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Latina Lista: News from the Latino perspective > NewsMundo > “De aquí y de allá”: The Other Dreamers

“De aquí y de allá”: The Other Dreamers

Pedro Magallón in the United States. Photo courtesy Pedro Magallón.

By Eileen Truax
Trans-Border Institute

Close to 500,000 young people from Mexican families have been deported from the United States during the last 10 years. Whether their deportation was forceful or voluntary, they return to Mexico to find that in their native country they are also, in more than one sense, foreigners. They do not speak the language, they do not know anyone, and they receive neither guidance nor assistance from the authorities. What is the history of these “Other Dreamers” who are trying to remake their lives in a land that is theirs in name only? What challenges do they face? How do they reconcile their binational status? The Trans-Border Institute’s Freedom of Expression Project and the Division of International Studies and the Masters Program in Journalism and Public Affairs at Mexico’s Center for Investigation and Economic Education (CIDE) present, with support from the Ford Foundation, this investigation of a problem that demands the attention of both the Mexican and U.S. governments.

The San Ysidro port of entry is the busiest border crossing point in the world. Connecting Tijuana and San Diego, this border station processes more than 30 million people going from Mexico into the United States. And it also processes the largest number of deportees going in the other direction. The deportees arrive by bus from detention centers, often located in San Diego or Los Angeles, and are put in a line in front of a revolving door of horizontal metal bars. One by one, the deportees enter that metallic merry-go-round. When they emerge on the other side, they are in Mexican territory.

One out of every five of the 1.8 million Mexicans whom US immigration authorities have deported in the last ten years, has returned to Mexico crossing through this turnstile. More than 350,000 are dumped in a place that most of them do not know at all, where there are no helpful indicators pointing to somewhere they can spend the night, where to find the next meal, what to do next. Some are deported just within hours or days after crossing into the United States and are detained by immigration as they try to make their way to a big city where they can blend in; if they had just left the Mexican side of the border, they roughly have a notion of where to go when they are deported. But others have spent their entire life in the United States; they have grown up, studied, made friends, started a career and built a future in this place, until one day they are “returned” to a place that is totally unknown to them. These young adults, who arrived as undocumented children to the U.S., are known as Dreamers.

Although Dreamers are technically undocumented foreigners in the United States, they can also be defined as young Americans that lack a document recognizing their identity. They are Americans as a result of a family decision to migrate to this country; a decision which, in most cases, they did not take part of. They start a family, a social and academic life that they soon adapt to, like any other young person their age. Their childhood is lived in relative calm, until the day high school graduation arrives. As they think about the future, they are faced with a dilemma. They can start a university career in the United States, paying higher tuition fees because they lack the financial support available to residents or citizens –and with the constant threat of deportation their legal status implies– even though they know they cannot legally work when they complete their studies. Alternatively, they can return to their country of origin and attempt to enroll into college there.

Those who choose the latter have to deal with bureaucratic barriers that prevent them from further development; with many difficulties to integrate into a system they know little to nothing while sometimes dealing with a society that rejects them because they come from another country. Lacking fluidity in the Spanish, the absence of cultural knowledge and a prolonged adaptation become greater obstacles than those faced in the country where they were undocumented. The feeling of not belonging creates an identity crisis, which hinders their personal and professional growth.

Besides the possible voluntary return, there is another situation that these young people commonly face: the return to their country of origin due to a deportation. Then, the lack of effective mechanisms to facilitate reintegration is the main limitation for restarting a life. Having arrived in the United States at a young age, some being only months old, Dreamers often times do not remember their country of origin or know anyone. They “return” to a country that is foreign to them, in which they also lack documents and in which neither the government nor society in general is ready to receive them.

Nancy Landa in the United States. Photo courtesy Nancy Landa.
Nancy Landa in the United States. Photo courtesy Nancy Landa.

Nancy Landa is a “migrantóloga” (migration scholar). The term, coined by a group of academics who study migration led by Leticia Chelius Calderón, head of the area of ​​Sociology and Economic Policy at Instituto Mora in Mexico City, fits Nancy like a glove.

In 2014, she completed a Masters in Global Migration at the University College London, but her knowledge of the phenomenon goes well beyond academic credentials: Nancy has personally lived the chiaroscuro of the migrant experience and the consequences of the lack of public policies to support this population. She is herself a Dreamer. She came to the US when she was just a child, and was deported to Tijuana, Mexico -the port of entry without return- 20 years later. Her experience led her to restart her life in Mexico, a country that she had nothing and knew no one, only to discover that she was foreign, an alien, even in her country of origin. Unlike other migrantólogos, Nancy is an expert in the migration phenomenon from her pained insides.

Nancy’s family migrated to the United States when she was 9 years old and her brother 7. She hardly remembers her childhood in Mexico, just the conditions of scarcity and the fact that her father would go off to California to work for long periods and send money to the family. But when he would return to Mexico to work, it was impossible to make ends meet, so one day he decided he would not go back. Nancy’s mother then announced that they would go with him. It was April 1990.

The family crossed through Tijuana, arrived in the metropolitan area of ​​Los Angeles, and settled there. Despite not speaking English, Nancy and her younger brother quickly adapted and began to go to school regularly, to rebuild their lives. Little Nancy blossomed into a young woman, entered college, became president of the student government and graduated with honors.

Her parents, meanwhile, were aware of the situation that their children would find themselves in after completing school or when applying for a job without documents, so they sought out legal advice. They fell into the hands of a notary who worked with a lawyer. She assured them that she could successfully make a case to legalize the family’s status by filing an application for political asylum. This resource, often used by unscrupulous lawyers who charge large amounts for the process that is only applicable to migrants who arrive in the United States fleeing from danger of death. At the start of the process, asylum seekers are entitled by law to a social security number and a temporary work permit while their cases are pending; but once it seems impossible to prove “extreme hardship” – a legal term in the asylum process-, applicants are deported. Families only becomes aware of this until they receive a deportation order; by that time, they have usually lost contact with the lawyers.

This was the case of the Landa family: for a few years while the case was pending resolution in court, Nancy was able to finish her college career and obtain a job; until the request was denied. Once immigration authorities denied their case for asylum, the family’s immigration status was on record. Prior to the deportation, the only hope for Nancy and her brother was for Congress to pass the DREAM Act, which continued to be on “standstill” since 2001, however, that never happened: in 2009, immigration agents arrived first.

***

The DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress in August 2001. The word dream, is an acronym for Development, and Education for Alien Relief Minors (DREAM) Act. This legislative proposal aims to address the immigration status of more than a million and a half of young people who came to the United States as undocumented minors. Some of the eligibility requirements for the DREAM Act include arriving in the country before age 15, living in the country at least five years, and completing two years of college or military service with no criminal record. The initiative has been submitted to a vote several times over the years, but without the necessary support required for approval. In 2010, it fell five votes short of becoming law in the Senate.

Since the proposal failed to become law, young Dreamers continue to live under the threat of deportation, with the difficulty in continuing their studies in the United States and the prospect of a life without legal identity. Over 70% come from Mexico. For them, returning to their country to continue their studies should be an option.

Currently, all children living in the United States, regardless of immigration status, have the right to a free public education through high school, but the law does not offer students any means to normalize their immigration status or grant them access to financial support to continue their education beyond high school – in other words, they can attend college, but are ineligible for financial aid provided by law, they must do so by paying international student fees, amounts that are out of reach to an undocumented family. This legislative “gap” affects more than 700,000 young undocumented immigrants over the age of 18, and another 900,000 minors who find themselves in a legal limbo once they come of age.

On June 15, 2012 the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action program for children, known as DACA, so that, in following a similar eligibility criteria to that of the DREAM Act, Dreamers could apply for a work permit valid for two-year period and obtain Social Security number. This measure protects them from a possible deportation, gives them access to some funding for those wishing to continue their education and allows them to work legally. However, it is far from resolving their immigration status because it does not grant temporary or permanent residency or a path to citizenship. The measure is also reversible at any time.

***

Nancy was detained on September 1. At 11:00 that morning, she was processed at the Los Angeles detention and six hours later she was aboard a white bus, on the 5 Freeway which leads to the border with Mexico. Just before crossing, US authorities handed her a document with her alien number, of a deported foreigner, and a brown paper bag where she found her belongings she was carrying when she was arrested. She passed through the revolving metal door and only one step away from the world she knew. Welcome to Mexico.

“You face a world of obstacles because in real terms you have to start a whole new life in a country that is yours and you are supposedly entitled, by being Mexican, to everything it has to offer you” recalls Landa.

Full-figured, with olive skin and long black hair that creates a wavy frame around her shinning gaze, I find her sitting next to a large window that is filled with the straight lines of a street in downtown Mexico City, where she lives today five years after her deportation.

“The problem is that you arrive with no documentation. Many of us who were 10, 20 years over there, sometimes all we have is a birth certificate, but here, we need more than that to start working. For example, for mostly everything they ask for your IFE identity card (from Federal Electorate Insitute), and when you do not have one, you delay in accessing what you need to rent an apartment or a place to live, to find a job, to get a passport, to revalidate your studies; it is like a domino effect, with all the challenges you face for lacking documents”, she explains.

Today, Nancy is in a very different situation, but still shows a glimpse of her frustration when speaking about the subject: institutional hurdles and, above all, the social barriers.

“It is difficult for many of us who already have a certain level of education to arrive at a job where you can put your abilities to use, especially because everything is about connections and who know; here in Mexico, that is much more prevalent. Then, when you come from a community, or your parents are from different socio-economic status and you want to use your degree that you might completed there, it’s difficult”.

Despite graduating with honors in Business Administration from California State University, Northridge (CSUN), and having work experience in nonprofit organizations and government agencies, Nancy had to start working at a call center answering phones, work she was overqualified to do. Later she discovered that these worksites, call centers of large US companies that provide customer service from Mexico and other countries to lower operating costs – because they can pay lower wages than those they would pay in the United States – employ those returning to the country in a situation like hers.

There is insufficient statistical data to determine the characteristics of returned migrants by age group. However, Jill Anderson, a fellow of the Center for Research on North America at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and author of Los Otros Dreamers (2014), a book that analyzes this issue, estimates that close to 500,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35, have returned to Mexico since 2005 after lived in the United States for at least five years; the latter is precisely one of the criteria to be considered a Dreamer.

For those returning to Mexico after spending most of their life in the United States, given the difficulties to verify their work experience or to revalidate their studies, and the frequent lack of proficiency in Spanish and /or basic cultural knowledge, call centers are an ideal solution. Based on her conversations with managers of these centers, Anderson estimated that, in the case of Mexico City, 60% of call center employees are deportees or returnees from the United States.

“Call centers provide an opportunity to start working and can often be flexible in comparison to other types of work which require you to have work for experience in Mexico, and if you have not lived in Mexico or had anything in Mexico, how are you going to apply for a job like that”, Landa said. “They focus on your bilingual skills and in terms of salary, they pay you more than if you work as a production worker, for example. But what we have noticed among our peers is that many do not offer you a permanent job. It is handled by contract, renewed every month or every two months and they are outsourcing. Then, there are limitations to your rights as a worker, they do not offer you healthcare (IMSS) or other benefits that by law a company here in Mexico has to provide to employees. And there are no unions, that is another problem; if you raise the issue, you get fired. They try to have an environment where you cannot make waves [or] ‘grilla’ as they say here in Mexico.”

Nancy Landa in Mexico City. Photo courtesy Nancy Landa.
Nancy Landa in Mexico City. Photo courtesy Nancy Landa.

For Nancy, there is another important factor hindering the labor insertion in Mexico: discrimination. “You try not to sound pocho, or an outsider, and that’s hard. The treatment of people here towards those that do not sound Mexican is hostile and it can harm you. Many of us share stories of discrimination when looking for work, or in the way institutions treat you when you go to request a service” she explains.

A lack of social sensitivity is added to one that is institutional. A common complaint among deported or returned Dreamers is that there is no support, information or guide to those who return to the country and must deal with a series of administrative obstacles. Those who are familiar with technology and have command of the Spanish language can find information on the websites of the Mexican government agencies, although these are not always welcoming.

“But sometimes when you go to a government office, you discover that the treatment or information is …” Nancy pauses, looking for a way to express what say wants to say. “I have a different conception of what a public servant is in the United States, and is very different from what a public servant is in Mexico. Here you are treated as if they were doing you a favor rather than serving you and providing you the information you need”, she explains.

In her research on Dreamers, Anderson has found another common element that affects them: the difficulty to revalidate their education. A report published by the National Council of Population (CONAPO) and the BBVA Bancomer Foundation, indicates that 43.4% of Mexicans between 18 and 35 years old who returned in 2012 had either studied or graduated from high school or had some sort of college degree.

“Formal employment as well as admission into private and public universities currently requires the revalidation of a high school diploma from the United States”, explains Anderson in the introduction to her book Los Otros Dreamers (The Other Dreamers), a collection of testimonios and photographs of 26 Dreamers whom had been either deported or had returned to Mexico. “In order to revalidate, returning and deported youth must submit transcripts and their diplomas from their high school, middle school, and elementary school education with an international apostille from their home state in the US and a costly official translation (…) Without a transnational support network, financial resources, resolve in the face of a strange government system that often seems impenetrable, and a bit of luck, too many returning and deported youth are confronted with the disconcerting realization that ‘I can’t study over here and I can’t study over there.’”

Nancy Landa faced that situation. In 2012, after realizing that in most companies she would find it difficult to move into managerial positions, she decided she wanted to continue her studies and searched for opportunities to pursue a postgraduate degree. It was impossible. Mexican academic institutions she contacted would not recognize her undergraduate B.S. degree; they required her to go through a process of revalidation, which meant investing the same amount of time that it would take her to complete a Master’s degree.

“Some of my friends encouraged me to look for options to continue my education in Mexico”, Nancy describes in a published entry on her personal blog, Mundo Citizen. “Given that it was my country of nationally, it was assumed I would be able to pursue opportunities I was not easily afforded as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. I forced myself to be hopeful in the mist of the turmoil that became restarting a life from ground zero. I outreached to all the major universities in Tijuana to inquire about graduate school. After my fourth conversation with a university representative, I realized that having finished college outside of Mexico posed a problem. My U.S. degree would not be fully recognized by the federal education entity, Secretaría de Educación Pública. This meant that all the years invested in an education abroad did not amount to a valid degree here.”

Three years later, in early 2013, Landa found an option at University College London in the United Kingdom. After looking for ways to fund a postgraduate degree, in September 2013 she began her Master’s degree in Global Migration. She graduated, 15 months later.

“It’s very difficult”, she concludes as she shifts sitting in her chair, a bit restless. “After five years, I feel I have made progress in some ways, but to say that I’m returning home or to my country is difficult, because my home was Los Angeles. I have memories of my life in Mexico, but it is not the country where I have roots”.

***

Nancy Landa’s story is one of success because of the particular profile of the young woman, the relationships she made during her life in the United States and a strong network she built in Tijuana after her deportation. However, not all those returning to Mexico manage to get ahead. The difficulties in rebuilding their lives in their places of origin comes at a high price for them.

Upon returning, it is common for Dreamers to settle in Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara, places where they can find better opportunities to capitalize on their bilingualism. In many cases, they are used to the way of life of the city rather than their places of origin in rural areas and where they no longer fit.

In addition, a forced return create stress, depression, anxiety and identity conflicts for these youth. In that sense, a call center job, although far from an ideal especially for those young adults who arrive in Mexico with a degree, becomes not only a job but also a space for socialization in which they find others who have share similar experience as well as cultural knowledge, experiences, and even the language.

In these centers, salaries can reach up to 45 pesos an hour, much more than the minimum wage in Mexico City of 70 pesos a day, and also include employee benefits such as healthcare coverage and paid holidays. These youth know that they would not enjoy these benefits in as undocumented workers in the United States, but they also know that in not having an employment history in Mexico, by not being able to revalidate their studies, by not mastering language and also lacking basic cultural knowledge, the possibility promotion beyond answering telephones is limited.

Miguel Ramírez Bucio in the United States. Photo courtesy Miguel Ramírez Bucio.
Miguel Ramírez Bucio in the United States. Photo courtesy Miguel Ramírez Bucio.

“I remember very little of Mexico”, says Miguel Ramírez Bucio with a look that tries to evoke a past that he obviously does not feel as his own. Slender, with olive skin, dark eyes and hair, he sits in front of the Monument to the Revolution, in the heart of Mexico City. The afternoon sun falls on his face after it is reflected by the large glass windows that covers the huge Teletech building, which is just a few steps from us. “I lived for some time in Michoacan as a child, and from there I would go to Leon and back again … I remember being on the ranch in Michoacan and in the house of Leon with my grandparents who have already passed away.”

Miguel was deported on April 20, 2012. They put him on a plane and he landed on the border region that separates El Paso from Juarez. He was handed a box with his belongings and only had couple of minutes for a change of clothes before being lead to the border bridge.

“My feeling upon entering Mexico was that of fear; fear of not knowing what to expect, that I had to adapt, and I did not know what to do. I was lost in a place where I did not know the rules, the people or the culture … although I did know Spanish”, he recalls. “But before that, I did not consider myself an immigrant. [In the US], I was simply just another person in another place and that was it. It never crossed my mind that I could be deported, for reals.”

When Ramírez Bucio and other deportees traveling with him arrived in Juarez, “government people” as he describes them, offered to take at no charge to the nearest central bus station. Miguel accepted and with the little money he had, he took a bus headed to Querétaro, and from there to Leon. When he arrived, he found a cybercafé and using a computer he attempted to get in touch with family members in that city. “And it came as a great surprise for them, right?”, he said smiling with a hint of sarcasm.

Miguel Ramírez Bucio in Mexico City. Photo courtesy Eileen Truax.
Miguel Ramírez Bucio in Mexico City. Photo courtesy Eileen Truax.

“One of the obstacles when arriving in Mexico was to begin a new life with people I had not seen in 13 years. Another one is that I know how to speak Spanish, but not enough as people do here”, he recalls. “I thought about returning to the United States, but the problem is that if I want to reenter the country illegally, if caught by immigration, I would get months or years [in prison], and it scares me. All my dreams were broken into pieces because, what is the point of you achieving those dreams if you can’t share them with my family, if they cannot see me succeed?”.

Ramírez Bucio admits that when he meets new people he does not disclose to them that he comes from the United States or that he was deported. He found that he could work in a call center and then moved to Mexico City. He is satisfied with his salary, which considers better “compared to that of other jobs around here”. And when he is asked about the future, he does not hesitate in answering: he does not know how, but for him, the future is not in Mexico.

“I do not know how to answer that. All I know is that I would like to be back in the United States with my family, even if it means entering there illegally, to have job, to live a normal life. Nothing more”.

***

Pedro Magallón in the United States. Photo courtesy Pedro Magallón.
Pedro Magallón in the United States. Photo courtesy Pedro Magallón.

“My is name, Peter or Pedro, it depends on where I am. Among my friends I feel very comfortable with Peter, whether it is here in Mexico or the United States; but when I want to be taken seriously, when I’m with someone at school or at work, I introduce myself as Pedro, just like that”.

Pedro Magallón has a wide smile that makes a contrast with his brown skin. He is originally from Acapulco, Guerrero, a place he has no memory of: at two years of age, he arrived in Santa Ana, California which become his home for 18 years. What he was told was that after he was born, his father decided to go to the United States, and after a while, he sent for him and his mother. For him, Santa Ana was home.

Pedro opens the door of the apartment he shares with his girlfriend in a central neighborhood of Guadalajara, Jalisco. It is on the fourth floor, the last building, which made it easy for them to have a space for a small garden with herbs and some vegetables in a hallway adjacent to the stairs leading to the apartment. At first glance, Peter seems to be a happy guy.

“In the United States, I worked and studied. In the mornings, I was worked as a waiter in a nursing home and in the afternoons I went college”, he says enthusiastically. “From the age of 8, 9, I was very aware that I had no papers, that I was not there documented. So, I was always aware of the reality I faced; like many Dreamers who are there, I hoped for a government response to my concerns, which never came”.

In 2008, with the economic crisis in the United States, the Magallón family faced difficult times. In addition to the uncertainty of what he could do with his life when finishing his Social Work degree, Pedro began to doubt if he could ever find a way to obtain citizenship in that country. A few months later, things took an unexpected turn: when he was about to turn 21, Pedro was accused of sexual abuse, a crime that he assures he did not commit and for which he spent 45 days in prison. Upon his release, and because he lacked documents, immigration authorities intervened and, as with all detainees, he was offered the option of signing what is known as a “voluntary departure”: the beginning of a deportation process that does not require an order by a judge, only the will of undocumented immigrants to leave the country. Pedro, who had been thinking for weeks about the possibility of returning to Mexico, agreed to sign it.

“I thought about it for about five seconds and said, ‘I’m leaving, I no longer want to be in court, no more, I’m leaving’”. From his cell, he notified his mother by phone. Three hours later, he traveled by bus to Tijuana. On April 13, 2011, he arrived in Mexico by crossing the metal turnstile.

“I was very excited to be in Mexico, to not be in jail; I also felt fear of not knowing what I was going to face, whom I would meet, but I did as much as possible to hide the fear in me”, he recalls.

From Tijuana, he traveled to Guadalajara, where his mother’s family was located. He lived with an aunt and soon after he moved out on his own. After trying to work as an English teacher, he found the job that allowed him to rent his own place: a Teletech call center.

“The hardest thing when I arrived was getting familiar with the administrative agencies. I had never enrolled into social security, I had never gotten a letter from the police, I’ve never done all you have to do here. I had to inquire, struggle, be lost, make mistakes. And going out there, interacting with the people in a store or with the police, it was also difficult: I felt out of place, I could not communicate well; I felt… not discriminated against, but more like an outsider. Sometimes they would look at me weird, like, ‘You’re not from here, right?’, And I don’t know, I did not take it the wrong way; I was not discrimination as such, but it felt like I was being attacked”, he mentions.

Pedro now works in an alternative form of a call center. From home, through a computer program, he provides translation services to people that require it from in the United States, it could be a 911 call, a bank or a service provider. The caller requests customer service support in Spanish, and then he or she is connected with Pedro.

“I think this is something that is not known in the United States, or at least I never knew about it: the level of outsourcing that is taking place in the big cities in Mexico, like Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mexico City. There are many companies who are hiring people who know English, some Spanish, and knowing how to use the computer; that is all you need”, he explains. “A call center will pay 39 pesos to 50 pesos per hour. It is more than what the man who works at the corner store earns”.

Four years after his deportation, combining his work with his studies in psychology at a private university, Univer, Pedro says he is fully adapted to the life in Mexico. He affirms that he does not regret his decision. “Absolutely not. I think if I had stayed in the United States paying bail, lawyers, risking being disappointed, I had not had the opportunity to grow as much as I have done so here in Mexico. I learned a lot and have made many great friendships; It is something I never take for granted; I love it here and I would not trade it for a world”.

On returning to the United States, he says he thinks less about it as the days go by. “My parents are still there, my sister, my immediate family are still there, in California; I have not seen my parents in four years (…) but home is where you want to make it. Home is wherever you feel comfortable. If you can find a place where you’re well, that’s where home is. It is very difficult for people who have lived for a long time in a different place, but it’s not impossible”.

Pedro Magallón in Mexico. Photo courtesy Eileen Truax.
Pedro Magallón in Mexico. Photo courtesy Eileen Truax.

***

Francisco Elias Fuentes is 24 and describes himself as a deported Dreamer. Sitting under the sun that starts to drop towards the ocean horizon, this young man from the State of Mexico has feet his touching the ground of the spot that is popularly known as “the last corner of Latin America”. A few steps away is the wall that separates Tijuana from San Diego, Mexico from the United States, and Francisco from his world. A world that this young man with dark complexion, mustache of man and a gaze of a young boy, longing to return.

Fuentes was deported to Mexico in 2012, and since then, the idea of ​​returning does not leave his mind. In early 2014, the young man attempted to return to the United States legally from the same place where he is today. Together with a group of 150 people consisting of deported parents of American children and Dreamers, he showed up at the San Ysidro border point of entry as part of a movement that in social media became popular with the hashtag #BringThemHome: Mexican deportees who feel that the United States is their home, and that under the legal framework of a humanitarian visa or asylum, they requested to enter the United States. Some of those who requested to return had their case approved and today they are living in that country freely while waiting for the outcome of judicial proceedings, but that was not the case for Francisco who was denied a review of his asylum application and was deported for a second time.

Francisco Elias Fuentes with his family in the United States. Photo courtesy Francisco Elias Fuentes.
Francisco Elias Fuentes with his family in the United States. Photo courtesy Francisco Elias Fuentes.

Francisco does not understand how there are Dreamer deportees who are able to adapt to life in Mexico; he cannot. He lived in North Carolina since the age of 5 – his first memory of the United States is that of his father getting for him a Happy Meal at McDonald’s – and he spent his whole life there. Like most of the Dreamers, Fuentes became accustomed to hearing comments from his peers, even if it was between a joke and an insult: “You’re a wetback, go back to Mexico, you do not belong here”, but he found a way to counteract them by joining the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while in high school and training to become a hockey player. He also got a job, bought a car and then, that is when it happened: a police officer stopped him while driving without a license and a legal process that ended with his first deportation order just one day prior to his high school graduation.

“When I left the detention center last year [after the second deportation], I decided to stay in Tijuana to cross again. I have tried four times, and each time I cross further, but I always get caught. I plan to return with my parents, with my sisters”, he says convinced in a Spanish he struggles with when speaking as he looks to his surroundings with a slight disdain. Francisco’s body language, his gaze staring at the other side of the border, send a clear message: he does not want to be here.

“Over there, I felt free, I had a good job, they paid me well”, he says wistfully. “If I return to the State of Mexico, I will look for one of those places where I can and apply to leave for six months and work in the United States. Perhaps it would be better for me to get a job like that, working six months there, returning to Mexico, because if I don’t find something that allows me to be well there, I always have to look over my shoulder. I’ve seen what life is like and that is how it is: All there’s left to do is to fight, to move forward”.

***

In the last months of 2013 and early 2014, the #BringThemHome movement – it first included the nine youth that would be known as the #Dream9; following a second group known as the #Dream30 two months later, and then third group known as #Reforma150, the group that Fuentes was a part of – revealed the deep disappointment of the Dreamers due to the lack of labor and educational opportunities in Mexico. There were also those who have faced health problems or those whose lives are at risk with the insecurity and violence in their communities of origin, something they were not prepared to face.  Some of them have been victims of crime, of bullying due to their binational identity or a lack of proficiency in Spanish, and discrimination from community members or members of their own families who have always lived in Mexico.

These stories have gained media coverage which has contributed to the recent attention to the issues they raise from a variety of sectors: the academic and political – with debates, for example, in the Mexican Senate and the Foreign Affairs Ministry-, and with US authorities that have supported trips to Mexico of Dreamers who can now leave the United States and return thanks to Deferred Action (DACA) implemented by Barack Obama. However, rarely are the views and experiences of Dreamers who are already in Mexican territory taken into account

“Currently, we mobilize more through social, digital activism, and connect through technology but in the future, we want to start action campaigns to address the different themes or issues that affect us collectively”, explains Nancy Landa, who upon her return to Mexico started working closely with the Los Otros Dreamers collective, and is now developing a new project linked to return migration.

She adds: “We need to talk about the recognition of studies, but also of the many cases of those who want to return to the United States to reunite with their family. We want to tackle the isolation that we live here in Mexico, because even when we hear about development of institutional support programs, the emotional component is not factored in. It is necessary to change the conversation about who a Dreamer is in Mexico, and there needs to be public awareness; so that people here don’t call us ‘wet backs’ or ‘traitors who abandoned their country’; the stigma with which we deal with for simply not having lived in Mexico”.

For Dr. Anderson, the answer has to do with the need for both the Mexican and the United States government to assume a role in their responsibility that they share in the recognition of the binational identity of these youth. “Both governments have moral and legal obligations to respond to the realities of their young people; to recognize what these bilingual and bicultural youth already live in their hearts, and to begin to repair the damage that is being done to their future, their families and their communities”, she affirms.

Most of those who promote an agenda in favor of “los otros Dreamers” agree on the central issues that should be addressed in the years to come. Among these include educational reinsertion – the revalidation of studies through coordination in both countries; the development of initiatives with local universities-; and the construction of alternative employment opportunities and training. As Landa asks herself, “How is it that scholarships are offered to Mexican students to go abroad to learn English, and those of us who are here and who are already fluent, are not employed?”.

“And my demands are directed to both sides of the border”, says Landa -. “We’re talking about pro-immigrant organizations that provide support in the United States, but exclude deportees as part of dialogue of the human rights for immigrants in that country. There is family separation, and if you say you support migrants in the United States, you should include deported families or those who are in Mexico. What I see is that there is a need for a transnational effort to mobilize resources so that we can create a support network for those who need it in a forced return”.

Landa is about to end the interview with a satisfied smile. In the five years after her deportation, she has become an expert on the subject, but also a strong woman, ready to face it all; even her own nostalgia. “I do desire to return; whether it will be in a permanent way, I do not know, because I would have to factor in my professional and life plans, but yes, I would like to have that option. If US society had included you and you were part of it, that makes you belong there. My fight is for a recognition that we are de aquí y de allá”.

Francisco Elías Fuentes in Tijuana. Photo courtesy Eileen Truax.
Francisco Elías Fuentes in Tijuana. Photo courtesy Eileen Truax.

Appendix. The DREAM Act, the law of dreams

On August 2001, Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Orrin Hatch introduced before their fellow senators the first version of a bill that in the following years would be widely known as the DREAM Act. The word DREAM, acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This initiative, bill S. 1291, aims to solve the situation of young people who were brought to the United States without documents as minors.

Currently, all children in the Unites States, regardless of immigration status, are entitled to a free public education from kindergarten through grade twelve, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in the iconic case Plyler v. Doe, in 1982. The trial, initiated by a parent in Texas, he demanded the repeal of a law that attempted to deny public education to undocumented minors. The ruling was against the law, and the decision established that minors cannot be considered responsible for their own immigration status since the decision to enter the country illegally had been made by someone else.

Even though the Supreme Court’s ruling guarantees the public education of any young person in the United States through high school, it does not offer students any means to normalize their immigration status or grant them to financial aid that would allow them to continue their education. Those that complete a high school education do not have alternatives: they must pay elevated international student fees to attend a university because they are not included in the fee scale applicable to legal residents or citizens, and they do not have access to financial aid provided by the federal government. In addition, they do not have a future: they cannot work and they live under the threat of deportation.

That is the situation that the DREAM Act seeks to solve, and that has transformed this youth into an army of Dreamers, a generation of dreamers: to amend current immigration legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to access the benefits of a higher education as does a US citizen regardless of the state of residence, and to authorize the US attorney general to cancel deportation proceedings and adjust the immigration status of beneficiaries of the law in accordance with the requirements established within the law

The most recent version of the DREAM Act, reintroduced in the Senate (S. 952) by Durbin establishes the second objective with the following text: “to authorize the cancellation of removal and adjustment of status of certain alien students who are long-term United States residents and who entered the United States as children and for other purposes”.

To quality for conditional permanent resident status under the DREAM Act, the applicant:

Must have continuously resided in the United States for five years immediately prior to the law’s passage:
Must have entered the country at fifteen years of age or younger.
Must be a person of good moral character.
Must have been accepted to an institution of higher learning, or have earned a high school diploma or its equivalent (GED).
Must be younger than 35 years of age, as was specified in the first version of the DREAM Act. This requirement was modified to 32 years of age in a subsequent version and changed to 29 in the version S. 3992, debated in Congress in 2010. The most recent version, S. 952, raises the age requirement back to thirty-five.
Cannot have been convicted of a crime
As with all US immigration proceedings, applicants must follow a protocol including taking a physical exam, providing biometric data, and submitting to a background check. Once the law is enacted, the competent authorities would have 180 days to publish the specific regulations for to implement the act.

After living in the United States as conditional permanent residents, applicants can become unconditional permanent residents if they meet the following requirements:

Posses good moral character.
Have no serious criminal convictions (all versions of the act include definitions of what constitutes a serious conviction).
Have lived continuously in the United States.
Have earned a college diploma or have satisfactorily completed at least two years of higher education program; or have served in the armed forces for at least two years.
The complete text of the original DREAM Act and subsequent versions can be found under the Thomas system of the Library of Congress website, http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php.

The original bill S. 1291 can be found on the link http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-107s1291is/pdf/BILLS-107s1291is.pdf

Reportage: Eileen Truax
Video: Diego Sedano
Translation from Spanish: Nancy Landa

This piece was made possible by a joint project between CIDE’s Division of International Studies and Masters Program in Journalism and Public Affairs, under the auspices of the Ford Foundation. CIDE, the Spanish acronym for Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, is a public center in Mexico City specialized in the social sciences.

General Coordination: Carlos Heredia (Division of International Studies, CIDE) and Ricardo Raphael (Journalism and Public Affairs, CIDE)

Research coordination and editing: Carlos Bravo Regidor (Journalism and Public Affairs, CIDE)

Editing: Homero Campa (Journalism and Public Affairs, CIDE)

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