Following up on last month’s action by the Dream 9, a new, larger group of undocumented immigrants will attempt to return to the United States today. The so-called Dream 30 will attempt to cross the border at the Laredo, Tex., port of entry with the goal of a chance to stay in the U.S. through some type of legal relief. The youngest of the crossers is 13-year-old Ingrid Gallegos. Her 16-year-old sister, Jessica, will be crossing as well. The two sisters became involved with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), the group organizing the action, after their mother encountered the Dream 9 at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona last month.
The Dream 30 crossing is different from the NIYA’s previous action; the group won’t enter Mexico with the express purpose of crossing back into the United States. They’ve all been deported or they’ve left the United States under dire circumstances such as the serious illness of a loved one in Mexico. But it’s very likely that, like the Dream 9, the Dream 30 will spend time in an immigration detention center.
One member of the Dream 30, Lorena Vargas, has been out of the United States for more than a year. Last Thursday, Vargas was in Nuevo Laredo, directly across from Laredo, Tex., in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, participating in a legal training. She took a break to speak with me by phone.
“I know people will say we’re doing this for attention, but unfortunately they’re just ignorant to what our reality is” she told me. “This is a really delicate and difficult situation.”
Vargas was just six years old when she and her mother, Mirna, left Michoacan, Mex., for Tucson, Ariz. Her mother became a U.S. citizen in 2010.
After securing citizenship, Vargas’s mother hired a lawyer to prepare her daughter’s immigration papers. They traveled to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mex., to apply for Lorena’s visa. Mother and daughter did just that in February 2012. They expected to return to Tucson the same day, but Lorena was denied entry.
According to Daniel Aguilera, Mirna Vargas’s boyfriend, officials at the U.S. Consulate told the family that they believed Lorena had gone to the Mexico in April 2002 to process her birth certificate. Leaving the United States would make her ineligible for a visa. Aguilera says they have plenty of evidence to the contrary including Lorena’s school attendance records, but the consulate’s office won’t budge. In fact, he says, they’ve barred her from applying for reentry until 2022.
“We even got Senator John McCain to try to intervene,” says Aguilera, a U.S.-born citizen who helps people file legal documents—including immigration papers—for a living. He says the family even wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. But the consulate operates under the auspices of the State Department and has no appeals process.
In Mexico Lorena Vargas’ life was swiftly turned upside down. She first stayed with a family friend in the state of Hermosillo. Weeks later, however, the federal police mistook her for a person working in organized crime, which is rampant in the area where she was residing. She was arrested and held for three days until her mother came down from Tucson to clear the matter. Vargas was released without charges and the family decided that she would be safer in her own apartment. They picked one in Agua Prieta, Sonora. Then she was sexually assaulted.
“It’s kind of hard to talk about it,” Vargas told me. “It was a horrible experience.”
After the assault, Vargas reached out to her paternal grandfather in the state of Michoacan. At first, she made strides in reconnecting with family she hadn’t seen since she was six years old. But progress came to a halt when they realized that Vargas is a lesbian. “My grandfather basically told me that he didn’t want to know anything about me ever again,” Vargas said. For the last few weeks, she’s been staying with yet another family friend.
“I still can’t get it in my head that Mexico is somehow my country,” Vargas said. “But we’re coming home. We are coming home.”