By Nancy Landa
(Editor’s note: Final post in a four-part series focusing on DREAMer Nancy Landa’s first-hand experience of removal proceedings by U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS)
The holiday season arrived. I sang through Christmas carols as I finished dressing my apartment with the joyful holiday spirit that lingered in the air. It almost seemed like the old days when I lived in my home in Los Angeles, California. Although the holiday season succeeded in cheering me up this year, sadness and nostalgia seemed to creep up from time to time.
I couldn’t pretend to have forgotten what deportation has felt like in the recent years: Arriving alone in Tijuana the same day I was detained; having no more than 4 weeks of coping with resettlement before my parents and younger brother were also detained and deported.
Three holiday seasons have passed since a family of four was displaced without a place we could call home and with the challenges of re-starting our lives in a country so different from what we had gotten used to.
The first hurdle to overcome was the government bureaucracy.
It took close to six months before we could obtain all our required government-issued documents. This included the federal ID, called IFE, which is a requirement for almost every transaction, from signing an apartment lease to applying for work. Thankfully, our friends with family in Tijuana assisted us with the immediate necessities during this period of bureaucratic limbo as we worked towards self-sufficiency.
Finding work was the second challenge.
Despite having an established career in philanthropy and community development in the U.S., I quickly learned that my experience was irrelevant in a border region driven primarily by the manufacturing industry. Unless I knew someone that could help me get into similar position in the public sector, I was on my own. On the flip-side, being bilingual, although not completely fluent in my mother tongue, served as an advantage.
However, the best job I could get an offer for was answering phones for a call center – so much for my degree in Business and experience working abroad. The pay was minimal and could not be compared to what I earned in a U.S. job. Additionally, companies were unwilling to negotiate a comparable salary in Mexican pesos because I had no history of work experience here.
With little time to find a job adequate to my work experience, I decided to take it out of necessity. The funds we had available through friends, who had raised money to help our resettlement, were depleting. I was not in a position to be picky with work opportunities, especially as my parents being older had a harder time finding work.
Unlike the U.S., here in Mexico a company can deny you work because of your age. A worker can be considered too old for most labor-type positions at age 35.
Adaptability and flexibility became part of my survival mechanism. With some patience, I have been able to get back on track with a promising professional career, ironically, contributing to the growth of an American-based company with a global presence.
I have joined a selective group of professionals who are filling a local need for culturally sensitive skilled workers who can be effective in working with foreigners and where communication, in an English-speaking environment, becomes an asset rather than a barrier.
I am now able to travel for work abroad (including Canada and Europe), something that was not possible for me in the U.S. as I was in the process of adjusting my legal status.
This is not to say that I have not been confronted with challenges working in an environment that has substandard labor laws, in comparison what I had become used to. Tijuana is a region where lower pay for high-skill labor is what attracts foreign companies in a globalized market.
I also find myself, in my native country, only viewed as a foreigner simply because I grew up outside of Mexico and because my Spanish is noticeably different from the locals. Everyday, I am reminded that I am a woman working in a male-dominated environment that lags behind gender equality and protection that shielded me when I was in the U.S.
Maybe if I had grown up in Mexico, I would have learned to cope with and accept these circumstances as they are; however, I am bound to live with an internal conflict of wanting the conditions of first-world democracies that are simply not available in a developing country which is still Mexico.
Quite often, I am asked if I would return to the U.S. if that became an option. I do not have a clear answer. What I do know is that I would not choose to return to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. I have lived in the shadows for too long to return to a life of indefinite legal uncertainty.
However, there is one thing I do wish for: that I could have the 10-year ban to re-enter the U.S. lifted so that I am able to obtain a visitor’s visa.
Lacking a criminal history, I feel this ban is a harsh punishment as it continues to limit my career opportunities, even here in Mexico. My company requires me to travel for business to our corporate office in the U.S. and I have been unable to do so. I plan to take this battle with the Department of Homeland Security next year when I apply for a visa and appeal my case.
Perhaps I’ll decide to stay in Mexico to contribute to an emerging market that is becoming increasingly important. If the opportunity arises, I could also relocate to a country that has flexible immigration policies and that values productive migrants.
Sometimes I wished that the U.S. could be one of them. However, I doubt any immigration reform, if passed, would incorporate reducing the penalty for non-criminal deportees like myself so that we are able to legally re-establish in a country we once called home.
Being a displaced migrant has forever changed my perspective of the world. I no longer view it in the confinement of borders. I now see my deportation as an opportunity to advocate for this marginalized group. My purpose now is to educate others, here and abroad, about the plight of immigrants.
What if everyone could view immigrants not through the laws that criminalize and marginalize them, but rather through our own humanity? Would this allow each of us to understand the factors and circumstances that drive migration and arrive at humane and meaningful solutions?
I believe right now is the opportunity to begin this inquiry, as we are beginning to see a shift in the conversation of immigration. The truth is, whether we label people as ‘illegal,’ ‘undocumented,’ ‘deported,’ etc., the one label that I would rather use and find more empowering is ‘Citizen of the World’.
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 and Twitter @mundocitizen.