of the DREAM Act bill was introduced in Congress.

To some extent, the illegal alien identifier was accurate in describing my experience growing up during my high school and early college years, which was one of alienation. Intrinsically, I knew that in order to survive and protect myself from danger, I had to hide the fact that I was undocumented. This seemed rather challenging when you live in neighborhoods and attend classes at a school where you feel and look like an outsider. Not to mention facing a communication barrier as you are trying to learn a new language. If my looks were not enough to alienate me, my foreign accent did the job. Consequently, as a young adult I felt so different from everyone. I also knew that my life would be about surviving in a society that did not care to recognize me as a full human being.

It was clear to me that the fight for survival was one I had to do on my own. During my high school years, I did not have any friends, mentors, or counselors to assist me as I was faced with sorting my life after graduation. How would I explain to someone that I could not apply for jobs, internships, financial aid, etc.? My parents provided the stability I needed at home, but when it came to navigating the outside English-speaking world and the educational system, I knew I had no one but myself.

Although I was an honors student and belonged to the top three percent of my graduating class, my future was uncertain due to my undocumented status. Could my way out of such predicament be an education? That was a question I did not know answer at the moment, but college seemed like my only alternative. I saw how much my parents struggled to climb the economic ladder with a 6th grade level education. So, if I wanted to have a different outcome, I had to do something different. My plan for self-sufficiency included pursuing a college degree. Thankfully, the hard work in high school paid off as I was accepted to California State University,Northridge (CSUN). I began attending college in the fall of 1998.

I get asked the following frequently C If you were undocumented, how were you able to attend college? My answer to this day is a simple one C Nothing stopped me from applying. But it is a valid question to ask because the outcome could have been very different if Proposition 187 had been upheld. I started college only four years after Proposition 187 (known as Save Our State Initiative) was approved by voters in California. Such measure was intended to create a state-run citizenship screening system to deny undocumented immigrants access to public services including healthcare and public education. Its principals are not very different from laws that have recently been upheld in states like Arizona. Although the Save Our State measure was still facing legal battles in court, a restraining order preventing this law from being in place allowed many like me to stay in school. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually repealed this measure and it was effectively killed in 1999.

Although such an anti-immigrant measure did not come into fruition in California, its aftermath was still felt. Such political climate furthered cemented the feeling of marginalization I felt growing up. I was simply a voiceless illegal alien that should not be in this country. I had no say, no vote, and no rights. Thats the message I got from those that wanted to criminalize my family and those like me. It was then that I decided to continue to stay under the radar and did as much as possible to appear a normal college student. On the other hand, this also fueled my desire to rise above my legal status. I wanted to be able to make it through college regardless of all the obstacles that were in front of me.

During my college years, I was living in the neighborhood of what is now called South Los Angeles which is 30 miles away from CSUN. Since California had also banned licenses for undocumented immigrants in 1994, driving was not an option for me. I resorted to making a four-hour daily trip to arrive at my college campus, which included a journey of three buses and a metro ride. This meant that after a full day of school and extra-curricular activities, I would return home at the late hours of the night. A 10 pm arrival was not too rare.

Breaking through the isolation became a second challenge to tackle. Thankfully, being on my own only lasted through the completion of my freshman year. I realized that somehow I needed to feel part of a community and began my involvement when I joined a student organization focused on volunteer work. I started to feel at home for the first time in my life in the U.S. Volunteering for the American Diabetes Association, AIDS Walk, Habitat for Humanity and many other non-profit organizations gave me an avenue to make a difference in others. This in turned helped me grow as a student leader and it encouraged me to be civically engaged on campus. It was here where I began to meet other students who were also undocumented. We created a type of camaraderie that served as a support system, but it was more on a one-on-one basis rather than in an organized way. It still felt we were the minority on campus and that in order to get through college, we needed to keep our status hidden to the outside world.

My last year at CSUN was life-changing as I stepped into the ultimate student leadership role, becoming the first Latina President of Associated StudentsC the university student government. The public fights we took on were primarily to protect college affordability given the proposed tuition fee increases by the Governor Schwarzeneggers administration which continued to slash public funding for higher education in the midst of a state budget crisis. I knew this was an important battle, not only because it would impact all my college student constituents but also the at-risk students which included undocumented immigrants. But hiding my immigration status continued to be my modus operandi, especially in a more visible leadership role. Only friends in my closest circles knew about my legal predicament. Finally, in 2004, I was reaching the improbable finish line, becoming the first college graduate in my family.

I believe that my personal journey resembles that of First Generation DREAMers, as I would like to call us. Being undocumented was the cross each of us had to carry on our own. Some of us were lucky to have found a mentor or friend that understood our circumstances and encouraged us to continue, especially in challenging times when one is about to give up all hope.

Has anything changed in the last decade for the DREAMers? Not much. Lacking a comprehensive immigration reform policy, the struggles continue to be the same and perhaps even worse in states that have adopted anti-immigrant measures. However, somewhere in between, the newer generation of DREAMers became tired of being scapegoats and has done what their predecessors were afraid to do. They came out to the world as Undocumented and Unafraid demanding a change through a campaign that modeled other civil rights movements seen in American history. Now we are witnessing the rise of student groups on college campuses such as CSUNDREAMs to be Heard established to advocate for immigrant rights and create a support system for DREAMers.

The Undocumented and Unafraid movement has become an NYT2010031117422459Cinspiration to me. It has taught me that in order to generate change at a mass scale, you have to be willing to put yourself on the line. Even as a deported DREAMer, coming out publically with my story of deportation has allowed me to be part of this movement which is reshaping the conversation on immigration. Most importantly, it has redefined the immigrant community itself. Being Undocumented is no longer something to be ashamed or afraid of. Our stories could make the difference in passing legislation for DREAMersand their families in the U.S. as well as for those of us residing on the other side of the border.

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook, Twitter or her blog at mundocitizen.com

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Comite de Jornaleros v. City of Redondo Beach: A First Amendment Case

For my Public Law course, I must present a current lower court case (i.e., one that has not made it the U.S. Supreme Court) on an issue of free speech law. Because immigrant rights is something I hold near and dear to my heart, I will present the Comite de Jornaleros v. City of Redondo Beach case, which was argued by Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general counsel for MALDEF.

I will first explain the facts of the case. Second, how the district court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled. And third, how I would rule, if I was a U.S Supreme Court judge.

In the 1986 ACORN v. City of Phoenix case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a Phoenix ordinance that provided: No person shall stand on a street or highway and solicit, or attempt to solicit, employment, business or contributions from the occupants of any vehicle. This ordinance was upheld as a reasonable time, place, and manner regulation, which preserves the city streets for the safe and peaceful use by motorists when the streets are open to the vehicle traffic.

A year later, in 1987, after complaints about gathering of day laborers along Artesia Boulevard, who congregated on the sidewalks during the rush hours to obtain temporary employment, the Redondo Beach City Council adopted a similar ordinance. The ordinance reads:

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to stand on a street or highway and solicit, or attempt to solicit, employment, business, or contributions from an occupant of any motor vehicle. For purposes of this section, street or highway shall mean all of that area dedicated to public use for public street purposes and shall include, but not limited to, roadways, parkways, medians, alleys, sidewalks, curbs, and public ways.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to stop, park or stand a motor vehicle on a street or highway from which any occupant attempts to hire or hires for employment another person or persons.

17 years later, in 2004, the City initiated the Day Labor Enforcement Project. Over the course of three weeks, undercover officers posing as potential employers arrested sixty day laborers and one contractor.

This event prompted the Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network to file this lawsuit, alleging that the ordinance is a facially unconstitutional restriction on day laborers and other persons First Amendment rights.

The district court agreed, and issued a permanent injunction barring the City from enforcing the ordinance. The City appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower courts ruling, using the time, place, and manner test, which allows the government to impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place, or manner of protected speech. The restrictions must be

  1. justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech;
  2. that they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest;
  3. that they leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the ordinance is not narrowly tailored, because the ordinance suppresses more speech that does not cause what it seeks to eliminate.

The Court also wrote that the ordinance is over-inclusive. The ordinance applies to all streets and sidewalks, yet the City introduced evidence of traffic problems in only a small number of major streets and medians, and offered no evidence to justify such a broad extension. Therefore, by applying the ordinance to all streets, alleys, and sidewalks, the City has burdened substantially more solicitation speech than is reasonably necessary to achieve its purpose.”

Although the majority opinion remains silent on prongs one and three, the minority opinion wrote that the ordinance is invalid within the guidelines set forth by prong one and three.

The court wrote that the ordinance prohibits certain subject matters, such as any solicitation related to employment, business, or contributionsCand allows all other solicitation. For example, if a person requests employment, business, or contributions they are subject to criminal sanction, but if they request anything else, they are unaffected. Laws that by their terms distinguish favored speech from disfavored speech on the basis of the ideas or views expressed are content based.

The Court also wrote that the Ordinance does not leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information. The alternative, must allow the speaker to reach his or her audience, in an equally effective manner as the prohibited speech, and without incurring greater costs in time and money.

Although the City identified alternative channels for communication of the information, the suggested alternatives are not equal, and pose greater costs in time and money.

For example, in place of soliciting on a sidewalk, the City suggested day laborers to use the services provided by the Day Laborer Centers in Southern California. Although there are six of these centers, none of them are located in Redondo Beach. Therefore, the Citys proposed alternative fails to allow the Plaintiffs to reach their intended audience, that is, the residents of Redondo Beach and neighboring areas. The proposed alternatives, therefore, impose obvious added costs in money and time as compared to solicitation on public sidewalks, which renders these options unequal.

If I was a U.S. Supreme Court judge, I would render this ordinance an unconstitutional restriction on speech.

photo (1)

In the chambers of the Georgia State Supreme Court

I would do so because the Supreme Court has said time and time again that public sidewalks serve as constitutionally protected public forums, and would therefore, protect these forums with unwavering fidelity to the First Amendment.

In Boos v. Barry, the Court referred to the public streets as the archetype of a traditional public forum.

In Hague v. CIO, the Court wrote that public streets and sidewalks have been used for public assembly and debate, the hallmarks of a traditional public forum.

In U.S. v Grace, the Court wrote that sidewalks . . . are among those areas of public property that traditionally have been held to the public for expressive activities . . ..

It is these cases that lead me to believe that the Court would construe this ordinance, which threatens the ability to exercise our first amendment rights, as unconstitutional. I also believe the court would adopt both, the majority and minority opinions.

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Cmo Prepararse para la Reforma Migratoria

Han pasado ms de dos meses desde que el Congreso y el Presidente se comprometiron a empujar una reforma migratoria. Sin embargo, no tenemos una legislacin para apoyar y debatir sobre. La legislacin contina siendo empujada atrs, a partir de marzo a abril, y ahora, a mayo. Pero no hay que perder la esperanza. La reforma migratoria intregal sucedera. Por lo tanto, tenemos que prepararnos.

Despus de haber navegado el mundo de la ley de inmigracin, he aprendido que la Ley de Imigracin es procesal. Es decir, es una combinacin de procesos cortos y largos. Si vamos a tener xito, por lo tanto, es imperativo que aprendamos a navegar estos procesos. Para prepararnos, he preparado una lista de tareas.

  • Conocer su historia criminal

Reforma migratoria sera integrarda con los crmenes inadmisibles. Por que la legislacin no ha sido escrita, no sabemos qu delitos stos sern. Por lo tanto, si usted tiene un historial criminal, es importante tener los registros disponibles. Estos registros pueden tomar la forma de las disposiciones judiciales, o una verificacin de antecedentes penales del FBI. Teniendo estos registros slo ayudar a solicitud del beneficiario.

  • Ahorrar dinero

La reforma no ser gratis. Dependiendo de la va de legalizacin, las aplicaciones pueden costar ms de $ 1,000, a pesar de que las exenciones pueden estar disponibles. Adems, como se mencion anteriormente, este es un proceso, y por lo tanto, puede venir costes inesperados, tales como tiempo libre del trabajo, transportacion, etc. Para una familia, estos costos pueden acumularse rpidamente.

  • Mantener al da los registros de vacunacin

Inmigracin exmenes mdicos pueden ser requeridos. Estos exmenes son muy caros, y por lo general no son ofrecidos por las clnicas gratuitas o de precio reducido. Una manera de mantener el costo de estos exmenes abajo es mantener un registro hasta la fecha de vacunacin.

  • Antes de presencia

Del mismo modo, no se sabe si habr una fecha en la que una persona tiene que haber entrado en el pas. Sin embargo, sera prudente comenzar a recopilar pruebas que demuestren la presencia previa. Estas pruebas pueden incluir, pero no se limita a las declaraciones de impuestos, registros mdicos y escolares, facturas de servicios pblicos, y los talones de pago. Fechas escritas a mano seran inaceptables.

  • Identificacin

Porque no sabemos cul es el camino a la ciudadana de Los Estados Unidos, sera prudente obtener un pasaporte emitido por el gobierno. Por ejemplo, si reforma est dise?ado en pasos, un pasaporte de su pas respectivo ser requerida. Por lo tanto, tener uno en la mano permitir a los solicitantes de aplicar ms temprano que tarde.

  • Sea consciente de los notarios y hable con un abogado de confianza

Con tanto optimismo en el ambiente, el camino de la reforma tendr mayores posibilidades de ser llenado con notarios. La reforma no es todava una realidad, sin embargo, hay notarios que prometen legalizacin por grandes sumas de dinero. No caiga en la trampa. Adems, no habla con nadie que no sea un abogado con licencia. Aunque no todo el mundo necesita un abogado, los abogados estn dispuestos a dar consultas.

Por supuesto, esto no es un consejo legal. Por el contrario, no son ms que consejos. Sin embargo, espero que sean de utilidad a alguien.

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Another Kind of DREAMer: A Response

Undocumented immigrant youth have been at the cornerstone of the Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic movement. However, at the inception of our movement were our undocumented parents, fighting the hard fight, regardless of whether anyone was listening. My mother is a person whose life has passed invisibly to many, but who has contributed to the market place of ideas and our advancement of higher education in many ways. Like many other parents, my mother is a DREAMer of a more common variety, but her DREAM is no less worthy.

My parents dream was simple, to give their children the opportunities they never had. This dream, however, was threatened by Mexico’s economic crisis in the 1980′s, which destroyed economic equilibrium. Falling oil prices, rising inflation, the devalued peso, and among many other things, were besetting to Mexico and its citizens. Put in other words, although the per-capita income is not the best indicator of living standards because it fails to take into account how equitably that income is distributed, Mexicos per-capita income was 74 percent lower than that of contemporary Mexico. Moreover, and to put in another perspective, today, the average person in Mexico earns four to five times less than the average person in the United States.

The economic crises and rampant inequality had run its course on my parents. Moreover, with five children, and a sixth on the way, my parents were unable to focus on career advancement because they had to focus on meeting our basic needs.

After vigorous searching, and embracing every opportunity, my parents, both in their mid thirties had two options; stay in Mexico and wait for the economy to improve, or immigrate to the United States to search for a better life. With little to no financial resources, and an abundant amount of faith, my parents chose the latter.

In 1991, both, on foot and train, my family and I immigrated from central Mexico to the United States. My parents knew very well that the desert could become our ultimate resting place, and that we could become mere numbers to the amount of people that have died in the desert, on the journey for a better life. However, the slim chance we had for a better life took precedence over our hectic and often uncertain life in Mexico.

Several months after our immigration, my family was blessed with the birth of my younger brother. However, my father would go missing shortly after, leaving my mother to raise six children all on her own. Yet, despite my mothers unfortunate circumstances, my mother refused to deviate from her dream of creating an environment conducive to improving her childrens lives.

Unable to legally work, my mother was forced into the informal sector. My mother was a babysitter and cleaned homes. My mother also roamed throughout the streets collecting bottles, cans and other scraps to recycle. Perhaps our greatest and most stable income, however, was my younger brothers food stamps and other governmental aid.

My mother often said, tienen que estudiar para que no sean como tu mama.” I know what she was trying to teach us, but my mother is a brick house Chicana who loves her family enough to sacrifice herself for the betterment of her children. My mother is a person who did not let any external forces tell her where and what she could dream. My mother is a person who pursued her dreams with assertiveness that begged to be reckoned with. My mother is a person who lives her life sin verguenza, because verguenza is expensive and unsustainable. My mother is a person who is devoted to teach her children values and moral behavior. My mother is the type of person with faith in humanity, and whose benevolence remains unmatched in my community.

Therefore, I want to be just like my mom. And I hope that one day, I find my own brick house Chicana who will hold me as tightly as my mothers courage, and maybe, teach me to hold her son or daughter the same way my mother holds me.

Many undocumented immigrant youth want to become engineers, doctors and lawyers. My mother will become none of those. But she has raised a son that will. It is now my turn to give my mother a better life, and perhaps, a better life to other mothers and fathers. Having been admitted to several law schools, I have chosen to do so via the legal system.

My mother inspired a love of family in me; a love that encompasses many aspects of my life. My mother also thought me that love for anything comes with responsibilityto help protect it. My mothermy hero and companionis a DREAMer of a more common variety, but her dream is no less worthy.

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Unraveling and Politicizing the Undocumented Identity

Recently, I was sitting in class when I found myself counting the minutes till it was over. My daily 98 mile commute combined with midterms had gotten the best of me. I was exhausted. Suddenly, however, my professor began to speak about identity. Intrigued by he said, I perked up in my seat, crossed my arms, and just listened. Identity, he said, is a way of understanding who we are, and our place in society. A place, in this sense, is a metaphorical expression for any and all identities on any social dimension, such as, nationality. As abstract, and difficult to understand what my professor meant, I took it to mean that our identities are constructed by social interactions.

For example, the very first time I question my undocumented identity was midway through the 2005 track season. I was a junior in high school, when my relay team, which consisted of two friends and my twin brother qualified for the Scholastic Indoor Track National Championships, held at the Armory in New York City. We were the only team to qualify from the state of California in not one, but two events, the 4×800 and 4×1600 meters.

It was my greatest achievement up until that point. Although my team and I earned our spot at the starting line, there were rumors going around that we would not attend. As I have mentioned before, times were different then, and I was terrified of revealing my undocumented status. Worse still, I was terrified of flying; the events that occurred on 9/11 were still fresh in our minds and naturally, conceptualized the worst that could have occurred.

But on an ordinary afternoon, my coach pulled my brother and me aside and told us, follow as I say, and everything will be alright. Admittedly, I was skeptical about my coaches optimism. But it wasnt about him being wrong that I was concerned about. Rather, it was the fact that I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe that everything would be alright. Moreover, I wanted to conform to standards often taken for granted by my peers. Thankfully, we went on to compete, and had a great and successful time. But the thought of being different continued to cultivate in my mind.

I was uninformed and na?ve. I knew nothing about politics. To use the vernacular, I knew nothing about nothing. It was then that I first discovered the federal DREAM act. I thought it to be one the most wonderful things in the world. Thoughts quickly convoluted my young mind. With enthusiasm, I called the director of the Migrant Education program to inquire more information. Upon being told not to get my hopes up, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like I was shot in the gut, like a deer in plain sight. I was embarrassed to have asked such a question. I should have known better, I thought, and suppressed my identity for the remainder of my high school career.

workshop

Image by Victor Zuniga

Six years later, in 2011, I discovered Dreams to be Heard at CSUN. Shortly after, I attended the Unraveling the Undocumented Identity workshop. As the workshop proceeded, the moderator drew two large unisex human figures parallel to each other on the classroom white board. Each figure was labeled undocumented.

One by one, we were asked what words came to mind when we thought of each figure. The figure to left was designed for words with negative connotations, whereas the latter was designed for more positive ones. Words quickly filled both figures. Among the words were lost, unwanted, unloved, hated, confused, disoriented, and uncertain. I even recall an indigenous term, lepantla, which means in the middle. The other figure consisted of words such as perseverance, bright, optimistic, vigorous, autonomous, and direction.

It is not until now that I realize what occurred that day. Constructivism, my professor said, argues that identities are contingent on social interactions. In other words, the meaning of our identity is constructed by social interaction. By social interaction, we give identities their meaning, and can attach different meaning to different identities. Therefore, it follows that identities are malleable. That is, they are changeable. Like many things in the world, identity is what you make of it. And how you use it to pursue your own interest is a matter of conceptualization. But interests are not out there simply to be discovered. Rather they too, are constructed by social interaction. Thus, a constructivist would argue that an identity becomes politicized when a collective identity mobilizes to defend a threat against their identity or to increase their interests.

workshop_

Image by EB Design

This is precisely what occurred in the short hour at the workshop. We, as students, developed our identities from illegals, to people without legal status, to undocumented, to DREAMers, and eventually, to undocumented Americans. By doing so, we acknowledged that the anti-immigrant paradigm threatened who we were, as the identities of those in opposition to immigrant rights are also constructed by social interaction.

Thus, by restoring pride with renewed energy to defend our right to live and thrive in the only country that we know, manifested itself in the term undocumented American. By identifying ourselves as so, we acknowledged that although we were not conceived by her wombthe United Stateswe loved and cherish her as much as if we were. We remade our idiosyncratic identities into that of a collective one by sharing our hopes, goals and grievances. Ultimately, our collective identity became the engine, which continues to run today, for collective action at CSUN.

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Defining the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act

The mere thought of Tax Law is frighting. Yet, Immigration Law is often considered more complex and convoluted than Tax Law. Sometimes, it is even considered that U.S. immigration law is like a stratified rock, revealing layer on layer of Congressional accretions laid down over many years, with the superstructure upended in tectonic shifts triggered by the baffling and contradictory interpretations of multiple agencies and courts (Paparelli, 2012).

As I read the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act, I quickly realized that it is jam-packed with legal prose, and interconnected with other fields of law in one way, shape, or form. But I think I got. This is what I came up with.

On Monday, the twenty-fourth day of January, in the year two thousand, the one hundred and sixth Congress of the United States enacted the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA). This Act, was designed to combat trafficking in persons, a contemporary manifestation of slavery whos victims are predominantly women and children, and to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers, and to protect their victims.

In 2005, the VTVPA was amended to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and to create the U Non Immigrant Visa (also known as the U Visa Interim Rule). The U Visa is a temporary visa for noncitizen victims of crime who have suffered significant mental and physical abuse from a criminal activity and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement in the prosecution of the criminal activity.

Many undocumented immigrants suffer from domestic violence. Predominantly, these victims are women. To make matters worse, many women do not report domestic violence because of the fear of deportation. This unfortunate trend has a startling history, and by all means, did not come into existence without valid reasons. I recall reading a story about a women suffering from domestic violence. But as much as she feared for her life, she refrained from calling the police, as the abuser threatened to call immigration had she done so.

Similarly, I have read stories about women who garnered the courage to actually call the police. Yet, when the police arrived, it was not the abuser who was arrested. Rather, it was the victim, the vulnerable woman, who arrested and placed in removal proceedings. But this is not the type of story I choose to focus on in this post.

In this sense, the criminal justice systemCa system we all trust with our livesCwas flawed. Congress recognized the difficulty for local, state and federal law enforcement, and other justice systems, to uphold the law, if perpetrators could simply have their victims deported. Thus, the U Visa was created, which encouraged, and rewarded immigrant victims to report criminal activity by protecting them from deportation. It is argued that the U Visa provides additional safety for the community at large, as it holds perpetrators accountable for crimes that otherwise would go undetected.

To qualify for a U Visa, a person must:

(1) Have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of certain criminal activity;

(2) Posses information concerning that criminal activity;

(3) Have been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity; and

(4) Have incurred the abuse in violation of a U.S. law.

For a list of U Visa qualifying crimes, please visit the USCIS. Please know that qualifying crimes are not limited to those stated on the USCIS website.

The U Visa applicant does not have to be married to the crime perpetrator, and the crime perpetrator is not required to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.

Once an applicant is granted a U Visa, the applicant is eligible to apply for U.S. Lawful Permanent Residency after three years. Although a U Visa application may take up to four years, once approved, the U Visa becomes retroactive. That is, the applicant is recognized to have had U Non Immigrant Status for the duration of the application process. Therefore, waiting three years will no longer be needed.

I would like to clarify that the VAWA, mentioned earlier, is not the VTPA. The VAWA, which was renewed two days ago, does not require the applicant to have filed a criminal complaint against the perpetrator. Perhaps the most significant difference is that the abuser, or perpetrator must be a U.S. citizen. However, this requirement is reflected positively in the time it takes to receive U.S. Lawful Permanent Residency. Please be aware that there are other significant dissimilarities.

This post is by all means, not intended to provide legal assistance. For legal assistance, and if you believe that you may qualify for a U Visa, please contact your nearest immigration center. For information provided from the Immigration Center for Women and Children please click here

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My 22 Year Journey to U.S. Lawful Permanent Residency

Pictured here is my older brother (left) and older sister (right) prior to our immigration to the U.S. in 1991. Pictured here is also our make shift home made out of wood and tarps. See you soon big bro!

Late in the spring of 1991, my family and I emigrated from central Mexico to the United States without inspection. I was five years old at the time, and clueless to the hardships my family and I would soon face. We soon had no income, food, shelter, family or friends. Several years later, my father abandoned my family leaving my mother to raise my brothers and sisters all on her own.

Despite that fact, I had firm belief that my father would return and all of our hardships would simply disappear. However, in 2004, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained, prosecuted and eventually deported my father because he was unable to provide documentation of legal status. Shortly after, my father died in Mexico.

Unfortunately the trend of adversity did not cease with my father; my older brother would also become a subject of our unfair and unjust immigration laws and deported to Mexico. These events left the rest of my family with no time to prepare for our newly inherited expenses and responsibilities. As a result, while in the sixth grade, my twin brother and I became the men of the house, subsequently financially responsible for our family.

These responsibilities affected my academic career to the extent that attending college interfered with my work schedule, consequently reducing my income. Similarly, working full time to make ends meet adversely affected my academics in more ways than one. Ultimately, attending college ranked amongst the lowest of my priorities. But in the end, I refused to reduce myself to a calculable statistic and to let my fathers death and my familys hard work wither away in vain.

After extensive research, in 2006, my mother and I discovered that she met the necessary factors to qualify for adjustment of immigration status via the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention ActCa federal law that protects immigrant victims of crime who have gathered the courage to come forward, report the crime, and assist in the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime. Immediately we gathered as a family to weigh the pros and cons of pursuing such a petition. Essentially, we were to reveal our unlawful presence and risk deportation.

We were turned away by many immigration centers, and told that we did not have a winnable case. But we were too stubborn to give up, and eventually turned to the Mexican Consulate, which then directed us to a subsidized program they operated with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. Thankfully, with the help of the Center, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agreed to review our U Non Immigrant Visa petition.

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The end result of our immigration case.

I could not imagine what the end result will be, but I was not going to wait to find out. Thus, given this momentous event marked by hope, I was inspired to reevaluate, assess and develop new goals, both short-term and long-term. I immediately enrolled at Antelope Valley College, becoming the first in my family to pursue a college degree.

Four and half years later, transferred to California State University, Northridge (CSUN). I joined and eventually was elected President of Dreams to be HeardCa student-led organization dedicated to empower our undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters. Ultimately, I sought refuge in my education at CSUN as it provided me with an outlet to think of positive ways to use my courage and dedication for social change.

Many people consider me a fearless leader. But I am far from that. In 2006, when my mother and I tenaciously sought the answers we needed to make our petition, the fear of rejection and deportation haunted my subconscious mind, as the standard levels of decency in 2006 were not what they are today. Among many other things, I sometimes thought I was asking to get in trouble. But our history shows that all of our battles were fought and won by people who stepped out of their comfort zone, understood their fear, and worked towards eliminating it. In combination with fear, and among many other things, my humiliation acted as a catalyst for my progressive thought process, and continued to seek legal status.

It was now 2010, and our U Non Immigrant Visa petition was denied. Worse still, the joint Mexican Consulate and Center for Human Rights program was dissolving. We had no other choice but to seek legal counsel elsewhere to appeal our decision. Thankfully, the Center was kind enough to offer us a list of affordable immigration centers.

I called the majority of them and was unsatisfied with what I discovered. I recall this moment vividly. I was sitting on a cinder block, outside our home at the time, when I looked at my mother. My mother’s face showed wrinkles that have accumulated over many years of struggle and sacrifice. I didn’t speak to her, as I could not bare to hear what she would have said. So I proceeded to call the next center on the list, the Immigration Center for Women and Children. Upon a few minutes of conversation, I scheduled a meeting. Coincidentally, I was to meet with Cynthia Lucasthe attorney who originally agreed to proceed with our case. Was it destiny? I do not know. But I look back at that point in time and picture something divine guiding my fingers as I dialed their number. Nevertheless. although our petition grew complex, Ms. Lucas enthusiastically agreed to provide legal counsel to my family. Ms. Lucas would later become my exemplarmy role modeland the reason I am now pursing law school.

About a year later, on Thanksgiving of 2011, we successfully filed a U Nonimmigrant Visa Petition. I have never been a person to waste time, and I was not going to start now. Therefore, we filled for U.S. Lawful Permanent Residency the following week, marking the beginning of a long and uncertain year and a half. The USCIS requested document, after document. I grew concerned to say the least. However, once I received such notifications, my priorities shifted, and would stop at nothing (including employment and education) to fulfill them.

For example, in the summer of 2012, while I participated in the Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholar Program at Georgia State University School of Law, the USCIS requested my biometrics. I was scheduled to remain in Georgia for another week, and could not bear the thought of having my familys file waiting completion. Thus, I immediately searched for the nearest Application Support Center, which was about 12 miles North East of Atlanta in a so-called run down neighborhood. After several bus rides, walking several miles and even getting lost, I made it to the Center.

Perhaps the largest road block we encountered was obtaining a signed police report from the Rampart Police StationCthe station that recorded my mothers domestic violence complaint. The Station had recently adopted a policy that prevented the signage of any document filed prior to 2000. Seeing as my mothers report was from 1992, it became nearly impossible to obtain such a document. However, relying on other valuable documents, on February 7, 2013, my family and I became U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, emerging from out of the shadows and into the light.

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My official welcoming to the United States. Inside this pamphlet was the manifestation of a 22 year struggle-my Green Card-a piece of green plastic that determines my existence.

I have experienced many hardships; that much is true. But it has been those hardships have been the most important factors in shaping me into the person I am today-Can activist for equal justice, an organizer for civil rights, and an advocate for genuine representation of the low-income and undocumented immigrant community. It is for this reason that I will refuse to be labeled an exception, or to pretend like the system is suddenly fair and just. In fact, it is far from that, as I now know firsthand.

You may be wondering what will happen to My Undocumentary. I now write to assure you that My Undocumentary will continue, and that I will not lose my burning desire for social change, as I have many friends that deserve the opportunities that I have been given. Moreover, I cannot (even if I tried) forget my childhood, my background, and the hardships that I have endured. Therefore, I hope to develop My Undocumentary into a place I interpret my law school endeavors through the lens of a member of the underrepresented community. Although many people cannot relate to my immigrant experiences, in many ways, I can relate to theirs. I have been there, and done that, and I plan never to go back.

With that in mind, I do not plan to enter law school aimlessly, hoping to find my niche prior to graduation. Rather, I seek to pursue a career in public interest, encompassing Immigration Law with certainty. I am prepared to take on the challenges that law school will bring with unwavering tenacity unknown to many, and to strive to further understand, to explain and perhaps to influence the complex and often convoluted world of immigration law with direction and vigor. This is my declaration.

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