MEXICO CITY — There’s been a lot of debate lately about President Barack Obama’s executive action that will grant legal status to some undocumented immigrants. It builds upon an earlier program that aided young immigrants brought here illegally as children.
But some young people were deported before they could take advantage of that program. Now those deportees are speaking out.
Nancy Landa has spent the last five years feeling frustrated and misunderstood. In 2009 she found herself alone at the border in Tijuana carrying just her purse and a $20 bill.
"It was like in the middle of the night…stranded in Tijuana," Landa said.
Landa had been picked up by immigration authorities in Los Angeles, detained for eight hours, and deported that same day.
"You are in shock most of time," she said. "I cried a lot."
Landa lived in the United States for 19 years as an undocumented youth. Her parents took her there illegally when she was 9 years old. They made a life in Los Angeles. Landa graduated college with honors and worked for nonprofit organizations until the day of her deportation.
"It's basically almost like experiencing death, because it's a part of you that's dead. Your whole life that you worked toward is no longer there," she said.
Now her life is in Mexico, and it's been tough. She struggled to get credit for her American education and find a desirable job. Fellow Mexicans question her nationality, even though she was born here. They also criticize her Spanish.
"In Los Angeles, I never had to explain I was a Mexican with an American identity, or a Mexican-American, but here it's a constant explanation because I think there's not enough understanding," Landa said.
Not enough understanding about how she's back in her birth country after a nearly lifelong absence. It's like she's a foreigner in her own land. And she's not alone. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican nationals are deported from the U.S. annually. Among them are young people who have little or no recollection of Mexico.
"I think that deportation is really experienced as sort of a black hole," said Jill Anderson, an independent researcher based in Mexico City.
Anderson recently co-authored a book that profiles deported youth in Mexico. Landa's story is among those profiles.
"After deportation the idea that the struggle continues, that life continues is not something that's really a part of the public discourse," Anderson said.
In the United States undocumented youth who arrived illegally as children are known as DREAMers — named after a failed legislative attempt to help legalize them.
In 2012, Obama issued an executive action that granted eligible DREAMers temporary deportation relief and permission to work. But DREAMers who had already been deported, like Landa, were not eligible.
"It makes me mad," Landa said. "That's the reason… I came out public with my story because I felt like I needed a platform and I needed to say, 'You know what? There's other people who are being left out.'"
Landa is part of an emerging organization known as Los Otros Dreamers, or the Other Dreamers. They are deported youth living in Mexico. They want a voice in the U.S. debate on immigration reform. They also want Mexico to recognize them and create programs to aid their transition.
"People actually tell us that we are trying to be pretentiously gringos or Americanized and we're like, 'No, that's my identity, that's what I grew up in,'" she said. "So we want a space where we're accepted and I think that we need to change to public conversation as to who we are."
And although Landa faces a ten-year ban from legally entering the United States, she dreams of going back.
"I want to be able to travel and visit my friends and the home where I grew up," she said. "Mexico is my country of nationality but Los Angeles is my home."
While she can't physically cross the border, she knows that her voice and her story can.