Things That Matter

Latino, Gay, and Undocumented in the Rural South

Undocumented, gay, and living in rural North Carolina, Moises Serrano felt trapped in a world that didn’t understand him. His struggles and triumphs are captured in Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America, a documentary by filmmakers Tiffany Rhynard and Kathi Barnhill. We caught up with Serrano to talk activism, acceptance and hope.

What inspired you to become an UndocuQueer activist?

Serrano: I actually didn’t know that LGBTQ and immigration rights were intertwined. After coming out as undocumented in 2010, I started working for a national immigration rights group called United We Dream. I met other UndocuQueer people from around the nation and they showed me that you can be queer and an international immigrant as well.

Moises (Eyes Closed)
Photo Credit: Kathi Barnhill

When did you start to worry about being undocumented?

Serrano: I always knew I was undocumented, but living in our country, especially pre-9/11, I really didn’t feel a lot of repercussions. I started to grapple with my undocumented identity when I was watching TV and I would see the map of the Real ID Act. I remember feeling like we were under attack… like a scene out of a movie.

How did you deal with it?

Serrano: I don’t have an answer. I fell into a very deep depression, I just shut myself off from the world. It doesn’t sound like a good way to do it, but you also have to remember that there were no resources available for [gay and undocumented] kids like me. I didn’t have a support system until I was 21, when I met my friend Wooten [Gough]. We formed El Cambio. He helped me discover who I am.

Why didn’t you go to your parents about being gay?

Serrano: My parents were still very attached to their culture and their mentality, which is great, but I also knew that meant I couldn’t rely on my family as a resource of solace or empowerment. I knew that they would reject me at one point for being gay.

Moises UndcouQueer Sign
Photo Credit: Kathi Barnhill

What gave you strength?

Serrano: I’ve always been surrounded by strong women. I worked at a factory with these women, many whose husbands had lost their jobs in the recession, they worked multiple jobs. It was nights at the factory and cleaning hotel rooms by day. That degree of love and commitment they had for their families, that was something that has always stuck with me. I’m also inspired by mother and sisters and am grateful for all the times they have come to bat for me. If it were not for their sacrifices, I would not be where I am today.

Why did you agree to be in the documentary?

Serrano: [Co-Director] Tiffany said that when she first met me, she knew so little of the plight of undocumented immigrants in our nation. I just want to raise awareness and, if we happen to motivate someone to action along the way, that would be amazing.

Credit: Heather Mathews / Vimeo

READ: UndocuQueer Activists Changing the Immigration Debate

How did people at home react to news about the documentary?

Serrano: I came out as queer in the biggest Latino/Spanish newspaper in the state. I know my mother encountered homophobic comments that were said to her by her family and people at church. My mother is a fierce defender of her children, she has definitely become an ally to me and to my story. I think that after I came out as gay and undocumented, our relationship has gotten a lot stronger. Personally, I haven’t faced much pushback from the white-American community. I actually felt that we had a lot of support from them so it’s just the double dichotomy of these two worlds that I have a foot in.

Moises Y Mama
Photo Credit: Kathi Barnhill

Have you seen the political landscape change?

Serrano: Since 2010, I have seen immigrant rights issues grow from grassroots efforts to immigration reform at the forefront of our nation’s mind. I also see the mainstream acceptance undocumented, LGBT and queer issues. I think most Americans agree on a pathway for citizenship for undocumented youths, but what’s going to happen to our parents? Our parents were the original DREAMers. My hope moving forward is that we find the humanity in ourselves and that we find the humanity in immigrants, that there is a pathway to citizenship that isn’t filled with obstacles.

What’s your advice for undocumented, Latino youths?

Serrano: Always share your story. The moment you come out as undocumented or queer, your life will start to get better. It will open all kinds of resources that you didn’t know existed. If it wasn’t for the fact that I came out as undocumented, I wouldn’t have worked with United We Dream, I wouldn’t have found the resources to go to college and this documentary wouldn’t exist. I want undocumented and queer children to know that it’s okay and it does get better. Your dreams are possible if only you try.

Learn more about Moises’s story at forbiddendoc.com.

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With Immigration Fees Set To Increase, Advocacy Groups Are Hosting “Citizenship Weeks” To Help People Get Their Documents In On Time

Things That Matter

With Immigration Fees Set To Increase, Advocacy Groups Are Hosting “Citizenship Weeks” To Help People Get Their Documents In On Time

Damen Wood / Getty Images

Becoming a U.S. resident or citizen has never been an easy process. The country’s immigration system is a convoluted mess that sharply leans in favor of high-wealth individuals and under the Trump administration that is becoming more apparent than ever.

But 2020 has been an especially challenging year for immigrants seeking to complete their citizenship process.

Although it’s common for interest in naturalization to spike in the months leading up to presidential elections, the Coronavirus pandemic forced the citizenship process to a grinding halt in March. The outbreak shut offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) all across the country. And although many of these offices reopened in July, there is a widening backlog of applications.

Meanwhile, on October 2, looming fee increases could leave applications and citizenship out of reach for tens of thousands of immigrants, as the process becomes significantly more costly.

Many migrant advocacy groups are hosting events meant to help immigrants complete their applications before prices are set to rise.

In South Florida, the Office of New Americans (ONA) — a public-private partnership between Miami-Dade County and non-profit legal service providers — launched its second Miami Citizenship Week on Sept. 11. This 10-day event is designed to help immigrants with free legal support so participants can beat the October 2 deadline.

In addition, the event will host a mix of celebrations meant to highlight the social and economic contributions of South Florida’s large immigrant communities.

“I think in Miami we talk about how we are diverse and how we are adjacent to Latin America, but we never take a moment to celebrate immigrants and the amazing work that they do whether it’s the nurses in our hospitals, the drivers that drive our buses, small business owners,” said Krystina François, ONA’s executive director. “We need to reclaim the narrative around immigrants and around our communities because it’s what makes us great.”

However, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, the events will all be hosted online.

Much like any other event, Covid-19 has greatly impacted this year’s “Citizenship Week.” Therefore, the event will be hosted virtually. That includes the Mega Citizenship Clinic, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16-20. At the event, pro-bono lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Americans for Immigrant Justice and other groups will connect with attendees one-on-one on Zoom and walk them through the process of filling out the 20-page citizenship application form. 

The clinic is open to immigrants eligible to become naturalized citizens, meaning permanent residents who have had a green card for at least five years.

Cities like Dallas are also getting in on similar events, meant to welcome new residents and citizens into the city.

Dallas’ Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs is hosting a series of virtual events from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20 in honor of Welcoming Week. The virtual events aim to promote Dallas’ diverse communities and to unite all residents, including immigrants and refugees.

According to the City of Dallas, this year’s theme is Creating Home Together, and it emphasizes the importance of coming together as a community to build a more inclusive city for everyone.

Participants will be able to learn about the voting process and what will be on the next ballot during the “Vontando Por Mi Familia: Enterate para que vas a votar” event. The event, hosted in partnership with Mi Familia, will be presented in Spanish.

A Council Member, Jaime Resendez, will host a virtual program on Tuesday at 11 a.m. that celebrates Latinx art and culture. The event will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Mayor Eric Johnson will read the Welcoming Week Proclamation, and the event will feature art exhibitions and performances showcasing the talents of performers and artists across Dallas.

Attendees will also have a chance to learn more about the availability of DACA and a citizenship workshop will take place where articipants will learn how to complete their N-400 application for citizenship. Volunteer immigration attorneys and accredited representatives from the Department of Justice will be there for assistance.

The events come as fees for several immigration proceedings are set to rise by dramatic amounts come October 1.

Starting on October 2, the financial barrier will grow even taller for many immigrants as fees are set to increase. The fee to apply for U.S. citizenship will increase from $640 to $1,160 if filed online, or $ 1,170 in paper filing, a more than 80% increase in cost. 

“In the middle of an economic downturn, an increase of $520 is a really big amount,” François told the Miami-Herald.

Aside from the fee increase, many non-citizen immigrants never truly felt the need to become citizens. That was until the Coronavirus pandemic hit and had many questioning their status in the country.

“There are people who up until this COVID crisis, their status as a permanent resident didn’t impact their day-to-day life … but then the pandemic has given them another reason of why it’s important to take that extra step and become a citizen, because of the additional rights and protections that are afforded to you, but also to just have a sense of security and stability in a crisis.”

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This 11-Year-Old Read A Heartbreaking Letter To Trump About Her Mom Being Deported And It’s A Must Watch

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This 11-Year-Old Read A Heartbreaking Letter To Trump About Her Mom Being Deported And It’s A Must Watch

Democratic National Convention / Getty Images

If you aren’t a political junkie who has tuned in to watch every last minute of the Democratic National Convention this week, there’s a lot that was totally fine for you to have missed. It’s had its share of tacky, dull moments and plenty of self-congratulating.

But, last night, there was a moment that everyone should take two minutes to watch. The moment featured an 11-year-old girl with a story so similar and familiar to so many Latinos across the country. The girl, whose mother was deported to Mexico in 2018, helps us all put a face and a very articulate voice to a daily tragedy that we should never stop thinking about: the separation of children from their parents due to harsh U.S. immigration policies.

Estela Juárez stole the spotlight with a powerful letter to Donald Trump about her mother’s deportation.

Eleven-year old Estela Juarez was undoubtedly the star at last night’s Democratic National Convention. As the daughter of an undocumented immigrant who was deported in 2018, she read an emotional letter directly to Donald Trump decrying his hurtful and inhumane immigration policies.

“My mom is my best friend,” Juarez said in a letter she read aloud, addressed to Donald Trump. “She came to America as a teenager over 20 years ago, without papers, in search of a better life. She married my dad, who served our country as a marine in South America, Africa, and Iraq. My mom worked hard and paid taxes, and the Obama administration told her she could stay.”

“Mr. President, my mom is the wife of a proud American Marine, and the mother of two American children,” Estela Juarez said. “We are American families. We need a president who will bring people together, not tear them apart.”

In her statement, she added that her father, a naturalized American citizen who immigrated from Mexico, had voted for Trump in 2016 with the expectation that Trump would protect military families, but would not vote for him in 2020. The video featured footage of Trump stating that he did not want immigrants in the U.S. and that they are “not people.” It also included news coverage of the families being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“My dad thought you would protect military families, so he voted for you in 2016, Mr. President,” she said, addressing Trump. “He says he won’t vote for you again after what you did to our family. Instead of protecting us, you tore our world apart.”

The Juárez family gained national attention when her mother was deported because of her father’s service to the country.

Credit: Alejandra Juarez / Facebook

In 2018, the Florida family gained national attention after Immigration and Customs Enforcement confiscated Alejandra’s passport and pressured her to self-deport to Mexico. Estela described how her mother was able to live in the country during the Obama administration.

The family’s case was widely publicized because of her husband Temo Juarez’s military status. She also was one of the subjects of the Selena Gomez-produced Netflix documentary series Living Undocumented.

Another family who Trump has terrorized with his immigration policies also spoke last night.

Another family who has been hurt by Trump’s immigration policies also took the state last night. Silvia Sanchez and her daughters, Jessica and Lucy, spoke about their journey to the U.S. and how Trump’s policies have made them fearful for their futures.

Silvia shared her story of crossing the border without documents after doctors in her hometown said that they would not be able to care for Jessica, who has spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the spine.

“I took my baby in my arms and traveled for days to the border,” said Silvia, in Spanish. “When we got to the river, I raised her above the water and we crossed.”

While Lucy is a citizen and Jessica is a Dreamer, Silvia is still undocumented. The three explained how Trump’s policies have brought back fears the family will be separated and that Jessica will be unable to get health care because she does not have the right ID to get insurance through an exchange. “We work hard. We make ends meet. We pay taxes,” said Silvia.

These emotional, human-centered issue montages dominated the opening 30 minutes of the Democratic National Convention’s third night. A segment on gun control concluded with an address from former Rep. Gabby Giffords, while a climate change segment included scientists who resigned from the administration. But the issue where it was apparent Democrats have come the furthest in four years was immigration—the policy area that might be least hospitable to abstractions after four years of Donald Trump.

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