The Dog With a Toy In Its Mouth


Listen, former President Barack Obama didn’t earn the nickname deporter-in-chief out of nowhere. But the screws are turned more tightly right now. People who never thought about immigration before are now carrying the word around like a dog with a toy in its mouth.

On the one hand, sure – more people are talking about immigration.

On the other hand, many of these people are following the ferociously bad lead of numerous U.S.- born, usually white “allies” to treat immigrants as children. And while there are a tremendous amount of kids and unaccompanied minors who arrive to the U.S. every day, this isn’t the group that I’m talking about right now.

I’m talking about adult immigrants. Who may or may not speak English. Who may or may not have any kind of papers. Who perhaps have been living here 30 years, or just one. Could be that they arrived as children, but that was a while back. Formally educated or not. With complicated immigration histories or slightly more straightforward ones.

I get the instinct, the desire that bubbles up in the throats of U.S.- born, usually white “allies.” And you want to help immigrants right now.  Or, you’ve supposedly been helping immigrants for decades and use that fact as your own street cred for what’s happening in the country right now. Either way, listen up:

There’s a big difference between providing protection for immigrants and proselytizing to immigrants. It frustrates the hell out of me that I feel the need to write those words. However, I’ve been watching and reading too many in-person interactions/news segments/emails and articles where immigrants are being lectured to/spoken at by U.S. – born “allies” as if they were seated in those little plastic chairs in a kindergarten class and the allies were the classroom teachers.

Providing protection often involves less words and more actions. It means actively listening. Especially if you’re new to this work. And it means really listening on a higher level if you think that you’ve seen it all and have nothing new to learn from this work.

What U.S.- born “allies” should not be telling immigrants unasked right now? How to act. What to feel. Where to go. What to do. What not to do. Who to talk to. Who to fear. 

What U.S. – born allies really should not be doing right now? Vomiting their own feelings about U.S. immigration onto an immigrant. You do not have carte blanche to tear up while talking to an immigrant about how terrible you feel right now. You also do not have the right to be verbally dumping on the immigrant community how much you supposedly do for those communities.

Unless you’re being asked directly by an immigrant for your professional or personal opinion, keep your mouth shut. 

These immigration traps were laid out a long time ago. I’m talking about way before the last U.S. presidential election. And many of you were out here whistling Dixie in more ways than one.

So all those feelings of guilt, fear and shock, combined with the need to infantilize immigrants and their communities? You need to deal with those emotions on your own.

Because the last thing you need to do right now is gallop over to an immigrant with a soft plush toy in your mouth.



This past week marked the 20th anniversary of two acts signed into law in 1996 by former President Bill Clinton. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).

These immigration laws are brutal and criminalize immigrants.

When my husband Picasso was deported in 2001, this was a second deportation. At the time, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization official told Picasso that he wouldn’t be allowed to enter the U.S. for 20 years.

Fast-forward to 2012. I’m reading what our immigration lawyer is preparing for our I-212 waiver application. This waiver, if approved by the powers that be, would allow for us to then put in a U.S. permanent residency application.

I didn’t understand why our immigration lawyer kept referring to a lifetime ban in her letter for the U.S. officials to review.

Our lawyer explained to me that due to the IIRAIRA, Picasso was actually banned for life from entering the U.S. She explained to me that he had a lifetime ban because it was his second deportation, one of the provisions of IIRAIRA.

Eleven years after Picasso was deported, under the guidance of an experienced immigration lawyer, that was when I was told for the first time that Picasso had a lifetime ban.

This was after one initial trip to Ciudad Juárez at the U.S. Consulate for a failed permanent residency appointment and two prior immigration lawyers who were intimate with our case.

Picasso’s second deportation happened five years after IIRAIRA and AEDPA went into effect.

So you’d think at some point before the eleven year mark someone would have mentioned the lifetime ban.

And Picasso and I are just one family that’s been directly affected by these 1996 immigration laws.

So this past week, I was extremely moved to read about the push to #FIX96. The Immigrant Justice Network’s press release states that,

“… Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), in partnership with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and over 30 members of Congress, introduced a resolution that calls to repeal specific provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) signed into law in 1996 during the Clinton administration. The provisions in question lay the groundwork for criminalizing immigrants, directly resulting in a 20-year legacy of separating families and uprooting communities through mandated detention and deportation.”

Tonight, I’m asking all of you to please take the time to learn about IIRAIRA and AEDPA. Check out the Immigrant Justice Network’s comprehensive website that’s full of history, resources, stories from the community and how to take action.

Because I don’t want our communities to go through another 20 years of this madness.