By Nancy Landa
It is a typical weekday morning. As usual, I wake up 30 minutes after my alarm clock goes off and I am forced to hastily get out of bed, get quickly dressed and rush out of my apartment. I hit the road and as I drive my daily route to work, I get caught up in late morning traffic. I stop at a traffic signal which just turned red and I have a moment to think about my day ahead. It only takes a few seconds of self-reflection to start remembering a morning just like this one, when my life took a completely unexpected turn.
It was a Tuesday morning in September 2009, when I was stopped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while driving through my neighborhood in downtown Long Beach. At the moment I was being pulled over, I immediately assumed it was Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) officers.
Perhaps I had unknowingly incurred a minor traffic violation. One of the officers approached me and as she walked over to the passenger side of my car, strangely she looked familiar. “Are you Nancy Landa?” she asked, to which I responded affirmatively. The officer continued, “Do you know why we are stopping you?” But before I could answer, she began to say those dreaded words “We have an order for your removal.”
As I step out of the car and begin to regain my composure from the initial state of shock I found myself in, I recognize the female ICE agent and couple of officers standing just behind. I had seen the three agents the day before inside my apartment complex. We had coincidentally crossed paths in the center courtyard as I was heading toward my car garage. Apparently, they were not aware it was me they were looking for and it didn’t dawn on me that they were sent on a mission to capture me.
Before I knew it, I was locked inside the back seat of the ICE van. As it started to take off, I turned around to get a last glimpse of my car now stranded in the middle of the street left to be towed as we were headed to the detention facility in Los Angeles.
En route, the agent driving asked me, “What did you do to get a deportation order?” I did not have an answer. All I knew was that my parents had worked hard to adjust our legal status since I was nine years of age without any luck. Growing up, I tried to live my life in what is considered to be of “good moral character.” Unfortunately, we had become victims of an inflexible immigration system and fell prey to notary fraud which led to the issuance of my Order of Removal without my knowledge.
No explanation was necessary. Any answer would not change the fact that I was being labeled a criminal and treated as such. Instead of replying, I sat quietly and tried to remain calm but in thinking of all the unknowns that lay ahead, I was overcome by a sense of panic.
I worried about my family, my parents and my younger brother. How was I to communicate with them? Had ICE gone after them as well? Was I going to be able to halt my deportation or will I find myself in a country I had not set foot in almost 20 years?
Upon arriving at the detention facility, I was subjected to the routine questioning. The officers took my photo, got my fingerprints, and then locked me in a cell to be held under custody with other detainees as I waited for them to decide on my fate.
Now, three years later, the stoplight turns green and as I drive past the traffic jam in the streets of my hometown in Tijuana, I continue to ponder: How different my life would be if President Obama’s Deferred Action plan had been in place before ICE had come for me?
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.