Below is one man’s story of his experience of being an LGBT man in the US illegally, coming out to his family, his deportation, and the battles with the current administration to try to get back to the only country he has known as home.
Far From Home
Call me Ishmael. It’s not my name, but I want to be anonymous and my name adds nothing to what is the story for many people like me. Feel free to call me that. My name’s not entirely relevant because I’m not that different than you. Up until recently, I had a good, honest job. Not just a job, but my own business walking dogs. I went to the gym to balance out sitting on my ass gaming on my Xbox, watched Star Trek, The Orville, Doctor Who, and felt BITTERLY disappointed about the final season of Game of Thrones. I’m an amateur writer. I loved riding my bike. I never dreamed of being rich or famous. I couldn’t be further from being rich or famous unless I aspired to be a teacher. For as little money as I made, I derived a lot of pleasure looking at the steps I racked up on Fitbit and the miles I got every day on Strava. Of all the things I looked forward to with the end of winter, bringing my bike out of storage and riding everywhere possible was at the top of the list, right behind not freezing to death. I dreamed of moving to LA just so that I’d never have to be cold again. Until recently I was dreading the end of summer because of how much I hated the cold. I don’t dread summer’s end now as I fear I may not see winter for a long time. Because unlike many of you reading this, I lived in the United States illegally for over 30 of my nearly 40 years of my life. Now I’m stuck in a place that, while I was born here, is as alien to me as another planet.
Most kids dream of being a fireman, a cop or even a doctor. When I grew up, I just wanted to be a Californian. Watching TV shows like Knight Rider and Miami Vice, I had no idea they didn’t take place in the same city. All I saw was warm weather and palm trees and knew that’s where I wanted to be. Preferably with a cool car. Besides that, the earliest memories I have are of holding onto my mother’s hand and waiting for the silver train going to the Bronx so we can catch the bus to Yonkers and feeling irritated that only the red train kept pulling into the station. For some reason as a child, I thought only silver trains took me home. That and they were faster. This was life for me as I thought that I had been born in NYC, that I was just like my friends in school. We occasionally went to Trinidad where I thought that we were going for vacations. It wasn’t until I was around 11 or 12 that I would realize that it was the other way around. My mother brought my sister and I to the states officially sometime in the late ‘80s after years of us basically living in both places. Trinidad was becoming dangerous and all our family was in America anyway.
I went to school in Brooklyn and Yonkers and eventually the family moved to Iowa and then Chicago. It was there I had a falling out with my family. I got dragged out of the closet when they found out I had a boyfriend. Before I could finish school, I packed up all that I could carry and early in the morning I left what I thought was home. The only person I ever said goodbye to was my then one-year old niece. I still remember holding her in my arms and crying. I let her know I would miss her and that I’d see her again sometime. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and laid her down in her crib. I like to think she understood as she didn’t cry which would’ve given my escape away. I bounced around from living in a trailer with someone I met online, moved from one couch to the next, worked as a bike messenger in NYC and a porter at a pool hall. I even did some traveling and occasionally did stand up. I failed miserably at that latter part. So, for the most part I traveled around waiting tables and promoting better comedians and occasionally I got some stage time. Eventually those good times ran out and I found myself back in NYC. I ended up homeless.
I couldn’t find an official job because I could not work legally in America. You need to have nine numbers associated with your name. To get that, if you weren’t pulled from a uterus located in the continental United States, at the very least Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, or Puerto Rico, there’s a long, arduous process that you must go through. I had been kept out of the loop for much of what ever my mom was doing. So, when I left home and moved into a trailer with a guy that I met online, I wanted to start getting on with my life. I wanted a job, to finish school, and go to college. I also wanted to go into the Navy. So, I went to what was then the INS. It was there that after years of being told that I was being taken care of and that I had nothing to worry about, I learned that I was in the United States illegally. I had been lied to. I was administratively arrested. Because I wasn’t a threat or a flight risk, they let me go pending my court case. Trinidad was not a place I wanted to go. Fearing what may come, I looked it up online. As I read about it, I quickly discovered that the place I faced being deported to was somewhere that I could be locked up for being LGBT under draconian colonial laws.
There was no way in hell I was going to let this happen. I contacted the ACLU and pursued an asylum case. During this time, nothing about my status changed. I couldn’t work legally. There was a time when I got so desperate for cash while I was in and out of shelters, that I worked as an escort just so that I could buy food and do laundry. At some point while I was living on the streets of NYC, the judge who was back in Western NY made his decision about my life. That despite the circumstances of how I got to America coupled with the consequences of what would happen if I got deported to Trinidad, he denied my asylum claim. I remember crying when I got word that judgement came down. I was suddenly faced with some choices. Leave and go to a country I knew nothing about other than that as a gay man, I can be imprisoned for 2 to 3 years. Or I can stay in the states illegally. All I ever knew about life, my friends, the small amount of family that I got along with, were all in America. And frankly, I couldn’t afford to leave if I wanted to. So, I stayed.
Not wanting to make a living on my back anymore, I found a place that would hire me. Selling tickets in Time Square for comedy clubs. Yes, I was one of those people. It was commission only, but it helped keep me off the street. I then moved onto dog walking and made my own business. I even employed some people for a small amount of time. I patched things up with my sister. My mom and I still have a very touch and go relationship. Fast forward over a decade. My sister never stopped trying to get my status changed to something legal and stable. Until recently, I almost didn’t care about my immigration status. Whenever my sister and my mom would call to tell me they were working on my legal status, I almost rolled my eyes. I felt as though nothing, to less than nothing has happened all my life. No point in getting excited. As far as I was concerned, I am American. Very few of my friends know to this day about my immigration status. As much as I wanted to do things like drive and vote, I had become content with riding my bike, taking public transit, and nagging/guilt tripping my friends into doing their civic duty. Other than that, I had a decent job and a roof over my head. It wasn’t until Trump came along that suddenly this thing I didn’t have, the status I almost completely stopped caring about, became important after over a decade.
Suddenly we were all afraid. Now I had no choice but to care. Here was this man and his henchman, Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. Men that wanted nothing more than people like me out of America. Muslim bans, walls, round ups, challenging the status of sanctuary cities, etc. America was becoming a scary place for someone like me. Then at the beginning of spring, my sister called me up and said that she has a fix for my status. That it would take me going to Trinidad for two weeks and that I’d be right back, and my status would be cleaned up. I was nervous as all hell. Two weeks in Trinidad. To anyone else, two weeks on a tropical island would sound amazing. To me it sounded like I was sticking my head on the stocks of a guillotine in the hopes that the blade didn’t chop off my head. I got a friend to hold down my dog walking business for me. I packed up two weeks of clothes and toiletries and threw my PC in my bag so that I can work on the books I planned on writing. I had a small series of panic attacks about leaving and on May 12, I got on a plane for the first time in around three decades. I had even managed to convince myself Trinidad couldn’t be that bad. They got rid of the “jail the gays” law a few months before I was to arrive. I landed and was greeted by a hot country, palm trees, dogs in the street, the smell of gasoline everywhere, and people I couldn’t understand because of their accents. I met up with friends of family and parents of old friends that I haven’t seen for years. I got my shots, again, making my right arm numb for 3 to 4 weeks. On May 24, I went into the US embassy in Port of Spain and because I had overstayed my Visa, I was denied re-entry to the United States. A ten-year ban. Instead of flying home the following day, I was now 2,215.5 miles and a decade from all that I ever knew.
I remember wandering the streets outside the embassy and feeling despair like I never knew before. I couldn’t even cry. I didn’t want to giveaway that I wasn’t a native. If anyone thought me to be a tourist, it would be an invitation to be assaulted or robbed. Earlier that week I had been harassed in the streets of Port of Spain, just for my accent alone. A few days earlier in a public space, a few people had been trying to feel out if I was gay. I was doing my best to keep to myself until one of them asked if I was a faggot. I left the area as fast as I could. A few weeks later, I found myself living on the street for a day and what little I had was stolen from me. This is where I was condemned to live and more than likely die. There was even a point where I came close to living in a shack above a makeshift barn with pigs, chickens, and goats. I got rescued by an aunt, whom I stay with now. I sleep in her kitchen and I bathe out of a bucket with cold water. A big swing from 3 months ago, when I practically had my own apartment, my skin wasn’t burned from the sun and eaten by mosquitos, and I was hanging with my friends, meeting new people, and I had my own business. I only got to cry over all of this when I messaged my clients after being gone a month. It took me the better part of a day to send them a voice message without me crying hysterically. I felt like I was telling people about a death of a loved one and trying to give them the funeral details. Only the dead person was me.
I have no plans on staying here. I plan on finding a job that’ll take me off this island. A cruise ship, a resort, anything that’ll give me room and board away from this place. Something where I can make enough money to pay whatever fines needed. Whatever it takes for me to get back state side legally. Because this is not the end of my story. Nor is it exclusively mine. A few weeks ago, Jimmy Aldaoud was deported to Iraq. This poor man, not much older than I, was sent to a country he had never been to before. He died on the streets alone. I’m luckier than he is by sheer virtue of I’m not dead yet. I plan to stay that way. I write this to let you know I’m not an anomaly. I’m not an outlier. I’m one of many people that ride next to you on the train or bus. Maybe you cut me off while I was riding my bike. We sat next to each other at the movies and jumped when Pennywise ate Georgie. We stood in line with each other waiting to use the Starbucks bathroom and wondered what the hell was taking so long. I was one of the many that quietly lived in the shadows. And now I’m one of the many that are stuck in places that are legally home. Not because it’s where we grew up or lived previously. Far from it. By sheer virtue of being born here. This is supposed to be home. It’s not!
You read the top of the previous paragraph and you’re probably wondering to yourself why I’d ever come back. I have a friend suffering from depression. He’s also been fighting an opioid addiction. I fear for his well-being and I feel guilty that I even got on that plane. I have a 12-year-old god daughter that I took to gymnastics every Saturday. She’s got enough problems in her life and me being gone hasn’t made them any better. I miss the dogs I walked, and I don’t think many of them will live past a decade, meaning the last time I saw them would be just that, the last time. I still haven’t seen my niece in person since I said goodbye to her almost 20 years ago. In short, I have a life I’m not going to give up on back in America. While I hate the circumstances I’m in, I don’t blame America or her people. Far from it. I love America as much as I did this time last year and as much as I did every year as far back as I can remember. But the circumstances and the system to which I’m here have tossed a little cold water on my belief that America belonged to whoever could get off their ass from 9 to 5 and do an honest day’s work.
Even now, as I look for work that’ll get me off this island, I’ve found that because of nativism, xenophobia, fear of terrorism or whatever reason it may be, we’ve lost a world worth wandering. In a little over a century, we’ve gone from being able to pick up from where you started out from in life and going somewhere new and starting over again to being stuck where you were born unless you spent years working a high skill job, with years of training and oh yeah, you have a lot of money banked away. How many families, not just in America but across the world can go back through their old family photos and see someone that stepped off a boat with a steamer trunk and starting a new chapter of their family’s story in a new place? It’s sad when a brown-skinned, bisexual longs for the days of the Edwardian era.
America may not be my country by birth, but it’s my country just as much as it is yours. I love it as much you, because I’ll crawl through fire and broken glass to get back to it. And with that said, it’s because I love the US, I BEG you to stop Trumps (and by proxy, Stephen Miller’s) changes to the immigration system. It’s not about keeping America safe. It’s about making America as white, conservative, and upper middle class as possible. Not just conservative, far right. What happened to me will happen to someone else. They’ll find ways to go after the dreamers. The guy that delivers your food, the woman that works in the shop where you buy your eggs, the kids your kid play with after school WILL BE NEXT. They’ve already deported natural born Americans, most of them non-white. They locked a Mexican-American teenager in an ICE facility for several weeks even though he could prove he was an American. Write your congressperson, senator, governor, mayor, whoever owes their jobs to being elected by the American people. And ask them to give you a definition of what is an American. Because it must be better than falling out of a womb located in United States territory and it must mean more than passing a citizenship test most Americans would flunk. Because if you don’t, soon Trump and his flying monkey Stephen Miller will define what it means to be an American and your citizenship may be questionable.