June 23, 2013

Winds of Change | On the Current CIR Debate | Amor and Exile

**Note: This is probably more subject matter than should have gone in one blog post. Time is more precious than ever, and I've been more exhausted in the last 3 weeks than I can remember being since college over 15 years ago. There's so much to say, too little time, and some trains are fast departing from the stations of my life that I can't afford to miss. But I wanted to simultaneously speak to recent accomplishments with Amor and Exile and going to D.C., the perspective of many years having observed and been a victim of immigration politics, and also acknowledge that my intense involvement in this issue, to the exclusion of other, more earthy parts of my life, has taken a toll, and I'm in the process of achieving a new equilibrium.**

Cycles are being completed and new chapters are opening in my life, and for this I am grateful. But in many ways, some things are as they always were.

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to deliver a copy of the book I co-wrote with Nathaniel Hoffman, Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America's Borders. The trip, which in essence launched the publication of our book, was many things to me at once: a dream come true to tell my story to our nation, a collaborative vision seen through to completion, an eye-opening experience about the way politics are done in my country, and a reminder that I must continue to find grounding in my daily life back home.

Nearly 12 years ago, I began dating my husband and discovered what we were up against in terms of immigration laws that effectively shut out a large number of North Americans from access to legal immigration to the United States, even when married to American citizens.

Almost 6 years ago, despite the successful protest of the passage of even harsher immigration laws (HR 4437), which would have made it a felony to merely be in association with my husband, we came to the conclusion that the only way for my husband to obtain legal status was to move abroad to his home country of Mexico. We packed our belongings and moved south, where we've been ever since.

A few years after we moved here, I began seriously contemplating the possibility of writing about my story. Everytime I told our story about why we'd moved here to someone, they'd respond, "But you're married!?" as if it was a no-brainer that my husband should have U.S. papers. It drove me crazy that nobody understood why things just weren't that simple. On one hand, part of me wanted to wash my hands of the issue entirely, just focus on my field (ecology) and pursue my dreams of a green business or non-profit in a country that sorely needs environmental conservation work. I did restore a good part of our land with greywater and organic vegetable production. I did publish a short collection of regional recipes using Mexican native food plants (The Bajio's Bounty). And I remained tangentially involved in the environmental movement here in Querétaro. But the pull of fate in the direction of writing a memoir and adding my voice to the millions of disenfranchised by U.S. immigration law was too strong. I kept adding to my many notebooks of visions I was having about "telling a story about migration."

In winter of 2011, only a few months after my daughter was born, I began writing my part for Amor and Exile. Ever since then, my life as been drawn inexorably deeper into the path of advocacy on behalf of families like mine. Starting with the story that is now part of Chapter 9 of Amor and Exile, entitled "Alienation," in which I tell of our passage south to Mexico, I began the laborious task of encapsulating my most painful struggles and my lofty ideals (of the ones that still remain) into prose, exposing them to my coauthor's critiquing and making them universally understandable, as opposed to making sense only to me. The first years were an internal struggle—overcoming the fears and anxieties with making our story. I first received great support from family, friends, my coauthor Nathaniel, and then from a therapist who helped me creatively work through my trauma and heal many hurt parts of having to leave my country to keep my family together, essentially against my will.

Our manuscript was finally done in December 2012. It represented two and a half years of writing and collaborative editing. In the first few months that we began "shopping around" our manuscript with our agent, was when all the Comprehensive Immigration Reform debate hit Congress. I'd written my story without any specific political language, mainly because it was telling a past story, also because it was anyone's guess as to when actual reform could happen. Moreover, as I tell in the book, part of my personal peacemaking has had to do with separating my political hopes from my own personal goals and motivations—in other words, I can't pin my personal happiness on political outcomes.

That being said, I'm well aware of what the current debate represents and I would be amiss to not be a part of it. It's been satisfying to be able to make contact with many individuals who are advocating on behalf of families like ours. Coming in contact with dozens of families like mine has renewed my resolve to continue speaking out on this subject—even though the "best" reforms available (waiver reform) really would only allow my family to apply for a waiver a couple years earlier. It's too little too late for us—but it could be a lot for some families.

Being in D.C.—getting the community support to go there as a result of our Indiegogo campaign to "Send Amor and Exile to Washington"—was an incredibly uplifting experience. Going from totally disempowered, silenced for so many years due to my family's lack of legal recourse—to dialoguing with Capitol staffers and representatives themselves was to come full circle in terms of where I was and where I now am. We have no guarantee that our efforts will actually make any difference in the long run in terms of policy, but I am convinced that at least in terms of personal views, dozens of individuals have been affected as a result of our work. And I can only pray that it will continue to have an impact in the long term.

Because ultimately, as things are currently being played out in the Senate, it is truly a political game in which our lives hang in the balance. A game whose players have no problem sacrificing billions of taxpayer dollars for even higher and more electrified fences in the name of immigration reform—always with the risk that every compromise will never be enough to satisfy the most extreme negotiators. I'm personally more skeptical about the long-term positive impact of the most recent version of SB 744 (if the Corker-Hoeven amendment to spend $30 billion in additional "border security" is included) compared to the original version. It's the product of compromise that might get some of us home a little sooner, that might prevent some of us from having to go into exile, but my question is, how will it affect generations of migrants, citizens of both countries even, to come?

It's really easy to fall in the trap of thinking about only our own families' problems, I did this for many years as I pitied myself and couldn't imagine how I was going to make my life work in a foreign country. I saw myself as somewhat different than the rest, when in reality, we're all in the same boat. I am so thankful to my fellow friends in exile for opening my eyes about that. What I dread happening is that we, the exiled or separated, forget to think of those who will come after us, as we are thrown a bone, while draconian regulations continue to be passed.

What concerns me about the passage of an SB 744 with extreme border militarization clauses is because of the reasons these regulations are being written in. Does this version of immigration policy engender cross-cultural understanding and reduce the likelihood of attempted illegal immigration to the U.S? Probably not. Would using that money instead on international programs that improve the standard of living in foreign countries, create programs for individuals to more easily access legal immigration channels to the U.S. have more positive effect in the long run? Most likely. But those type of answers aren't as politically sexy as more choppers and barbed wire, when catering to the xenophobic crowd in the U.S.

Much of our populace is still stuck, lamentably, in a culturally insensitive rut that is costing us the ability to move forward as a nation, embrace our immigrant roots, our immigrant present, and our immigrant future. We welcome those who have the financial resources (or luck in the lotteries) to make it across the border "legitimately," but we reject many who are the salt of the earth. Those of us who have acknowledged the migratory and highly adaptable nature of our continent will keep working toward true change, at great personal sacrifice, sorrow, and even joy sometimes, no matter what the outcome on Capitol Hill.

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