Guest post by Mayra Beltran. Please read and help her come back to the only country she calls home.
After having lived in the United States for more than 17 years, I was denied the opportunity to return to the country under legal status. The consular officer made her decision based on the fact that I crossed the border again after having lived in the United States undocumented for more than a year. They did not take into account the fact that I was a minor both times. According to what the officer told me, that section of the law does not state age as being an exception. I have read the law (INA 212) and it seems quite contradictory. In one section “unlawful presence” in the country is determine by the amount of time that one is in the country without permission, but it does not take into account any period of time in which the person was under the age of 18. If that is the case, then how was I unlawfully present for more than a year before leaving and entering the country a second time if I was still under the age of 18? This was the first time that I left the country since I turned 18. I have not attempted to re-enter illegally, nor do I have plans to do so.
I first went to the United States in November 1992 when I was only 5 years old. I moved there with my parents because my biological father decided it was better to live in the United States. He was a very violent, abusive, and controlling man and he convinced my mother that by moving away from the family, they would have a better relationship. In actuality he wanted to take my mother away from her family so she would no longer have a support system. He knew that with the language barrier it would be hard for my mother to get any help. I only have a vague memory of how we crossed the first time, and my mother never talks about it. To my young mind, travelling to the U.S. was something exciting. I did not know where we were going or how long we would be gone. Most importantly, I had no idea of the greater impact that my parents’ decision would have on my future.
After many years of enduring physical and emotional abuse from my biological father, my mother decided to leave him. She knew that it would be difficult to make it on her own and she talked about the possibility of returning to Mexico. In 1999, after I completed sixth grade, we moved back to Mexico. My stepfather, who was a long time family friend, told my mom that he was in love with her and asked her to stay. We left anyway in June but after a few months in Mexico, we returned to the United States. That time my mother and I crossed through the river with the help of some smugglers. I remember being very afraid for our safety. The smugglers screamed at us and pushed us so that we would run faster. It was not until then that I knew we were not allowed to be in the US. Before that I thought having lived in the country before gave us the right to go back and forth. I was 12 years old that time and, although I knew that what was happening was not right, I was still too young to comprehend the full consequences and unable to make my own decisions. I had to do as I was told.
I thought about moving back to Mexico once I was old enough because I did not like being “illegal” in a country. I did not have the same opportunities and rights that my schoolmates had. I was not able to get a learner’s permit at the age of 15, I would not be able get a driver’s license when I was old enough, and I was not able to get a job. There were even certain awards that I qualified for based on academics, but was unable to obtain because of my status. There was a ray of hope for me when my stepfather and my mother married because he was able to apply for an immigrant visa on our behalf. Unfortunately, this was after 2001, and the person who filled out our paperwork did not bother to tell us that I would be subjected to a 10 year bar of inadmissibility.
After 7 years I finally received a letter from the US Consulate. I was so excited because I thought that I would finally be able to have a normal life. At the same time I was sad because I would have to be away from the people I love for a while. I just looked forward to my life after I returned. My lawyer told me that I would probably have to stay in Mexico for a few months until the waiver petition was processed, but that it would all be fine. I also asked about the law that places a permanent 10 year bar of inadmissibility if the person had crossed the border twice because I read about it on the internet a week before I left. The paralegal that had been assigned to my case told me that it did not apply to me because I was a minor at the time. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I was told that I am not even eligible for the waiver, and that I have to wait 10 years before I can re-apply for an immigrant visa.
I was shocked by the decision. I could not even think or talk straight, and I held back the tears until I saw my stepfather waiting for me outside the US Embassy. It was devastating news for me and my loved ones. Although I was born in Mexico, it is still a foreign country to me. I only have vague memories of what it was like living here. I grew up in the United States and consider myself more American than Mexican. I even get picked on here for my American mannerisms. I have lived in the United States practically my whole life and I have strong ties to the country. My family, friends, and plans for the future are all in the United States. I hate the thought of being considered a criminal for having resided in the United States without papers, but that decision was beyond my control. All I want now is a chance to return to the United States to be with my family and to have the opportunity to continue with my educational goals. I do not consider that I am trying to “immigrate” to another country, I am simply trying to stay in the country that I call home.