Living Under Irregular Status to Living Under the International Sun

#ViajerxsProMigrantes #TravelersProMigrants

This is the story of someone who arrived as a teenager from El Salvador to the U.S., spent his adolescence as an undocumented person, now turned international traveler. As I sit writing this piece just now, my friend Marío Delfín* is currently visiting his family back home in El Salvador for the first time since he had to leave his motherland for good when he was a young teenager. This is Mario’s story, as he agreed to share so we can bridge the communication gap between international travel communities and immigrant communities bounded by national borders. 

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Marío is from a rural area of El Salvador growing up under extreme poverty and conditions that left him eating dirt when there was no food. At just months old, he was left behind to be cared for by his father and grandmother when his mother left for the U.S.. As a young boy, he would work in agriculture in the morning, then be off to school for the afternoon.  When police and gang violence began to spread into the area where he was living, his family thought it best to send him to the U.S.. At eleven years old in the year 2005, he attempted to cross the border for the first time accompanied only by his older sister. They crossed through to the U.S., but were detained and after being held in a detention center for four months, were deported back to El Salvador. 

The poverty and violence back home was so bad, that four years later, at the age of fifteen, he crossed the border again – but this time with father, sister, and uncle. He and his father made it across, but his sister and uncle were detained and deported. He was reunited with his mother for the first time – someone he didn’t know well and could hardly recognize. Living in San Francisco, while attending high school he learned English and graduated with great standing. Despite the roadblocks he faced for being a Central American teenager with an irregular migratory status launched into a new culture and society, he earned a spot at the University of California, and the rest is history. 

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Travel in the U.S. as an Undocumented University Student 

During his undergrad, Marío participated in a U.S. Domestic Exchange program where he interned in Washington D.C. for a non-profit organization. This was before the Trump presidency and the end of Advanced Parole, which allowed DACAmented students to realize international travel for studies, research, and emergency purposes. He flew to Washington D.C. and there he lived for about three months under the quarter-long internship program. Although Marío felt kind of out of place surrounded by folks in fancy business attire, he claims not to have felt any discrimination for his racial, ethnic, or national background and nobody seemed to suspect him of having an irregular migratory status. As a double major in Political Science and Latinx and Latin American Studies, he got hands on experience working in his sector of interest and thoroughly enjoyed his time there

Domestic Exchange programs or travel programs and scholarships within the U.S. could be a great opportunity for folks who find themselves with an irregular migratory status, though you should always seek legal council and support before organizing these plans in order to mitigate risks. 

International Travel as an Immigrant with U.S. Residency 

After graduating from university, Marío finally received his residency and didn’t waste any time to travel internationally. Within six months after receiving his U.S. residency, he traveled to México, then to Bali! His experiences traveling to these places were so unique because of his background as a formally undocumented person living in the U.S..

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Marío traveled to Cancún, México with his partner at the time who is a non-white woman born and raised in the U.S.. They stayed at a resort type of hotel next to the beach, participated in some tours, and enjoyed the beautiful ocean scenery. While they enjoyed their time there, they experienced some clashes due to his and his partner’s differing perspectives about traveling and tourism. For Marío, having the privilege to travel internationally was new to him and he was very thankful for the opportunity. He felt that his partner did not recognize her own privileges of coming to México as a tourist from the U.S. with the spending power of the dollar currency. Furthermore, she did not understand his feelings about being in a Latin American country near his own, where Central American migrants are discriminated against. Moreover, due to his personal experiences with crossing through this country as a child immigrating to the U.S. himself, the thought of being out at night and the sight of police frightened him. It was an interesting experience for him to visit México as a person with the privileges of coming from the U.S., but living the disadvantaged realities of being a Central American immigrant in this country.  

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The next time he took a trip, he decided to take it alone. Not knowing where to go, he used a search engine to choose a destination. Lucky for him, Bali was chosen. He loved Bali and felt a sense of liberty there that he didn’t feel while in the U.S. or in México. Nobody could guess where he was from, and when he tried to explain to them, they didn’t know where El Salvador was. This whole situation got even more confusing for folks when he would try to explain that he is from El Salvador, but lives in the U.S.. Considering this, he settled with claiming that he was simply U.S American, from the U.S., to which people seemed to accept. He didn’t feel offended that people couldn’t identify his place of origin on a map, and for the most part, was happy that people weren’t so interested in finding out where he comes from, but rather who his is and what he does today. While in Bali for six days, Marío lived his best life despite the intense jet lag he felt after the sixteen-hour plane ride. He took some adventurous tours in the jungle, made friends with his tour guide, and spent days relaxing. As a young person just recently graduated from university, working two jobs while pursuing his passion as a calisthenics practitioner and avid gym goer, this was a dream vacation that was much needed for him. 

Words from Marío Delfín

Marío reflects on the time he spent internationally and is so grateful to finally have the opportunity to leave the U.S. and have his rights respected. While writing this piece (in 2019), he was visiting El Salvador for the first time since he left for good, and he was reunited with his younger sister who was celebrating her grand quinceañera – she invited him to be her chambelán.  Before going, he was very anxious and fearful about what might occur while he was there due to the nature of violence in the area where he was visiting, but he was pleasantly surprised with how great his trip was. He danced the night away accompanying his little sister and enjoyed wholesome time in the place where he grew up. So full of love from his family, he hopes to return and see them again soon (update: between the time I began writing this article and got around to finishing it, he did return and he had such a great time!).

Now, Marío has some words of advice for fellow international travelers: please check your international traveler and U.S. passport privileges at the door. As someone who just recently was able to receive his U.S. residency, he has experienced the reality of living in the shadows of fear and within the bounds of the U.S.. For folks who find themselves in situations of irregular migratory status currently, he stands in solidarity with them all and hopes for a future where nationalities and borders don’t hold people back from pursuing their dreams or being with their loved ones. 

 

Let’s Bridge This Gap :

#ViajerxsProMigrantes #TravelersProMigrants

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I met Marío briefly as an undergraduate at our university. We saw each other around campus, at protests, and at Latinx community events. We maintained an online friendship while I was living and studying abroad in México and Chile for about a year and half. I never told him where I was and never wanted to share my international travels so publicly with people in my Latinx community because I felt shame in my privileges. I know that there are so many people who don’t have the privileges to travel internationally, and don’t even feel safe doing so within the U.S.. I knew about his prior irregular migratory status because he had mentioned it to me once, and because of this, I shied away from sharing with him where I really was. I have always found this difficult, wanting to be enthusiastic about getting more Latinxs and all people of diverse ethnic backgrounds engaged in international education and in traveling, but also not wanting to rub it in their face or step on dreams that some can’t realize under an irregular migratory status. This story and interview was shared to build more conversation about these topics between communities of international travelers and those of folks with irregular migratory status. The grand question now is, what can we do to make international movement around the world a right for all? We, as international travelers with the privileges that come with the U.S. passport, should be working to make this privilege of free movement a right for all.

We have to be #ViajerxsProMigrantes #TravelersProMigrants!

A Call to Action: Let’s Get People Free and Advocate for Free Movement Across Imaginary Borders for All

Currently, there are thousands of people being held in immigrant detention centers (concentration camps) under extremely harsh conditions. Many of the people being held are Central American migrants, from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which make up the Northern Triangle. These people are escaping the everyday violence they encounter due to the poverty in their countries that faced civil wars and civil unrest due to U.S. imperialism and political involvement.  

I would like to encourage each reader of this article to take action. The quickest way to get people out of detention would be to pay for their bail bond while they await trial. If you would like to help, I encourage you to donate to one of the immigration bail fund organizations throughout the country. Bail is set from as little as $1,500 to as much as about $80,000, which is extremely high. 

If you cannot make so large of a donation, I encourage each of you readers to create a fundraiser of your own with the goal of a minimum of $1,500 to be sent to one of the immigration bail fund organizations that corresponds to the state that you live in. The more of us that create these fundraisers, the more funds can be raised and they can be dispersed throughout all the different states that people are currently detained in. The more money we raise, the quicker we can get people free!

Here’s how you can get started: 

  1.  Donate $15 to an existing fundraiser where proceeds go to an immigration bail bond organization. 
  2. Then, create your own fundraiser, where all proceeds will go to an immigration bail bond organization that will aid people detained in your state. There are a number of ways to go about fundraising. You can crowdfund or come up with creative ways to raise funds. 
  3. Share and ask people to join you firstly donating to your fundraiser,  then by creating their own fundraiser where all proceeds will go to an immigration bail bond organization that will aid people detained in their state.
  4. If you would like, share your campaign under the hashtag:

 #ViajerxsProMigrantes  #TravelersProMigrants 

This way we can take a look at the movement across the country and continue this conversation about international traveler communities taking action to aid immigrant communities. 

I’ll go first : as someone from California, I hereby declare that have created this fundraiser, Help Post Bail for Detained Immigrants – Bay Area with a minimum goal of $1,500, where all proceeds will go to The Immigrant Family Defense Fund

If you are participating in this action of raising funds to help post bail for detained immigrants being held in detention centers/concentration camps, I urge you to be an honest participant and not hoard any of these funds for yourself. Please donate ALL proceeds to an immigration bail bond organization. 

Below you will find some resources about the information discussed here along with  the different immigrant bail bond organizations for the different states in the U.S., as found in the article Advocates say the fastest way to help immigrants separated from their children: Post their bail

Thank you for reading, considering what a privilege it is to be an international traveler with a U.S. passport, and taking action to help create equal rights and opportunity for freedom of movement for all. 

*I would like to the note that the photo used in the cover is not my own and that the name Marío Delfín is fictitious, as the interviewee who would like to remain anonymous*

Resources 

DIRECTORY OF IMMIGRATION BOND FUNDS:

National organizations across the U.S.

Freedom for Immigrants National Bond Fund

Haitian Immigrant Bond Assistance Project

LGBTQ Freedom Fund

RAICES Bond Fund

Arizona

Pima Monthly Meeting Immigration Bond Fund

California

Bay Area Immigration Bond Fund

Immigrant Families Defense Fund

Orange County Justice Fund

San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium — Borderlands Get Free Fund

Colorado

Immigrant Freedom Fund of Colorado

Connecticut

Immigrant Bail Fund

Iowa

Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project

Massachusetts

Beyond Bail & Legal Defense Fund

Michigan

Kent County Immigration Bond for Our Neighbor’s Defense Fund

Minnesota

Minnesota Freedom Fund

New Hampshire

NH Conference UCC Immigrant and Refugee Support Group

New York

LIFE Bond Fund (New Sanctuary Coalition)

New York Immigrant Freedom Fund

Ohio (includes Northern Kentucky)

3R Fund for Immigrants

Texas

Fronterizo Fianza Fund

Hutto Community Deportation Defense & Bond Fund

RAICES Texas Bond Fund

Vermont

Vermont Freedom Bail Fund

Virginia

Cville Immigrant Bond Fund

Washington

Fair Fight Immigrant Bond Fund

DIRECTORY OF CRIMINAL SYSTEM BAIL FUNDS:

National organizations funding bail across the U.S.

National Bail Out

The American Bar Association

Queer Detainee Empowerment Project

Freedom for Immigrants

Local organizations funding bail for immigrants

Arizona

Tucson Second Chance Bail Fund

Colorado

Colorado Freedom Fund

California

Bay Area Immigration Bond Fund

Immigrant Families Defense Fund

The Orange County Justice Fund

Connecticut

Connecticut Bail Fund

Immigrant Bail Fund

Florida

LGBTQ Freedom Fund

Hawaii

Hawaii Community Bail Fund

Illinois

Champaign County Bailout Coalition

Chicago Community Bond Fund

Iowa

Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project

Kentucky

Louisville Community Bail Fund

Louisiana

New Orleans Safety & Freedom Fund

YWCA Greater Baton Rouge Community Bail Fund

Massachusetts

Massachusetts Bail Fund

Minnesota

Minnesota Freedom Fund

Nebraska

Omaha Freedom Fund

Nevada

Vegas Freedom Fund

New York City

Bronx Freedom Fund

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

Lorena Borjas Community Fund

WSLS Bail Fund

New York State

Columbia County Bail Fund

EOC of Suffolk Inc. Charitable Bail Fund

OAR of Tompkins County Bail Fund

Syracuse Jail Ministry

North Carolina

Southern Coalition for Social Justice Bail Fund

Alamance County Community Bail Fund

North Carolina Community Bail Fund of Durham

Oregon

Portland Freedom Fund

Pennsylvania

Dauphin County Bail Fund

Philadelphia Community Bail Fund

Philadelphia Bail Fund

Tennessee

Hamilton County Community Bail Fund

Memphis Community Bail Fund

Nashville Community Bail Fund

Texas

Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee Fianza Fund

Community Bail Fund of North Texas

Virginia

Richmond Community Bail Fund

Roanoke Community Bail Fund

Charlottesville Community Resilience Fund

Washington

Northwest Community Bail Fund

Wisconsin

Free the 350 Bail Fund

 

Traveling While Undocumented on Election Night 2016

“Does anyone else see what’s going on?!” I wanted to scream in Palenque, Mexico’s bus station. It was election night, and Trump was winning.

A sea of red spilled over the U.S. map on my iPad while Miguel and I waited for our overnight bus to Mérida. We found a shiny, round, metal table where we could rest our bodies and backpacks under the fluorescent lighting. Miguel and I had three things in common: we loved drawing, we were born in Mexico, and we came here to explore Mexico after growing up in the USA. I had traveled up from Nicaragua after serving there with the Peace Corps for two years, and he’d flown down from Chicago. We met by chance in Oaxaca and we were traveling up the Yucatán Peninsula together.

“Stop looking at that thing,” he said, side eyeing my iPad. I couldn’t. He scribbled Mayan artwork  into his black sketchbook, but I wondered if he was screaming inside, too. “I’m not surprised he’s winning,” he said. “Americans are racist.”

My mom thought Obama wouldn’t win in 2008 because of this racism, but he was elected. Twice. I desperately hoped that this sort of irony would unfold once more. I slumped in my seat and drank my cactus, pineapple, and celery flavored Activia drinkable yogurt. White, European-looking backpackers played cards next to us, as if it were just another day.

I looked more like them than I looked like Miguel. My family is made up of Mexican-born European and American immigrants. When I was little, I asked my dad why we couldn’t go back to Mexico to visit my dying grandfather. “If we go, we might not be able to come back. You were born in Mexico, but don’t tell people that. Tell them you were born in L.A.,” my dad and his blue eyes told me. He’d try to hide our identity in public, but as a homeschooled kid, he’d often teach me in Spanish. I had no idea then how much my white skin, last name and accent would shelter me until much later.

Miguel kept drawing, his eyes fixated on the thick, white paper that needed the stories from his imagination. His drawings reminded me to look further within my creative self and to be present. He sipped his NesCafé as he did every night to go to sleep, and I took a dramamine pill I’d saved from my Peace Corps service. It would make me less motion sick, but I don’t really get motion sick. I just wanted to numb everything and deny the fascist takeover at “home.”

As our bus pulled in, I read a friend’s Facebook status: “At least California did it’s fucking job.” I hoped other States would do their fucking jobs too, but all I could do was recline my seat and wait for my panic to subside.

At 6 a.m., my anxiety and the city of Mérida greeted me as we rolled in on the carretera. “I think Trump won,” said Miguel, “I haven’t checked but I have friends telling me that whatever happens, they’ve got my back.”

You see, Miguel and I were both undocumented immigrants. The only difference between our status was that at age 21, after living in the U.S. for eighteen years, I became a citizen. Miguel, though, moved to Chicago at age twelve, and over a decade later, despite lacking U.S. citizenship, he returned to Mexico with an Advanced Parole travel document under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Miguel planned to return to the states the day before Trump would be sworn into office as the 45th president. I felt petrified. Not for myself, but for Miguel and all of my friends of color whose fear I will never feel at the thought of what Trump might do. I still don’t think he’ll build a wall, but what would he do? Hopefully he’d be too distracted by learning about checks and balances and adjusting to life in a house that’s not named after him to worry about Miguel.

We pulled into the bus station, stretched our legs, and sat down to stare at our phones in disbelief. The U.S. had just elected a tweeting fascist who brags about sexually assaulting women and who called Mexicans “rapists.” It was as if Moses Lake, my conservative hometown in Washington State, invaded America to spite those of us existing outside of the white heteropatriarchy for eight years under a black president. Those confederate flags waving from my high school classmates’ trucks were a testament to many white people’s fear of becoming outnumbered in a land that was never theirs to begin with.

Physically and emotionally exhausted, we checked into our hostel in Mérida. The staff asked us if we were friends because they offered for us to stay in a private room as opposed to the dorm beds we’d booked. As a lesbian who is used to traveling alone, this was a new situation for me. We jokingly called each other “babe” because everyone assumed we were together. If they only knew that I hadn’t dated a boy in over ten years.

Miguel and I stumbled into our room, exhausted, blasting the air conditioning to combat the intense humidity that made our clothes cling to our sweaty skin. Out the window, people crossed the Cathedral’s plaza and went about their days as usual. I just stared out at them, imagining them wondering “Does anyone else see what’s going on?!” There they were, calm on the outside, but I wondered if they screamed on the inside. Not just here, but in all the streets in every city.

Near the end of our journey together, Miguel and I spent a few nights in Tulum, Cancun’s sleepy neighbor. Nighttime crept up on us, and Miguel wanted to go for a bike ride. “Isn’t that dangerous? What if we hit something we don’t see?” I asked. “Don’t worry about it. Nothing’s going to happen.”

So, we rode into the beachside road past the Mayan pyramids which were dozing off in The Caribbean’s salty humidity. It was surreal to feel the cool air brushing against my once sweaty skin as we floated by.

The hum of our pedals broke the stillness, and we sang along to Manu Chao’s Clandestino:

Soy una raya en el mar,

Fantasma en la ciudad,

Mi vida va prohibida,

Dice la autoridad.

I couldn’t help but feel afraid for Miguel’s future as we sang along. After he left Tulum, I went swimming under the stars and the orange supermoon.

The moon’s light reflected on the white sand, but not onto the shaded road back to my hostel. I got on my bike anyway, because there was no point to worry. Then, a sparkle in a tree to my right. Another to my left. Hundreds of sparkles.

Fireflies illuminated my path, and they, like Miguel, reminded me not to fear riding into the darkness.