Small Victories | The Road Ahead for My Family and Comprehensive Immigration Reform

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I can only guess why I commemorate happy events with gardening.

But there I was, pruning my tomatoes Tuesday morning even though there were other urgent tasks on my to-do list.

The event worth celebrating was that the Senate bill 744 (the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act") made it through the Judiciary Committee with several key components that benefit families like mine—such as waiver reform—intact.

I'm a biologist and an environmentalist. So why would my family be concerned about immigration laws? The answer comes as a surprise to some who don't know me well—it certainly was the shock of a lifetime when I first found out over 10 years ago: although my husband and I were legally married in California, it was impossible to adjust his status in the U.S. because he had been undocumented prior to our relationship. The law that made it impossible for my marriage with my husband to have any immediate effect on his legal status in the U.S. was the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA).

Hence my involvement with immigration politics, albeit sporadic, over the last 12 years. I was first active in 2006 to oppose the draconian Sensebrenner HR 4437 bill, which would have made it illegal for me to simply live with my husband.

In 2006, I took a several-year hiatus from activism when I left the country to live in Mexico where we could both have legal status, and got the 10-year clock ticking until my husband could apply for a waiver of his permanently inadmissible status in the U.S. (he has no criminal record, but has a prior deportation for "entry without inspection").

I basically had to leave everything and start over in semi-rural Mexico at age 28. Without getting into the laundry list of "hardships" (which is what immigration law itself calls difficulties that American spouses of undocumented immigrants face upon relocation or separation) life was extremely difficult from a cultural, health, professional, and economic perspective for the first few years. Things are still tough, but I've adapted a lot and we have our own home and a daughter who was born here. I began with a visa and got my dual citizenship in 2011. Our daughter's also a dual citizen, by birth. My husband is the only one left in our family without legal status in both the U.S. and Mexico.

Send Amor and Exile to Congress! from Amor and Exile on Vimeo.

Also in 2011, when my daughter was 4 months old, I got involved again but this time in a different way: by writing my memoir. Over the last 2 years, I've been coauthoring the book Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America's Borders with my friend and colleague, journalist Nathaniel Hoffman. Drafting my part of the narrative was a labor of love—at many points intimidating and technically difficult, but overall it was therapeutic and empowering to start to share my story publicly and in a way that doesn't seek pity, but rather, that seeks to enlighten and educate the public about an issue that is often quite misunderstood.

Now, in 2013, we are finally done and self-publishing our book.

It couldn't be at a better moment, as SB 744 is moving forward and the House is attempting, despite internal difficulties, to prepare its own version. I'm particularly relieved about the progress with SB 744 because, despite having its flaws, the bill did retain provisions in the bill that would specifically benefit families like mine—separated or in exile abroad—that would allow undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents (LPRs) to apply immediately for a hardship waiver.

Even though the law includes less welcome provisions such as further militarization of the border/criminalization of itinerant migrants, and there's no guarantee we'll all obtain a waiver, the members of two immigrant advocacy groups I became involved with this year, Action for Family Unity and American Families United (AFU), feel that SB 744 is currently the best chance to get families like ours to reunited in the U.S. AFU lobbied hard to protect Section 2313, regarding waiver reform, from attack by anti-immigration Senators.

I'm elated that I will have the opportunity to share my stories that's emblematic of thousands of other American families, by way of Amor and Exile, at such a crucial moment. To make sure our message is heard in Washington and that our self-publication gets off to a great start, my coauthor and I decided to launch our book with a campaign to "Send Amor and Exile to Washington," on Indiegogo.


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