(Interviewed by Jairo)
Alexis was born in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, México. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1996 with his parents at age two. Alexis grew up on a farm in Stockton CA, and graduated from his high school’s Space & Engineering Academy with Honors and at the top 5% of his class.
Due to limited financial aid for undocumented students, Alexis attended San Joaquin Delta Community College before transferring to UCSD. With aid from the CA Dream Act, today he is a UCSD Ethnic Studies & Public Health double major, and sees Medical School on the horizon.
Alexis has been active in the immigrant rights movement since 2011 with the CA Dream Network and CHIRLA. Later in 2014, he Co-Founded the San Joaquin Immigrant Youth Collective, an affiliate of the CA Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.
Alexis recently traveled to Viet Nam as part of a Global Seminar with the UCSD Ethnic Studies department. Alexis also conducted research on Agent Orange titled, “When Does War End and Who Gets to Decide? A Case Study of the Long-Term Health Effects of Agent Orange Exposure on the Vietnamese Population.”
A timeline of my advance parole process:
Submitted: March 2015
AP approval: April 2015
Departure to Viet Nam: June 25, 2015
Return to U.S: August 8, 2015
Duration of AP: 6 weeks
Did you seek legal counsel for your AP application? Why or why not?
Yes, I sought legal help because there is little information available on the AP process, and the experiences of DACAmented folks going abroad. I’m also privileged to have a personal attorney who is like an older sister to me, and gives me free legal counsel. The UC Undocumented Student Legal Services Center at the UC Davis School of Law supported me as well. Especially with the application process, and the process of leaving and re-entering the U.S. in case something urgent came up. These comprehensive legal services are open to all students at UC institutions.
What is one piece of advice you have for DACA recipients who are thinking of applying for Advance Parole?
You want to apply at least three months in advance, since the USCIS website states it takes three months to approve AP applications with no “urgency.” If you send it after this point you can try two actions.
First, contact your local congressman to ask their Immigrant Policy experts if they can help expedite your AP application by contacting USCIS on your behalf and explaining the urgency of your situation.
I reached out to both my local Congressman back in Stockton, and my local Congressman in San Diego, and each of the Congressmen’s staff decided to help.
Second, in your application specifically ask USCIS to expedite your application. Provide your reasons, they do read it. This is how it worked with mine. So while the congressmen’s staff were ready to help, USCIS approved my application in just one month.
Regarding travel for educational purposes – USCIS usually approves cases where study abroad is mandatory for your major. USCIS does not want AP used for “fun.” In my case it wasn’t mandatory. So in my application I included letters of recommendation from the Ethnic Studies Department, the Global Seminar office, and the UCSD PRIME Medical School Program. I then added my own letter to underscore that this trip provided engagement with Agent Orange victims central to my research, 8 units essential for graduation, and that lacking study abroad experience would hurt my application for medical school.
Also check if you need a Visa to travel to the country you apply for. In my case, I went on the website of the Vietnamese consulate in San Francisco, and applied online using my Mexican passport. The visa’s cost should be included in your budget. Even if you get AP approved, if the other country requires a visa, and you don’t have it, then you cannot travel there.
Do ask for a few days prior to and after your travel dates. Just in case flights get delayed or an emergency arises. I was given four extra days prior to departing and three extra days after I planned to return.
Lastly, have close friends, family, and if possible an attorney, monitor your journey back home. This way you can quickly communicate if any emergency comes up. I strongly recommend also joining a private group called “Advance Parole” on Facebook. It’s a private online forum where you can have a safe space to ask questions, receive all sorts of help. It has been an invaluable resource for me the entire way.
What was one of the highlights from your trip abroad?
The weather and traffic definitely stand out. We arrived during rainy season in Saigon. And once I stepped outside the airport the intense humidity hit my face hard. Outside, the roads were overtaken by motorbikes, and the way traffic moved was extremely interesting. It was “organized chaos,” a complex and stressful movement, yet graceful and highly organized. I learned to confidently cross the street and allow traffic to weave around me. It took a few tries until I was no longer afraid for my life, but I began trusting the people driving around me.
The street food, fruit, and coffee was amazing – but my favorite thing ever was the Passion Fruit-Mangosteen Sinh To (Smoothies). Another highlight was being surprised I didn’t really have culture shock. I felt at home and happy throughout my time there. Making it all the more great, my Ethnic Studies courses were taught by Dr. Yen Le Espiritu, a world renowned researcher and professor. We learned about very different perspectives of the Viet Nam war and much more we would not have been exposed to otherwise.
I also got an opportunity to volunteer at the Tu Du Peace Village, a clinic in Saigon that houses and treats children victims of Agent Orange who have special medical treatment needs. Interacting with the children and staff made me realize a lot about myself, the effects of war and colonialism/imperialism. Another of the most impactful trips involved crawling through the Củ Chi tunnels, well known as ingenious guerilla warfare methods that allowed the North Vietnamese army to defeat the U.S. army.
It was also great that we were hosted be Student Exchange Viet Nam (SE Viet Nam), and were paired with “local buddies.” They were bilingual students that were there to assist and guide us. The program coordinator and her assistant also lived with us and ensured things ran smoothly. We all became close friends and really bonded. Definitely lifelong friendships.
The most memorable experience of all was spending my 22nd birthday on my last day in Viet Nam in Ha Long bay, one of the seven natural wonders in the world. It was surreal and life changing. I got to experience so much in so little time, gaining a special appreciation for the people and the country. I respect the resilience of the Vietnamese people to adapt and rebuild after having defeated three different imperial colonizers (China, France, and the U.S.).
What was the biggest challenge you encountered in applying to, or going through, AP?
Big challenges included timing my approval, gather all the documents, and raising $10,000 for my particular program. In terms of the cost, I pushed my financial aid office for support, worked and saved money, applied to scholarships specifically for studying abroad, and fundraised the final $3,000 using www.youcaring.com.
But another big challenge was the tense inspection I went through when re-entering. I departed from and re-entered through L.A.X airport. I waited about an hour in the “Visitors” line to see the Customs Enforcement Officers. Once at the officer’s desk, I presented my Passport, AP, and DACA. The officer looked at me rudely and asked me “What is this?” with an annoyed face. I explained that I attend UCSD, went to study abroad and that AP allowed it. He then asked if I had a green card, or if I was “adjusting my status.” I denied both and told him, I had DACA.
That’s when it got really frustrating and honestly very scary. He asked if I had family in CA to which I answered yes. Then he asked, “Where?” and I responded, “All across the state.” He focused on my parents, asking where they live, so I said, “Northern California.” He continued to rudely prod me for a specific answer until I was forced to tell him what city they live in. After that, he asked me, “Do they have a green card?” He should not have been asking about my family members, since the situation was about me re-entering the U.S. with Advanced Parole.
I responded by saying they didn’t have a green card. “Are they adjusting their status?” he fired back. I answered they weren’t. And he kept on, “Well what is their status?” I said, “It’s complicated.” I didn’t want to disclose their undocumented status and risk them being deported.
He smugly replied, “Well, how complicated can it be?” with a matter-of-fact look. I worried about what he would ask next. But he looked at my paperwork and told me to stand at the edge of his desk, await for another officer to escort me to “secondary” (this is the usual process to re-enter with AP). I was taken to a room and waited inside for about 30 more minutes. I worried about the second inspection, especially after the first one, but luckily an officer just called my name and told me, “You are all set and ready to go.” The officer confirmed the passport was mine, and asked for the second copy of my AP document. I received two in the mail, and they keep one. I was so relieved!
Alexis was born in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of two. Despite having been admitted to some of the best engineering programs such as Cal Poly and UC San Diego, he decided to attend San Joaquin Delta Community College due to the lack of financial resources. He was able to transfer to a 4-year university a few years after where he is currently pursuing a double major in ethnic studies and public health. Alexis has been both an advocate for undocumented students and families.
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Categories: Advance Parole