I had the pleasure of meeting the students of ALIANZA at the International High School in New York last week.  ALIANZA is a group of 16 recently arrived immigrant students from Mexico, Central and South America, 9-12th grade. Some of of the students crossed as unaccompanied minors, while others came to the U.S to reunite with family after decades of separation. They all share a common goal: to graduate and conquer their dreams.

Many of these students, especially the male students, are financially responsible for their families in the U.S and often send remittances to their home countries as well.  Can you imagine being 16 years old and being financially responsible for your family?  I cannot, it breaks my heart.  When their teacher shared with me some of the circumstances these children have endured, I expected to meet very different students. 

What I encountered where children full of hope and energy.  These sixteen students reminded me of how much the human spirit is able to endure, conquer and overcome.  

I thank them for allowing me to sit in their circle of trust, for their honest and tough questions and for giving me sixteen more reasons to keep fighting for equality and dignity for all immigrants.  

I must also express my gratitude to their teacher, who reached out to me to come speak with them, and to all teachers who make a huge difference in young people's lives. 

ALIANZA students holding the 'The Pledge' for immigration fairness.  

ALIANZA students holding the 'The Pledge' for immigration fairness.  


Corn and our Beef with Immigration.

I recently watched the film, Food, Inc., as self-encouragement to complete a 25-day food and fitness challenge.  I knew the film would expose me to how bad processed food is for my body, but I didn’t expect to be exposed to root causes of illegal immigration.

On December 8, 1993, Mexico, Canada and the U.S., signed the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The goal of NAFTA was to eliminate barriers to investment and trade (wiki) between the three countries, and in theory it would help bring economic growth to all three countries.  There have been dozens of reports on the effectiveness of NAFTA and the agreement has been faced with many controversies. 

One very well documented truth is the increased demand of meat from Mexico (as of 2000, Mexico is the #2 importer of U.S. meat, wiki), which has in turn increased production in the U.S., which has led to U.S. corporations’ need  for more laborers.  In theory, the U.S. corporations would hire U.S. laborers, but instead the corporations go to Mexico and recruit, yes they go into Mexico to recruit, peanut-cheap labor.  Many of the undocumented workers who come work in meat processing plants are former Mexican corn farmers. 

In 2010, the U.S. government’s subsidies of corn totaled north of $10.1 billion and chargers of dumping (into Mexico) have ensued.  So when Mexican farmers are out of work, potentially due to extra-cheap corn that puts them out of business, and big U.S. corporations come to their home and offer them work and (illegal) entrance into the U.S., their choices are few.

The worst tragedy is that when immigration raids happen, it is the workers that get criminalized not the U.S. corporations that hired them in the first place.  Undocumented immigrants are hated and abused while we enjoy our cheap meat and corn.  Personally, I am also guilty of benefiting from owning Monsato’s stock (and other food companies), that’s going to change ASAP.

"Food Inc," has me furious.  Our tax dollars get used for the corn subsidies.  We get heart attacks, diabetes and fat from the terrible food we consume.  My people get criminalized, hated on, and once they’ve built a home in America they get deported and separated from their families. 

I wish we could all go on a 25-day Food and Hate Challenge— and lose the fat and lose the hate, increase our muscle mass and our knowledge.

Immigration Myths

This Friday, August 8th, I will become a citizen of the United States of America.  A process that began twenty years ago when my parents brought me to live in America.  As I’ve shared the process with friends and family, it struck me how many myths there are about immigration and citizenship.  The process is extremely complicated, so why would anyone know the facts about the process, the obligations and the rights of documented and undocumented immigrants unless they were personally going through the process.  I am not an immigration or tax expert, but there are a few questions, misconceptions and facts I’ve come across in the last twenty years that I’d like to share.  The folks at made a great video with a few of those of those myths.

#1 Myth: Undocumented Immigrants don’t pay taxes.

Fact: In 2010, undocumented immigrants paid $10.6bn in Taxes.  

#2 Myth: Lawful permanent residents don’t pay social security taxes

Fact: Green card (permanent residents) holders pay social security taxes, and are eligible to receive social security benefits.

#3 Myth: When permanent residents become citizens, they get a green card

Fact:  When permanent residents naturalize to become citizens they give up their green card and have the same rights and responsibilities as natural-born citizens.  In essence natural born or naturalized citizens are the same for all intends and purposes. (So happy about this fact!)

#4 Myth: If you marry a U.S. Citizen you can become legalized immediately.

Fact: Marrying a U.S. Citizen does not guarantee permanent residency.  In fact, if someone entered the U.S illegally, even if they marry a U.S. citizen they may still need to leave the country for up to 10 years before they can return.  The financial requirements are also very high, and not everyone meets them.

#5 Myth: Criminals can become citizens

Fact: Under current immigration law, anyone with a felony conviction is completely banned from permanent residency or citizenship.  There are times when undocumented immigrants get charged with identity fraud, which is a felony conviction for using doctored papers to work.

These are just a few of the many, many myths surrounding immigration and citizenship in America.  I wish the process was more simple and easier to understand, but just like our tax code, our immigration code is very complicated.

I am still confused!