Letter to Our Undocumented Fam

On Friday night, we watched the countdown to midnight, the beginning of a Republican-led government shutdown. Democrats appeared to stand their ground that they would not vote on the spending bill until a clean DREAM act and funding for other vital social programs were included in the bill.

Not three days later did we see Democrats slither back into their comfort zone of letting Republicans dictate what needs were deemed important. They showed the public just how focused they were on self-preservation instead of standing by what is right, relying on the promises made by Republicans - the same Republicans who have shown time and again how untrue they stay to their word. This was not a compromise, it was cowardice in its finest form.

We continue to fight, to advocate, to organize, to speak up and out, but it’s okay to admit that you may be exhausted, tired, angry, and disappointed. Many of us have been working day in and day out to host educational sessions, to meet with these congressional leaders, to share our stories, to give empirical evidence, to work together with our community members to keep going; we have been putting in work.

To you, reading this, I want you to know…

That the Democrats’ backslide, from their admission to offering a border wall as part of the attempt to avoid the shutdown in the first place to not even maintaining their ground on their proposed principles for a weekend...

This is not a reflection of you, of us, of our work, or of our effort. It is not a reflection of our worth or of our level of deservingness.

This is a reflection of spinelessness, cowardice, and racist, oppressive holds on power. And while we are disappointed by this recent outcome, we are not shocked at all by how Congress  put their seats in office ahead of the lives of people.

You are strong and resilient, even in your vulnerability. We are inherently worthy and deserving. You do not have to explain to anyone why you deserve to be treated with humanity and grace.

This is the time to call on our strengths and resilience, but also to lean on our support systems. It is important you remember that taking care of yourself, and each other, is priority - your physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual selves - especially to avoid burnout. We cannot keep the fire going if the kindling is exhausted.

This is the time to feel your anger, disappointment, resentment, frustration, whatever emotions you may be experiencing, and to process and understand them. Know what they are, how they feel, and then make good decisions about your needs so that you can thrive. Though it can feel like it, these emotions and feelings do not have to stunt you or affect your progress. Because though we are tired, we cannot release our hopes into the atmosphere; we must hold them tightly and maintain them.

So to you reading this, please know, you are enough, you are inherently worthy and deserving, and you are not alone. If there is any way we can be of support to you, to connect you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

With a full heart,

Gabrielle Jackson

UndocuBlack Network



The Christmas of 1992 was my last Christmas in Trinidad. There was a nice breeze passing through the gallery (which is what we call our front porch). My cousins, sister, and I were all running around, excited, while my elders were doing their “old talk” thing, swapping stories and recalling memories of people, places, and things. And there was parang music trilling in the background. And food. Of course, food. Dahl, curry, geera pork, stew chicken, callaloo, yams, plantains. I was that child that would peek through the doorway beads to see if they needed someone to taste what was being prepared, you know, just to check. And then I remember my grandfather creating his own rhythm and he began singing “we going to bake a ham.” And all the kids joined him, singing loudly and laughing. I think about that Christmas a lot. I often wonder if I made it up.

The Christmas of 1993 - I remember nothing. Maybe if someone reminded me of something, it would bring on a memory or two. But sitting here, trying my best, I can’t remember. Outside of the fact that it was cold and we weren’t in Trinidad anymore.

Holidays, regardless of the ones we celebrate, can bring on a serious sense of nostalgia. But they can also bring on a serious sense of loss. Complicated loss. During the holiday season, there is happiness and abundance and joy to go around, and yet, there is a sense of loneliness, sadness, and even anger and frustration that can overtake you.

Many of us talk about loss as meaning someone we care about passing on from this life. And as immigrants, especially in the state of undocumentedness, we too experience losing loved ones, the separation, and the anguish of the unfinished goodbye.

But we also experience loss in other ways -

The loss of home and trying to figure out where that is now;

The loss of understanding and of what we knew, and having to learn differently;

The loss of time, hours to years passing, with our visions holding in place while everyone grows old and moves on;

The loss and change in identity and attempts to either hold on as tightly as possible to it or to mask it for survival;

The loss of practices and traditions, because of the change in cultural and societal norms or because you forgot and there isn’t anyone who can share the knowledge with you;

The loss of connection and groundedness, being and feeling separated, especially as we have been taught that our ability to take up space, to exist, to be is related to a sheet of paper.

And with loss comes grief. The emptiness of grief. It’s complicated. And during the holidays, in all the festivities, these emotions rear up. And that’s okay.

For me, no Christmas matches 1992. But during the holidays, I do my best to recreate and generate connections and to cope with loss -

In complete sentences, I think, envision, and write down who, what, where I am thankful for. I also remind myself of how far I have come.

I do my best to engage in social events with others to share in communal joy despite the feelings of loss and grief.

I use video call apps to talk face to face with my mother and grandparents and show off my limited cooking and decorating skills, and I scratch phone cards to call my granny who doesn’t text.

I welcome friends for a meal and space to sit and hang and eat food that reminds us of “home.”

I intentionally remember family and friends who have passed on, and talk to them, even updating them if I feel they may have missed something.

I “old talk” so well, I would make my grandparents proud.

I light diyas on Diwali and welcome blessings.

I let myself cry and sit alone to gather my thoughts, because I do miss people, I do miss places, and I do miss things - even if it’s just parts of them.

I go back and read about Caribbean folklore and get excited when I recognize Creole and patois and remember who the stories are about.

I call and check in on people, see how they’re doing, what they’re up to.

I lean on people to check me and to remind me of who I am.

And each time I learn of a new way, a new option to recreate and generate and cope, I try it out, and see if it works for me.

To you reading this -

I want you to know that your sense of loss is valid. And especially in this climate where xenophobia, racism, and hatred are spewed openly and uncensored, dealing with loss is ten-fold, because nothing seems grounded in humanity.

I want you to know that it is possible to find joy and still feel the hurt of what is gone.

I want you to know that you’re not alone in thinking the holiday season is hard. It is. For many people.

Maybe, like me, in your current state, there is no celebration that could even compare to the one from your past. But it is my hope that you can find the ways that will generate and recreate joyous occasions, connection, support, and groundedness that works best for you.

- Written by Gabrielle Jackson 

Our Wellness Is Resistance: Addressing the Mental Health of Black Undocumented People

UndocuBlack Network Launches Mental Wellness Initiative

Today, on World Mental Health Day, the UndocuBlack Network hosted the first of what we hope are many discussions around mental wellness within the Black undocumented community.

We chose World Mental Health Day on purpose. It is a day of raising awareness and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health and wellness.

UndocuBlack Network believes that, in order for our community to survive and thrive, we must bring focus to mental health and wellness. This initiative and its work are centered on healing justice and our liberation, and therefore stemmed from being experts on our own experiences and steeped in intentionality and reality. We are honest when we say "Our Wellness is Resistance."

To coincide with the launch of the Mental Wellness Initiative, we asked members of our community to share with us their mental health journeys. Their stories are below.


On Finding New Ways to Breathe

By Vanessa Cruz

I have been spending a lot of time around children to allow my imagination be as wild as theirs. I have created new ways to keep my sanity and mental health balanced. Most people don’t know this, but I suffer from anxiety. What people also don’t know is having anxiety is not as simple as turning it on and off. It doesn’t work that way. So I am putting a lot more time and effort into keeping myself sane. I have many identities as of late that have been adding weight to my burden. I am undocumented, a person who survived trauma and who also suffers from anxiety. I am many things, too. A writer, want-to-be artist and gardener, too.

But, lately, I feel like I cannot breathe. When you are having a panic attack, your thoughts race, but you get a deep sense of being unable to breathe. I have had numerous panic attacks following the announcement that DACA will fade out if not saved by legislators. I feel I cannot breathe most of the times. My saving grace has been getting an opportunity to help look after infants and toddlers. It is that experience that alone carries me through my day. I believe in children, and seeing them develop is a magical process I like to see. Children once again have saved me from despair and the little meaning I feel life has. Maybe for them it is that I go on every day even with my uncertain future looming over me.


Finding Solace in Community

By **Kiesha Bennett

For years, I was in a dark place. Isolation combined with lack of opportunity that you can actually use can do that to you. You see, I received a good education — a bachelor’s degree with honors —  in the United States. I even got some good professional experience while still on my work permit. But the minute my immigration status fell, so did my worth, my income and accessible opportunities. What ensued were months of depression as I couldn’t find work and the jobs I did find couldn’t hire me (bureaucracy and fear of being fined by USCIS).

I started working under the table, sporadically, as a telemarketer, home health aid, babysitter, nanny, house cleaner, tutor. Between travelling 4 hours on public transportation on the days that I found work and eating cheap fast food or copious amounts of seasoned rice, my health deteriorated as did my interpersonal relationships. Sleep and food became my comforts, my escape from my life of hell. I would stay in my room or on my couch for days at a time in between jobs, hoping to wake up from my nightmare.

**Name changed upon request

UndocuBlack saved my life. I made friends who finally understood my life and did not judge me for it. I learned not only to cope but to thrive. Sharing my experiences with people who looked like me and who were going through what I go through made me safe to be my full, undocumented, Black, immigrant self. I am grateful for the UndocuBlack Network.

If you’re interested in contributing to the UndocuBlack Blog, please reach out to our editor at blog@undocublack.org.

Love Letter to Our People


Nothing we say can make this feeling of crisis go away. We are in a world that fights us more than it loves us.

You are allowed to be vulnerable, and to be scared, and to feel hurt, even as you muster your strength and engage your resilience. Our vulnerability is even higher because we feel stripped of control. But ask yourself, what are the things that I can control?

Allow yourself to process what you are feeling and thinking.

Take the time to meet your needs. Self-care includes care and attention to your physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, practical and social.

Surround yourself with family and friends and food and music.

Engage in positive self-talk: I am a survivor. We are of worth. I stand tall. We are loved. I am strong. We are proud.  

Eat well, drink water, get rest, and breathe.

Get it out of your head and write it out, sing it out, dance it out, paint and draw it out, exercise it out, yell it out.

Call someone – friends, family, a crisis hotline. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK/8255 or text 741741 to the Crisis Text Line. These hotlines are available. These hotlines are available to you, even if you are not experiencing thoughts of suicide, but especially if you are experiencing thoughts of suicide. 

If you have a therapist, engage with them.  

Engage in prayer – however that looks for you.

Stay in the present.

Be gentle with yourself.

Find what works for you.

This is when we fight. This is when we resist. And your continued existence in this world is resistance. Caring for yourself, especially in this moment, is not self-indulgence, it is survival. And they will not take that from us.

-Written by Gabrielle Jackson, UndocuBlack Network



How DACA Helped Me Experience College Life Freely

By Staisy Ngare

 The writer, Staisy Ngare, with members of Students of Caribbean Ancestry during her freshman year of college.

The writer, Staisy Ngare, with members of Students of Caribbean Ancestry during her freshman year of college.

High school was almost over. With my 3.7 GPA and extracurricular activities that included the tennis team, the swim team, National Honor Society and advanced-placement classes, I knew college admissions would be a breeze.

My applications to universities in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and beyond were almost enjoyable because of how confident I was in my strong performance in high school. I would get into all of them, I thought. Not only that, I would qualify for plenty of scholarships because of my performance, and the honors classes I took in high school had already qualified me for college credit.

It would be a breeze. Or so I thought.

Being an undocumented immigrant, a Black one at that, comes with a particular set of difficulties that are so often well-masked. You come to America at a young age having a sense of identity from another country or continent, being bilingual, maybe even trilingual. You are in the midst of so much opportunity that you naturally excel at academics because of your hunger for personal success and the need to show your parents that their sacrifices were worth it. Your parents are out here working double and triple shifts, who are you to not get straight-As? So you study some more. That was how I approached high school. I felt accomplished at the end of my four years. I celebrated with prom. I knew I had made my parents proud when they offered to pay for a custom-made prom dress for me.

My plans for higher education? I would spend four years of undergrad pursuing a liberal arts degree and the next three years in law school to study criminal and immigration law. Everything was planned out, except for the most important thing when it comes to college applications: money.

On average, college tuition and fees amount to almost $10,000 for state residents at public colleges and universities. Going into the college application process, I was met with the difficulty of applying to college with the immigration status of non-citizen. Citizens qualify for federal grants, scholarships and other loans that help them afford college. But for non-citizens like me, attending college would mean having to somehow afford a college education without any type of government assistance.

I still thought I would be covered with my scholarship money. But I was wrong. Most of the scholarship money I was awarded was useless because of my status. My next step for college aid was FAFSA, of course. Now what prompted me to ask the federal government for money for higher education? My desperation. I was obviously disqualified from any aid.

I had hit a huge wall. How could all of my work — late nights doing AP assignments, early mornings volunteering, participating in any sport with my non-athletic self  — how could all of this end in a no? I was not going to take no for an answer. Given my status, my mother advised me to apply as an international student. This was how I entered the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

I was elated to enter a four-year university with my own efforts. Given my status, however, I could not qualify for in-state tuition. International tuition as you can guess is a lot more expensive than in-state tuition: a difference of $18,000 at UMass Amherst when you factor in room and board.

Given all of this news, in November 2012, I was ecstatic to learn that I qualified for DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA is in no way or form some type of citizenship status, nor does it lead to a Green Card. Instead, it is a relief from deportation in which qualifiers are safe from removal and can get a work permit. Because of DACA, I was able to pay in-state tuition regardless of my status. This realization was a weight off my shoulders. DACA allowed me to focus more on what I wanted to do during my undergrad years at UMass.

I was able to enjoy college. I decided to major in African-American Studies when I took an elective on grassroots movements that filled me with passion. I took a leadership role in the African Students Association and danced with the Students of Caribbean Ancestry at the annual Spring Fest. I added Psychology to my studies and became a double major. My first year, I made the Dean’s List and was invited into the Commonwealth Honors College. I experienced college life freely, not worried about how my parents were going to be able to fund my education.

DACA allowed me to be just a college student. It allowed me to live my life. Now, DACA is in danger of repeal.

I was 4 years old when I entered the states, and although I had a sense of Kenya in me, most of my life has been lived in America. Most of my memories, friendships, schooling and experiences are in America. For DACA recipients, America is what we know. This country is our home.

If you’re interested in contributing to the UndocuBlack Blog, please reach out to our editor at blog@undocublack.org.

My Unsung Hero

By Vanessa Cruz

I come from an island in the Caribbean where the palm trees sway to the rhythm of the waves and its people sway to the rhythms of drums. A place of taínos, esclavos, la Virgen de la Altagracia. Mi isla es hermosa.

 Photograph by Vanessa Cruz

Photograph by Vanessa Cruz

This paradise lost is known as la Republica Dominicana. This is where I am from, but this story is not about my native island — it’s about the unsung hero of my life.

We all have heroes. We have people we look up to. My hero was my mother. She worked far away. I never knew where, but she would leave with the rising sun and would return when the sun was setting. I never understood why she left, but I would look forward to her return, waiting for the moment when she would whistle for me. I was always grateful for her whistle. I heard that whistle and no matter where I was I would run to greet my mother. For I loved her, yet I did not understand what love was then. I was a child when I lived with my mom. I didn’t understand the future, better prospects or economic wealth until later. Unlike my mother who lived in poverty, my father had all the resources at his feet. Guess who they thought was fit to be a better parent. In hindsight, I would say they were wrong; resources do not make a better parent, but they certainly help pave the path forward.

The unsung hero of this story is my mom because she lost the most in the transaction she made with my dad. The deal was that I was to live with my dad so that he could provide a better life than my impoverished mother ever could. I was born out of wedlock, and a fervent woman of faith wanted her child to have a better life.

I lived with my mother for a few years. Those were the happiest years of my life. I lived in one of the slums of Santiago known as El Ensanche Bolivar. There is pride in my voice when I say this. I come from a family of hardworking people. Kind people who will extend a helping hand if need be. I had many cousins, endless neighbors and enough wilderness to keep me forever entertained as a child. Little did my mom know she gave me the best she could offer — a childhood of dirt, running and love. I was loved by her and by hers.

It has been 15 years since she last saw me, her first daughter. The person she would buy puffy dresses for, whose hair she would wash and then untangle right away, her little doll as she would call me.

As a daughter, it pains me not seeing her. I want to hug her and say thank you for your sacrifice.

Because despite the odds and all the struggles my mother faced, her daughter went to graduate school at Southern Methodist University, became a teacher, impacted children’s lives and will continue to help the environment. How can I say thank you to this lady whose sacrifice I don’t fully understand because I am not a mother? I wouldn’t have been able to be here without that sacrifice. I never would have been featured on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, let alone have gone to the White House under one of the greatest presidents of all times. That is a once-in-a-life experience not many get a chance to have. It is because of her sacrifice that I am here in this country, undocumented, optimistic and ever grateful for her.

How many people get to say their mom is their favorite superhero? I can.

Mi mama es mi heroína favorita porque sin ella aquí no estuviera y porque su fe me mantiene viva con ganas de luchar y soñar.

If you’re interested in contributing to the UndocuBlack Blog, please reach out to our editor at blog@undocublack.org.

Introducing the UndocuBlack Blog

Welcome to the home of the UndocuBlack blog. Here, we will be sharing stories and resources that highlight and amplify the UndocuBlack experience.

We hope you’ll follow along as we share personal essays, political analysis, news, resource guides and more.

If you’re interested in contributing as a writer or illustrator, or if you have something you’d like us to cover, please reach out to our blog editor, Eba, at blog@undocublack.org.

Learn more about the UndocuBlack Network here.

Sending love,

UndocuBlack Network

Haiti AdVisory


May 16, 2017

CONTACT: Hayley Burgess

(202) 384-1279; media@nilc.org


Civil Rights and Social Justice Groups to Urge the Trump Administration to Re-Authorize Temporary Protected Status for Haitians

WASHINGTON – Days before the Trump Administration announces its decision about whether to re-authorize Temporary Protected Status for Haitian migrants, the Associated Press exposed leaked emails from high-ranking Department of Homeland Security officials requesting data on Haitian use of public benefits and crime rates. Although Department of Homeland Security officials have denied any connection with the timing of their decision, the news sent shockwaves through the Haitian community. Several leaders will gather to discuss the impending decision and explain how failure to renew TPS would affect immigrant families. NILC and Undocublack will announce a legal action to learn more about the motives behind the DHS request for public benefits usage and crime rates


Telephonic press briefing on Haitian Temporary Protected Status


Olivia Golden, executive director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Jonathan Jayes Green, co-founder and network coordinator, Undocublack Network

Alvaro Huerta, staff attorney, National Immigration Law Center

Lys Isma, current TPS recipient from Haiti

Tia Oso, National Organizer, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

Reshma Shamasunder (moderator) deputy director, programs, National Immigration Law Center


Wednesday, May 17, noon ET/9 am PT


877‑876‑9174, ask for Haiti conference call when prompted.