A Personal Account: Awaiting Deportation

Against the Current, No. 9, May/June 1987

Margaret Randall

Whole literatures
conceived in selective fragments
will be investigated to find some sign
that rebels also lived where there was oppression.
–Bertolt Brecht, “Literature Will Be Investigated”

Truthfulness anywhere means a heightened complexity.
But it is a movement into evolution.
–Adrienne Rich, “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying”

I AM A WOMAN born in the United States, a white middle-class woman who at a relatively early age went out to see the world, and learn from it. I became a writer, a political activist, an oral historian, a photographer, and a teacher-in roughly that order. I lived in Latin America with three young children to support.

Many years and several countries later, I returned to my native land. My request for residency was denied, because of the critical nature of my writings!

What follows are some observations on the relentless experience of living with the daily threat of physical removal-of deportation-from my rightful place.

We modern human beings have known numerous types of deportation, indeed our very concept of history the way in which we see ourselves-is powerfully defined by some of them.

Our country’s founding cannot be separated from the systematic and forced relocation of Indian peoples which began in the 17th century and continues in one form or another today. A more and more insistent westward expansion included more than one Trail of Tears. Native peoples were deported to ever smaller and less productive reservations. And it wasn’t that long ago that Indian children were taken from their mothers and relocated in government schools.

This internal deportation of Indian peoples was followed by the kidnapping of Africans: vast numbers forced into the steerage of ships and sold into slavery; people taken from their homes and cultures; families separated; children ripped from mothers. The enslavement of Blacks supplied this country’s economic base for more than a century and continues to take its toll in life and dignity. Right here, and not that long ago, American citizens of Asian descent were forcibly relocated to detention camps during World War IL Deportation is not then an anomaly but a consistent part of our national history.

The systematic extermination of more than six million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and politically progressive people by Hitlerian fascism remains a staggering part of our recent world history.

Even today South African Blacks are “deported” to prescribed areas within their own country, simply because of their blackness. Salvadorans and Guatemalans are forced to leave their homelands under severe political and economic persecution, only to become protagonists in the legal/political/moral struggles of those in this country who would take them in.

In the Soviet Union political dissenters are often banished to internal exile, where their struggles are ignored within their country. And in ours, the nature of our system, our double political standard, and our short-lived collective memory make it customary for our politicians to loudly condemn as an international human rights violation this custom of internal deportation. Meanwhile they ignore all our own violations, including the ideological exclusion clause of the 1952 McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality Act, as it affects hundreds of people wishing to enter or remain here,

There are, of course, deportations of an even more sinister nature. The flagrant disappearances, over the past two decades and by the tens of thousands, of men, women, and children in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil. People at home, at work, on the street one day, gone the next; disappeared, often forever, without even the relief — for those left behind — of the knowledge that their loved ones are in exile, in prison, or dead. Disappearance is a modern-day deportation of the soul, a double-edged psychological punishment imbued with its own particular brand of terror.

Not as severe as the above-mentioned deportations, but often no less damaging to life and sanity, are this country’s more subtle restrictions: of the poor to city ghettos; of immigrants, migrant workers, and longterm strikers to subhuman living and working conditions; of single mothers to welfare rolls; and of minorities, women, gays and lesbians, the battered, and the differently-abled to spaces and attitudinal mindsets rooted in humiliation and abuse.

The word banish rhymes with vanish. Through banishment or deportation there is the literal threat of invisibility. Not only when the event is concretized but in the anguish and uncertainty leading up to it. Made invisible. Made meaningless. Superfluous. To others. To ourselves.

I will address this issue of deportation as it concerns me, as it springs from the particular case the INS has imposed upon me.

I returned to this country after twenty-three years. I had lived in Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua. I had visited North Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Canada. I had grown, personally and within my communities, with shared experiences of struggle: founding and editing a bi-lingual literary journal throughout the ’60s in Mexico, learning and practicing midwifery in Mexico City’s misery belt, learning oral history techniques and recording the stories of Third World women, participating in the processes of change in two revolutionary societies, developing a poetic voice and photographic skills linked to ever-evolving ideas about race, class and gender.

By the time I came home, I had raised four children and shared observations about their educational processes in two social systems and three countries. I had produced some forty books, many of them oral histories of women in developing societies, some of them volumes of poetry or essays. With my camera I had chronicled people’s lives and cultures, especially in Cuba and Nicaragua, and especially women.

I had done a great deal of translating: bringing the poetry of Latin America Io an English-reading public and our poetry to those in the Spanish-speaking world who are able to read. I had interpreted for countless North American individuals and groups needing a cultural, as well as a linguistic, bridge in their explorations of Cuba and/or Nicaragua.

I had shown my photographic images in a dozen cities and contributed pictures to numerous movement journals and papers. From time to time throughout those years I had done reading and lecture tours of the United States and Canada and published thousands of pages of observations and analysis on the human face of peoples frequently stereotyped or maligned in this country’s major media.

I had also, in 1967 and in Mexico City, taken out Mexican citizenship. I was married to a Mexican who had trouble keeping a steady job. Our three children were all under the age of six. Bad advice from a Mexican lawyer led me to believe that by changing my citizenship I would be able to get a better job myself, thereby providing more adequate support for my family. It was a mistake, and one I deeply regret today.

It now appears I may not even have really lost my citizenship, for U.S. law demands full understanding on the part of the person making the choice, not only of the act itself but of its consequences. The consequences were never explained to me.

Much later, the first day of the March 1986 hearing, Immigration Judge Spiegel ruled that in his opinion there was a loss of citizenship. We are appealing this decision on the same basis upon which we argued it to begin with, that of devotional and economic stress. A U.S. Supreme Court case (Afroyim, 1966) supports our stand, and the Attorney General in office at that time believes the citizenship loss did not, in fact, take place.

In 1984, however, believing I was no longer a citizen, I entered the United States on a multiple-entry tourist visa. When I was sure I wished to remain, I conscientiously followed the procedures prescribed for those requesting permanent residency status. I had married an American citizen, and he petitioned for me; although one of my American citizen children or my American citizen parents might have taken this step instead. (Both my son and my mother have since done so.)

The rest, accurately described by press-releases and some in-depth journalism, filtered through all manner of variations by less careful reporters, is well-known. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) investigated me for seventeen months before handing down a negative decision (written by the INS regional director in El Paso, Texas) on October 2, 1985. The central accusation at that time was that my writing “went far beyond mere dissent ,,,,” I was given twenty-eight days to leave the country. Or, I could stay and fight.

I have chosen to stay and exhaust all appeals open to me.

My commitment to this case goes beyond my own personal desire to remain in the nation of my birth, in the state where I grew up, where the very land is a part of my body, where my family lives, where I wish to pull together the threads of a rich and varied life, where I feel called to my current work. The McCarran-Walter Act is a travesty on any concept of democracy; many of its clauses are unconstitutional in this country and contradict basic international human rights as stipulated in the Helsinki and other accords subscribed to by civilized nations.

I believe I am fighting this battle for many besides myself-from Nobel Prize winning authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez (denied entrance into the U.S. under the same clause as that which has been used against me) to the thousands of immigrants whose labor we reward cheaply and whose lives we manipulate and abuse in the context of exploitative political interests.

In an era of galloping conservatism, the right to dissent and family unification which are at stake in my case are also profoundly linked to other rights being trampled, other setbacks in social gains: from interference in, and open aggression against, the rights of other nations struggling to develop their own best forms of government; to adequate social services for minorities, women, children, the aged, the sick or differently-abled workers, and the poor here at home.

In March, 1986 I appeared before Judge Spiegel in El Paso at a hearing “to show cause” why I should not be deported. The government claimed all along that this was not a first amendment case, that my freedom to express myself was not at issue. Yet we brought a dozen witnesses to El Paso; and the government brought only my work: thousands of pages of articles, essays, poetry.

Some had been translated into a crude, often erroneous, English from Spanish publications which were originally in English. In this way, the Court was told that I had gone to Cuba in 1967 “to meet with Ruben Dario”[a Nicaraguan poet dead many years the original had read “to a meeting in honor of Ruben Dario”]. The prosecuting attorney’s response to my protest at that distortion of my work was “Well, who knows… perhaps you met with a ghost!”

The government had a Bell Optican machine in the courtroom throughout the hearing. It seemed they intended to show what they termed “anti-American car­ toons” not created by me but published during the sixties in the magazine I edited then. The judge himself finally persuaded them of the absurdity of that project.

The line of questioning was like something out of the ’50s. It was never Cuba, but “Communist Cuba,” “Castro-Communist Cuba,” or “totalitarian Cuba.” It was never the Nicaraguan government, but “the Marxist Government of Nicaragua” or “Nicaragua’s totalitarian government.” I was asked how I felt about seeing my work published in “a magazine that also published Communists,” and even whether I am willing to “take up arms to defend the United States against Communist Cuba(!)” The judge himself felt obligated to insist that I not answer that later question. Even before my lawyer jumped to his feet to object, Spiegel pointed out that in a country where conscientious objection exists, there is no law requiring citizens, much less those seeking residency, to willingly take up arms.

In El Paso, I was also constantly attacked as a woman. I was asked, “if it were true that I had posed nude for art classes in the ’50s,” or “waitressed in a gay bar.” Like these, there were dozens of offensive questions meant to cast a shadow of “immorality” upon the fact that I have been married more than once. Questions about my current marriage, as well as those asked of my husband when he took the stand, attempted to depict a union born of eighteen years of deep friendship as a “sham marriage staged for the purpose of acquiring a green card.”

The hearing, held in that border city, was set against a backdrop of the much larger immigration problem. The very nature of life in El Paso is charged at every turn by the assumptions, prejudices, political interests, and accommodations which grease the wheels of North/ South inequality.

Supporting me in the courtroom were not only colleagues and students from the University of New Mexico, women from the Albuquerque and the Las Cruces women’s communities, family and friends, but miners from Silver City and farmworkers from the border area. The government has an occasional secretary on her lunch break or federal marshal in belligerent stance to bolster its waning ego.

Among the witnesses who came to my defense were writer and poet Adrienne Rich, photographer Ann Noggle, sociologist Nelson Valdez, law professor Jules Lobell, professor of women’s studies Ann Nihlen, student Helene Vann, and of course my parents, daughter and husband. We had affidavits and letters from authorities as diverse as former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana Wayne Smith, New Mexico Governor Toney Anaya, Columbia University professor of history Harold Fructbaum, novelist Alice Walker and a student in a fifth-grade Albuquerque classroom.

I could write at length about those four days in El Paso. About our testimony and theirs, about the atmosphere, about solidarity. I could describe what it felt like to see my eighty-year-old father and seventy-six-year-old mother on the witness stand; what this ordeal has been like for them; what uncertainty and anguish it has brought into their lives. I could write about my thoughts when my seventeen-year-old daughter is confronted at her job with the jibes of a coworker who tells her “your mom’s a commie!”

There are lots of stories. Undoubtedly they will find their way into more detailed writing about this case. Enough, now, to make a single point: the prosecution’s arguments were based on guilt by association, redbaiting of the worst sort, character assassination, an attempt to shame, and outright lies. Yet, each day I felt more whole, possessed of greater dignity. Against such adversaries one can only grow in one’s convictions.

We were wrong, however, if we believed anything happening in that court might actually influence the judge’s decision. His mind seemed to have been made up before we even started.

Judge Spiegel seemed a thoughtful and relatively honest man. I’m sure some of our witnesses and many of our affirmations favorably impressed him. But his confessed goal is to one day leave the immigration bench and become a bankruptcy judge. Perhaps he could not have faced his colleagues in the halls of INS had he not handed down a negative decision in my case.

He threw out the government’s most absurd accusations. He even went so far as to assert that had he not found me ineligible under McCarren-Walter, my family ties and contributions to the community would have led him to grant me discretionary relief. But Judge Spiegel did find me ineligible under McCarren-Walter.

He claimed to have read 2,700-plus pages of my work, and found that it “advocates the doctrines of world communism.” He gave as examples of that advocacy my praising the position of Cuban women today and my criticism of U.S. policy in Vietnam. He stuck to the letter of the law, and on August 28, 1986, he ordered me out of my homeland by December 1.

The letter, you might ask, of what law? McCarran-Walter was passed at the height of the McCarthy anti-communist hysteria. President Harry Truman, hardly sympathetic to progressive ideas, nonetheless made clear in his veto message that passage of such an act would not only be prejudicial to aliens but would rob American citizens of their inalienable rights to hear and work with people of all ideologies. The very basis of democracy’s free marketplace of ideas was being shaken. Yet Congress passed McCarran-Walter, in 1952; it was a time of fear and thoughtless conformity.

In 1987, it is this legislation that still governs immigration in this country. And, more important than rehashing what the act meant when it was passed, we should try to understand what the implications are of its use by the Reagan administration today.

The resurgence of extreme political conservatism is evident not only in this administration’s illegal ideological use of government policies as weapons against dissent. It glares forth in the appointment of an attorney general with absolutely no regard for the Constitution and the systematic nomination of conservative judges on important benches throughout the land. The fundamentalist approach to national politics has spawned such dangers to American freedoms as withdrawal of basic human services, the attack on women’s choice and an almost benevolent attitude toward the abortion clinic bombings, an effort to reintroduce prayer into the public schools, drug testing without cause, the threatened removal of humanist theory from children’s textbooks, and the assumption that government belongs in even the most intimate areas of people’s lives.

There are signs, however, that these new government infringements will not go unopposed. In the area of immigration, a number of recent cases have brought the unconstitutionalities of McCarran-Walter to the attention of growing public concern. Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and recently retired Senator Charles Mathias (R-Maryland) have both introduced modifying legislation over the past several years. These new bills (Mathias’ will be taken on now by Senator Simon, D-Illinois) deserve widespread support.

This is only one of the important areas in which the American people must begin to demand constitutionality from their politicians. Another McCarthy era, in the context of this Star Wars age, could only lead to mass death.

That does it mean, in a country where freedom of expression and dissent are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, to be accused of “advocating the doctrines of world communism”-especially when advocating the doctrines of world communism is defined as writing about women in a socialist country, and protesting a foreign policy from which hundreds of thousands-if not millions-of Americans also dissented?

There are two issues here: 1) Do my writings really “advocate the doctrines of world communism”? We would claim, even within the definition of the statute, that they do not. And 2) if they did, should that be the basis for deportation, in a country whose Constitution guarantees the right to express any view whatsoever, as long as it does not wreak havoc on the lawful order of society? It would seem that freedom of expression is conditional-on class, color, ideology, perhaps even sex. Dissent is permissible only when there is no possible way to shut it off.

To be so accused, finally, means that I am a being deported from the land of my birth, from my home in the mountains above Albuquerque where I grew up and now live next door to my elderly parents. It means I am being tom from a time and place which are my birthright, where I have love and work, and all because of what I believe. Because of how I think. And, finally, because I will not say I’m sorry, will not deny or go back on those beliefs.

Living with the threat of deportation is living with an unnamed fear, one which has few models. Deportation conjures up a constant state of low-level anxiety, a possible double-meaning to every comment, the threat of having to leave where I am and therefore never really living where I am. It means a vivid new set of questions-many without answers-when considering relationships, jobs, time sequences, purchases, future (and occasionally pre­ sent) plans.

The threat of deportation brings with it a constant double-take in crowds or alone, the ever-ready attention to the street comment ranging from startling vilification to welcome support. It is an entirely new dimension to my waking hours and even to my dreams.

Deportation, then, is a state of mind as well as a state of body. More significant, it is the ultimate wrenching of mind from body, a fatal wounding of that sought wholeness, a negation of the healing process leading to coherence, conviction, inner and outer peace.

May-June 1987, ATC 9

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