The federal government has finally started to review the many deportation cases backlogged in Bay Area immigration court with the hope of closing down cases deemed a low-priority for deportation. My own deportation case is among the ones undergoing review. But if we are offered prosecutorial discretion, we are likely to reject it.
The facts are well-documented. I was brought here from the Fiji Islands when I was 14 years old. My U.S. citizen grandmother filed an F-3 petition on behalf of my family. Despite language and cultural barriers, I scored in the top one percent for the State of California STAR 9 exams every year. I graduated near the top of my class and enrolled at the local community college, as it was the only way we could afford higher education. Within three years, I transferred to a four-year university and earned an undergraduate degree in Political Science. Then, I enrolled in a graduate program at the San Francisco State University, graduating with a Masters in International Relations at the age of 22. Unfortunately, by the time the priority date of the F-3 petition became current and my mom obtained legal residency, I was 24 years old and had thus, aged out of the process.
I knocked on many law offices to find a resolution to the problem that I faced: I was the only undocumented person in my family. Despite the fact that I am gay, one lawyer advised me to get married to a U.S. citizen of a different sex to obtain my papers, which would have been a felony. Another told me that he was willing to file a green-card application for me, but that it would cost another $10,000, which we did not have at the time. A few others told me that I'd have to wait in line for another 7-10 years in order to get papers. But I was done waiting. This country was either going to deport me or give me my green card. I filed for adjustment of status, arguing that I qualified for retention of priority date under the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) and adjustment of status using 245(i). The government approved my work authorization but denied my green-card application contending that since I had turned 21, I had aged out, and hence, am no longer part of my family unit. Despite the availability of so-called discretion, the interviewing officer placed me in deportation proceedings.
Unwilling to admit defeat, my excellent lawyer at Benach Ragland LLP and I renewed my green-card application and filed an additional cancellation of removal application in front of an immigration judge. Thus far, both applications are pending because the Ninth Circuit has not decided whether I am statutorily eligible for adjustment of status under the CSPA (Cuellar De Osorio v. Holder), and so my status in this country remains ambiguous. The matter is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. Currently, I'm about to start the last year of law school at The George Washington University. I have the right to legally work here but not the right to live here. I can drive locally, travel internationally but I can't call this country home.
I'm receptive to those wanting to deport me, because I've never really wanted to live here. I've made myself a clear, visible and public target for all sorts of campaigns against me. I would appreciate a solid effort by the government to deport me because I don't deserve anything less than that. So when I have Master Calendar hearings in immigration court where the government lawyer frustratingly remarks after months of preparation that he doesn't know what the facts of my case are, I am simply disappointed. I expect much better use of taxpayer dollars from the U.S. government. We all deserve better use of our taxpayer dollars.
Despite my acrimonious relationship with this country, I've found myself building a life here, attending schools in both California and Washington D.C., becoming a part of local groups and initiatives, leading workshops and speaking engagements in a myriad of different states. But even with my long history of community engagement, I don't belong here. However, I also don't belong in Fiji. For me, every day spent here is a painful reminder that I may never have a place to call home again.
With my entire family and life here, I'm not sure where I'm supposed to go. Due to the 10-year bar for unlawful presence, if I leave the United States, I cannot come back for 10 years. Those who ask me to "go to the back of the line" should know that I'm in three different lines -- a petition filed by my U.S. citizen grandmother, a petition filed by my lawful permanent resident mom, and a petition filed by my U.S. citizen sister. Leaving the country and incurring a 10-year bar that would deny me adjustment of status, is hence, out of question, and legally irrational. If there was a way I could come back to visit them, I would leave tomorrow. It isn't the American dream or hope for a better future that keeps me here - it is the relationships that I have with my parents, my partner, my sister and my niece that keeps me from leaving.
That is why the nativist jargon "illegal is illegal" doesn't quite cut it. There is so much more to immigration than meets the eye. As someone who has direct experience working in immigration law, I've seen people getting detained and deported in racially-biased pre-textual traffic stops like broken tail-lights or "making a wide left turn." I've had cases where U.S. citizens were detained and held for deportation. I've worked on cases where green-card holders with insignificant retroactive crimes underwent long, grueling removal proceedings. I've watched undocumented youth with no criminal records get separated from their lawfully residing families here. And on the other end of the spectrum, I've seen wealthy U.S. citizens renounce their citizenship and move to countries like St. Kitts, so that they no longer have to pay taxes. So at the end of the day, it is amusing that people like me are scapegoated from not paying taxes and leaching from the United States.
Follow Prerna Lal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AQueerDesi