Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

dorthy and dog

Once my husband Picasso received his U.S. permanent residency approval, I thought, “this is it.” 

In my ignorance and privilege as a U.S. citizen, I figured that it was time to cue the happy ending music.

What I’ve learned this past few weeks since returning from our home-closing trip to Mexico is that there’s so much more for me to learn.

Me, who thought incorrectly and arrogantly that I already knew a lot about issues around immigration.

Me, who confidently thought she already knew a lot about herself and her husband and our relationship.

And while it hurts like a motherfucker, I want to name here how my sadness and rage against U.S. immigration morphed and worked its way into my relationship with my husband over the years.

I want to name how sometimes I wasn’t as tough on my husband around specific issues that we tussled with, because I secretly felt bad that certain doors in this world were closed to him because of his immigration situation.

I want to name here how sometimes I treated my husband like a hothouse flower, to be tended to very carefully, because I felt that he suffered a lot already over the course of his life, immigration and otherwise. 

I want to name here that sometimes I was the cause of his suffering and reacted by tending to him even more, my guilty feelings building another addition to my hothouse.

I want to name here that I’m disappointed about having to be the main breadwinner for at least the next year here in the States, while my husband gets his GED, gets a job, builds his credit, get’s a driver’s license, works on his English, gets his footing in the States. I was excited to put that main breadwinner pack down, after 14 years. I saw how I mentally flung that pack into the creek that flows by Heather Wilhelmina and Mr. Vulcan’s house a few weeks ago.

I watched myself sheepishly fish the pack out of the creek last night.

What shocked me this morning was looking out the window and realizing that when my husband entered the U.S., I naively thought that we were going to be equals now.

That in this new chapter, he was just like me – a visible and active member of this society.

Yeah, you can laugh now. It’s O.K.

Because clearly, in my privilege disguised as naivete, I didn’t think about where we are not the same, in terms of formal education, mastery of English, class, race and access in this neck of the woods.

The simple fact of how my name Giselle Stern doesn’t scream out “Mexican” on a resume, but Picasso’s full name does. And the conclusions people draw, conclusions based on our names alone.

I’m tired and tattered. Periods of growth and change will do that to you. 

I want to be clear here – it means the world to me that my husband and I get to live together with our cats in a supportive household. The reunification of families destroyed by U.S. immigration policies will always be a priority for me. 

But I do feel that there’s a dirty little secret that’s not talked about a lot – the next chapter for immigrants who have complicated pasts and are suddenly brought to the front of the line. It’s like the U.S.-born family members are supposed to shut up and be grateful. Not talk about the challenges, because there are so many people who want to be in our shoes.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately what I was taught about the U.S. as a young child, i.e., the U.S. being the best and most powerful nation of them all.

Do you all remember that line from The Wizard of Oz?

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

I’ve been feeling a lot like Dorothy lately, when she says this:

“If you are really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises.” 

Amen, Dorothy. Amen.

You Break It, You Buy It

Origami by Won Park

My husband now has a U.S. permanent residency appointment on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 8:15 am at the American Consulate General in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

This appointment comes 12 years and 2 months after Picasso’s deportation.

While I’m happy that the appointment is finally official and scheduled against a tremendous number of odds and obstacles, I’m having a U.S. consumer moment, i.e., you get what you pay for.

What do I mean?

My husband’s U.S. permanent residency appointment fee: $404 (while I know that there are different numbers out there, this is what’s confirmed that he will pay for his specific appointment.)

My husband’s medical exam for the U.S. permanent residency appointment: $211

My husband’s vaccinations for the U.S. permanent residency appointment: anywhere from $20-$300, depending on what is needed. Let’s just say $100 in vaccinations for the sake of a number.

My husband’s flight from Mexico City to Ciudad Juárez: $152

So, we’re at  $867 already, perhaps higher, depending on vaccinations.

This $867 doesn’t include my travel, or lodging and food for both of us. That total doesn’t include the previous $585 paid for the waiver, the fees for our great lawyer, which are more than fair, but fees nonetheless.

It doesn’t include emergency money to have on hand for any unexpected issues that may arrive.

It doesn’t include our regular life bills that will come tumbling in the first of August, right after Picasso’s appointment.

And what’s killing me right now is that there are no guarantees on the other end of this, i.e., my husband has a 50 percent chance of getting a yes, and a 50 percent chance of getting a no.

I know that there’s a tremendous amount of privilege in getting to this point. I personally know people who’d pay any price, financial, physical, or otherwise to switch places with us.

But that’s also my point.

My husband and I will piece this money together with help from family and friends. But not everyone has that level of support.

The privilege that pounds through my veins, even at this level of the game.

And I’m crying as I write this, because that privileged Giselle, the Giselle that was born and raised in the U.S., the pre-ten-years-in-Mexico Giselle, the Giselle that didn’t understand the depth of her issues around class, that Giselle wants her husband’s permanent residency appointment to be a guaranteed yes on the other end because of the money that’s being laid out up front.

And yet, if there’s one thing that’s for sure in all of this, it’s that U.S. immigration doesn’t offer refunds.

Your break that border, you buy it – in time, tears and cash.

Pedro Guzman Perez

Hey kids.


You know, until there’s comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S., then we have to battle the injustices one at a time. Sad, but true.

Pedro’s been in detention for the past 11 months-almost one year. He’s presently in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. Emily lives with their son Logan in North Carolina. Pedro, quite simply, is losing hope.

I’d like to include a paragraph from Emily’s letter of support:

Dear Honorable Immigration Judge,

My name is Emily Nelson Guzman.  I write this letter in support of my husband, Pedro Perez Guzman (Pedro), as he seeks to be released from the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—whether that be on his own recognizance or upon payment of bond.

I met Pedro in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the year 2000.  We were young and neither of us had cars and we were both waiting for the bus.  He asked me what time it was, even though he had a watch.  Soon, after running in to each other consistently in the neighborhood, he asked me out for Valentine’s Day and that was our first date.  It was very romantic and we fell in love quickly.  Pedro had left California to turn over a new leaf and clean up his life.  He was tired of being in the “wrong crowd” and needed to put some space between himself and the bad influences in his life.  I was in college studying child psychology at the University of Minnesota.  We both wanted to improve our lives for the better and, as we began dating, we taught each other wonderful and important things.  He shared with me his spontaneity, industriousness, cleanliness, equality in a relationship, the importance of family, and passion for justice.  I shared with him academic vocabulary, vulnerability, compassion, making a home, communication of feelings, the importance of education, and unconditional love.  We have grown and shared so much over the almost ten years we have been together.  He supported me through undergraduate school, and then through my Master’s program.  At first, Pedro was skeptical of the world of psychological therapy, but he grew to appreciate it and ended up advising other friends and family to seek help.  I supported him through truck driving school.  We both wanted a better life than what we had before we met each other, and together we have made a wonderful life and family.  He changed my life and I changed his.

You can read the rest of her letter here.

Pedro’s story is complicated. My husband has a complicated story. Many deportees or immigrants under the threat of deportation have complicated stories. There are deep reasons for that, and many of them are connected to issues around race and class.

I ask that you take the time today to work through the details and send a letter to Secretary Jane Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security.

And hold your loved ones closer tonight, if you can.

Canada’s Immigration Quagmire

Hey peeps.

It’s good that I’m not doing video today, because I’m all kinds of sadness and rage today.

There’s a tremendous amount of craziness going on in the U.S. and Mexico. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, then, you’re just not paying attention.

But I want to talk about something that won’t hit the news today: Canada.

This was brought on by events that happened to a dear friend.

I’m really so tired of Canada being perceived as this gentle and benevolent relative, the sweetly nutty “good cop” to the U.S.’s “bad cop.”

In a previous post, I talked about how R wasn’t allowed into Canada in 2007, when he was allowed to enter without any problems the previous year, 2006.

Here’s the excerpt from the Canada section of my show. You should take a seat, because it is definitely not short and sweet.

The summer of 2006, R went to Canada, to Toronto.  He answered an ad on craigslist for a man I’ll call Steven who was looking for a Mexican to come and do carpentry and construction work on his house.  Steven got R a direct flight to Toronto, because R can’t even change planes in the US.  He entered Canada without a problem, using a letter of invitation from Steven.  He worked off the books for a few months, earned some good money, had a great time, came home happy.

Steven really liked R’s work, and he invited him to come back again the next summer, the summer of 2007.  Everything was the same, the direct flight from Mexico, the letter of invitation.

R got off the plane and arrived to the immigration area at the Pearson International Airport, in Toronto.   A Canadian immigration official asked R if he’d ever been arrested.  R was nervous.  He said no.  He figured that he’d never been arrested in Mexico, where he was coming from, or Canada, where he was going to.  And his pride got a little bit in the way as well.

The immigration official told him to take a seat.

In 2006, R was not asked by Canadian immigration officials if he’d ever been arrested.  R had time to think when he was sitting in that chair, and when the official who stopped him walked by, R said, “You know, I thought about your question and I have been arrested, but in 1993, in the United States.”  “I know,” the official said, “It came up on my screen.”

Now R started to get nervous.  There was a group of Mexican men, detained from the two flights that came in from Mexico City.

The immigration official escorted R down to baggage claim.

On the way down R did a last-ditch attempt and said to the official, “You know, I entered Canada last year without any problems and I had a great time in your country.”  “Yeah,” the official said, “Whoever let you in last year was not doing their job.”

R picked up his luggage, and the customs agent asked him if he’d ever been arrested and now R knew the right answer: Yes, in 1993 in the United States.

The customs agent ran a swab all over R’s suitcase.  He analyzed the results.  Who else has been in possession of this luggage?  he asked R.

A week before, I came to the States, Colorado, and my mother’s house in New York.  Then the suitcase came back with me to Mexico, and I put it up on the shelf in our closet, where it always went.

The customs agent said, “Your suitcase is testing positive for traces of cocaine.”

Now, I don’t do cocaine.  R doesn’t do cocaine. My mother doesn’t do cocaine.  Set-up? I don’t rule out that possibility.

R was escorted back upstairs to the immigration area.  All of the men were taken into a small room, one by one.  When R entered that room, he was told to sign the documents that were on the table.  R refused.  The Canadian immigration officials were surprised.  He was the only one from the group of detained men who said no. They thought that he didn’t understand English.

An interpreter told him in Spanish that he had to sign the documents.  R answered in English that he would not sign them.  He was escorted out of the room.

All of the men, except for R, signed the documents. All of the men, except for R were handcuffed and paraded out through the International Arrivals exit, where they were taken to a Canadian jail for the night.  R was not given an explanation as to why he didn’t go with the group. R was only told to stay seated on his plastic chair.

Apart from the fact that R didn’t sign any documents that day, he and I both think he was treated differently because of Steven, the guy R was going to work for.  On his letter of invitation, it stated that Steven worked for one of the biggest banks in Canada.  Steven is also a well-dressed white male, with blonde hair and blue eyes.

And he kept checking up on R.  He either spoke to the Canadian immigration officials in person, or called them on his Blackberry.  No one else in the group of detained men had someone checking after them.

So we feel that Canadian immigration officials did not want to push R to sign any documents that day, because then he would be paraded handcuffed, through the International Arrivals exit, where blonde-haired, blue-eyed well-dressed banker Steven could see him.

R was forced to stay seated on that plastic chair all night.  He wasn’t given any food or water.  When the air conditioning came on full blast at 3:30 in the morning, he wasn’t given any type of covering.  He got a rash around his waist for sitting for so many hours.

I received a call from Steven around midnight in Mexico.  He told me that R was not allowed to enter Canada, he didn’t know why.  I truly started to panic.  I knew how things could turn on a dime, and half an hour later your husband is handcuffed, in a prison uniform, behind bullet proof glass.

At first light, I called my Canadian friends, and we all started calling around.  If you ever need to call the Detention Center at Pearson International Airport, be prepared to be sent directly to voice mail, no matter what time you call, no matter how many times you call.

When my Canadian friends tried other numbers, they were told they couldn’t be given any information, because they weren’t family.  When I tried those same numbers I was told that I couldn’t be given any information because I couldn’t prove that I was R’s wife.

8am, 9am, 10am, the day after R left Mexico and I don’t know where my husband is.  I finally called the Mexican consulate in Toronto, and a representative called me back quickly and told me that R was indeed on a flight back to Mexico City that would arrive at 12:30 in the afternoon.

The Mexican men who were sent to prison overnight were brought back to the airport in the morning.  Many of them had never been in prison before; they were scared out of their minds and hadn’t slept. They were surprised to see R, still sitting there on a plastic chair.

R had to sign one document, if he was to leave Canada that day-a voluntary removal form.

If R didn’t sign that document, that voluntary removal form, then he’d have the “choice” to contest the fact that he wasn’t allowed to enter Canada.  He’d go to jail for approximately two weeks and then go before a Canadian immigration judge.  Depending on how the judge ruled, he’d either go back to Canadian jail, or be deported from Canada.  Obviously, there wasn’t really a choice.  He signed the form.

R was escorted to the gate to board the plane by the same Canadian immigration official who had detained him the day before.  And he appeared to have a change of heart.  “Listen,” he said, “get the police report of your arrest from 1993, and depending on the immigration officer, you could enter Canada as early as tomorrow afternoon.”

R just stared at him. Burned holes with his eyes.  “What would make  you think I’d ever want to come back to Canada again?”

R came back home broken, angry and ashamed.  He said that he needed to get out for a while, to clear his head.  He went to work in Ciudad Juárez, for three weeks in construction, under that burning sun and whip-like sandstorms.  I finally begged him to come home, and he came back quietly, making sure not to slam our front door when he arrived.

In the summer of 2007, R didn’t try to enter the United States.  At this level of the game, that wouldn’t have made any sense.  He tried to enter Canada, a country that had welcomed him with open arms just the year before.  The issue of him working off the books never came up.  It was all about his arrest from 1993 in the US.

Canada supposedly has its own set of policies and procedures for handling detained immigrants.  When we were looking for R, my friends assured me that Canada was not the United States.  Sure, immigrants were detained, but they were taken to an average hotel, they had a bed, a shower, and a meal.

Granted, there was a guard outside the door, but they were treated humanely.  Canada, was not the US.  Many Canadians often smugly pride themselves for not being the US’s lackey on the world’s playground.

What does this mean for the future?  If we want to visit England one day, will R not be allowed in because England is in a political relationship with the US, and something will come up on the airport computer screen?  Will there be other countries that R won’t be able to enter?

Will I, one day, not be allowed to enter the US or Canada or any other country because I’m his legal wife? Is my husband on some terrorist list, as a gun-toting Mexican who does cocaine?  Am I on some terrorist list, as the legal wife of a gun-toting Mexican who does cocaine?

Kids, that’s where I’m at today. In my opinion, Canada is not safe space for couples with undocumented experiences in the U.S.

Another country’s door closed for R and I. And in some ways, the Canada episode cut more deeply than R’s deportation from the U.S.

Incredible, but true.

“Anchor Babies”

Hey kids.

My Mexican mom had papers when she gave birth to me in the U.S. And my Dad was born and raised in New York.

Yet, in 1970, I was one U.S. Immigration stamp away from falling into today’s shameful and humiliating 14th amendment debate.

And if R and I had kids when we were in the States, then the kid or kids would be right in the thick of it right now. I know many people who are in this situation as we speak, i.e., one or two undocumented parents in the U.S.

And what if R and I have kids in the future? What if we adopt? What if R never enters the U.S. again? What does that mean in today’s political sphere?

You know, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I felt very much alone when R was deported in April of 2001.

But you know what? I think that at this point I’d take the loneliness any day over the what’s happening in the U.S. now.

Today in 2010 I have a community. Today in 2010 I connect with more and more people that understand what I’ve lived through/am living through/will continue to live through.

And yet today in 2010, I feel a fear and a rage that I never could have imagined in 2001.

There’s a question that I ask at the end of my show, The Deportee’s Wife about R possibly not being allowed to enter other countries in the future, due to their political relationship in the U.S. (As was the case with him and Canada in 2007.)

And I ask if one day I may not be allowed to enter the U.S., Canada or any other country because I’m R’s legal wife.

Will those words come true during my lifetime? Jesus.

Today in 2010, unspeakable and unimaginable issues are slaughtered and slapped onto the U.S. political table, the blood still warm.

It almost makes me long for April of 2001. Almost.

SB1070 and Mexico

Hey peeps.

Its been weird watching the SB1070 news here in Mexico. One Mexican politician after another has come forward all swagger and bravado about the parts that were killed in the bill.

So these men in ties rumble into the microphones. But on the whole, there’s no accountability for Mexico’s economy. An economy that’s as thin and fragile as the last potato chip in the bottom of the bag.

There’s no talk of the intersectionality of the issues. There’s no talk about the correlation between the numbers of undocumented Mexican immigrants and the Mexican off-key melody that forces them to dance across danger to the U.S.

And of course, there’s no talk about the racial profiling that exists here in Mexico. That someone with darker skin like my husband gets followed by security in a department store like Sanborn’s.

So weird is the word when I watch the dirge-like progression of the events around SB1070 from here in the Global South.

Because the Mexican government’s official reaction to SB1070 feels and looks like a cheap suit.

Señores, your seams are showing.

Whistling Dixie in July

Hello kids.

The expression “too little too late” is banging around my head this morning.

It comes up when I think about President Obama’s speech last week on immigration combined with the US Justice Department suing Arizona over SB1070.

There’s this big and obvious push to make it look like Obama and the US government finally woke up.

But I truly believe that it is all about a focused and concentrated political strategy for the upcoming November elections.

Once again, undocumented immigrants and their families aren’t at the center of this issue.

As I’ve stated previously, Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) passing this year is about as likely as one of my cats standing on two legs and belting out a Lady Gaga song.

So why all of the sudden intensity?

Kids, it feels to me like an ex trying to win us back.

You know how it is. Once you’ve made the decision to walk away, the other person wakes up.

But it’s too little too late.

President Obama, you know that ring of hope that you placed on my finger on Election Night in 2008?

I just pawned it for some much-needed cash.