Raised in America, now back in Mexico: ‘The country I loved kicked me out

Etziba Alvarez, whose family is split between the US and Mexico, moved from Florida back to Mexico. Her two youngest brothers are US citizens.

Young Mexicans speak out about what they lost by leaving the US before Daca, what they gained, and what faces those who may now lose their protection

Three years after she went back to Mexico, a country she barely knew, Maggie Loredo learned that Barack Obama had created temporary deportation relief for undocumented migrants brought to the US as children.

“I immediately wanted to go to the border with all of my things and go back to the US,” she said.

But because she had left, she did not qualify for relief from the threat of deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca), the temporary program that the Trump administration now says it will end.

On Tuesday, attorney general Jeff Sessions said the program was introduced unlawfully and the US could not admit everyone who wanted to enter. The US, Sessions said, was enforcing law that “saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering”.

The government was acting with compassion, he said.

He did not say anything about those covered by Daca – so-called “Dreamers” – and the young lives that will now be put on hold or forced on to new and frightening paths.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, 1.3 million people in the US qualify or would qualify when old enough for Daca relief. Federal and state lawmakers and immigration activists have promised to fight Trump’s decision. Nonetheless, since the presidential election most Dreamers, who are mostly Mexican, have been forced to consider a future without it.

Loredo, now 27, was one of several people who spoke to the Guardian in Mexico about what they lost by leaving the US before Daca, what they gained and what might now face those who will lose protection.

They spoke of tough challenges, including the need to navigate new healthcare and educational systems. They spoke of local hostility – typically their Spanish is mocked while some resent their fluent English. They also discussed cultural and emotional challenges, including indefinite separation from family and friends.

One spoke of singing the pledge of allegiance at her US school “with such joy”, only to realise that “those words don’t apply to me, this country that I loved and felt so proud to be from then kicked me out”.

‘How can you teach English when you don’t speak Spanish?’

When she was 16, a would-be employer told Loredo she did not have legitimate proof of citizenship. This meant she would not qualify for federal financial aid for university or be able to get a work permit. Her options were to live in the shadows of the only country she had known since she was two, or return to Mexico.

One month after graduating high school in Georgia, she traveled south in a van with six men and sacks of mail, ending up in her grandparents’ hometown, San Luis Potosí. Instead of going to university, she taught English to children. Their parents would ask: “How can you teach English when you don’t speak Spanish?”

She also worked as a translator for the US government – relaying 911 calls, asylum interviews and questions about health insurance. Then she met fellow returnees at a project that has grown to become the group Otros Dreams en Acción, Other Dreams in Action, where she now works full-time.

Loredo said that when Dreamers first arrive in Mexico from the US, they can find it especially difficult to navigate simple bureaucratic hurdles. That is why her group campaigns for legislation to make the return process easier, such as the Mexican national education body’s decision this year to recognize the GED, a US exam that is equivalent to a high school diploma. Previously, people with a GED had to start at the beginning of the Mexican equivalent to high school.

“My plan now is to stay in Mexico,” Loredo said, “even though sometimes I want to live in the US. Right now, it’s really hard to live there – the stress, the environment against Latinos, and, well, everyone who is not white.”

Her brother and sister-in-law are Daca beneficiaries who live in the US. “They’ve never questioned before what it means to be post-deportation and they are questioning it now,” she said.

‘I felt a failure of both the countries’

Etziba Alvarez’s family is also split between the US and Mexico, after some moved from Florida in 2009. Her two youngest brothers are US citizens. One joined the army.

However, like Loredo’s parents, Alvarez’s mother and father are subject to US law that bars people who have lived in the US illegally from re-entry. People who live in the US illegally for more than 180 days but less than one year cannot re-enter for three years. Those who stay for more than one year are barred for 10. The “unlawful presence” count begins after people turn 18.

For many undocumented migrants, deciding to return means giving up seeing family and friends. If they stay in the US, they cannot see those who have gone to Mexico without their own visit becoming permanent.

Like Loredo, Alvarez is not seeking permanent residency in the US. But she would like have her time there recognized by the US government.

“We’re bilingual, bicultural but not binational,” she said.

Returnees can apply for US tourist visas, but the process is subject to the whims of the embassy and can require documents that are only available in the US. The process of applying, and getting rejected, takes a heavy emotional and financial toll.

“Would I go and live in the United States in this moment?,” Alvarez said. “No. Would I like to be able to visit my brothers and family in the US? Yes. Do I think it is a human right? Yes. Do I want my mother to be able to see her sons? Yes.”

Her family moved to Mexico because the recession was crippling her father’s landscape business and because it did not seem that Obama would achieve immigration reform.

Alvarez had one year left of school before university. As a teenager, she joined the Health Occupations Students of America, planning to become a neonatal nurse. She wanted to attend a good US university.

In her new country, where at 23 she now lives in the capital, Mexico City, she learned that her Spanish “was actually Spanglish” and was bullied by students who mocked her accent and called her “la gringa” – a sometimes derogatory term for Americans.

The exam she needed to pass to continue her studies and become a neonatal nurse included Mexican history, which she barely knew, and was conducted in academic Spanish.

That proved to be too steep a learning curve so she worked as a cashier, improved her Spanish and applied to business school. She also started questioning the system that had driven her parents to the US in the first place.

“I felt a failure of both the countries,” Alvarez, said. “Every day at school [in the US] I’d sing the pledge of allegiance with such joy and then I realized those words don’t apply to me, this country that I loved and felt so proud to be from then kicked me out”.

At school, Alvarez studied anthropology and interviewed other returnees. She now works with Otros Dreams en Acción to help returnees find jobs less likely to displace Mexicans.

“I’ve learned that home isn’t a stable place, but I would love to be able to go back to the place I called home and where I got my education,” she said. “Just to be able to walk around and see the swing at the playground I used to play at.”

‘My last resort was to move to Mexico’

Vanessa Soto, 26, now lives in Guadalajara. She never imagined leaving California until, at 18, she learned she was undocumented. She had just been accepted to San Francisco State University, where she planned to study pre-med, but she could not afford to attend without federal financial aid.

It was 2009 and her family, like Alvarez’s, had lost hope that Obama would enact immigration reform and were suffering from the economic recession. “My last resort was to move to Mexico,” Soto said.

Her dream of becoming a doctor was put on hold while she helped her family rebuild by working a full-time job. After a few years she was able to enrol in medical school, where she is today. She wants to train in a speciality in the US before applying to work with Doctors Without Borders.

“Over here, by the age of 18, you are already training, you are already going to hospitals, you are in the field because here they know the demand for doctors and that’s what I like,” she said.

Soto said Mexico turned out to be much nicer than she had expected. She was four when her family left for California. She grew-up surrounded by stereotypical views of her birth country, she said.

“I thought: ‘It’s bad, it’s dirty, it’s filled with crime, it’s a third-world country.’ And then you actually come here and that’s dead wrong. You’re in the city, and you see these beautiful buildings. The same technology they have in the States, they have here.”

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Source By theguardian.com

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