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.

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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.

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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

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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

 

Applying to College as A bLACK UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT

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

FOR PLANNING PURPOSES

May 16, 2017

CONTACT: Hayley Burgess

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

NILC AND UNDOCUBLACK SEEK TO UNCOVER THE TRUTH BEHIND TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TPS DECISION

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

WHAT:

Telephonic press briefing on Haitian Temporary Protected Status

WHO:

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

WHEN:

Wednesday, May 17, noon ET/9 am PT

CALL-IN:

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

 

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Help Us Celebrate UndocuBlack's One Year Anniversary!

It’s hard to believe that today is our ONE year anniversary since we convened the historic Undocumented and Black Convening in Miami. 

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Since then, we have not stopped working to change the narrative around our lives and advocating for the humanity of our people.

We hope you will make a donation today and support the UndocuBlack Network’s efforts.

Here are a few of the feats we've conquered:

  • We established the UndocuBlack Network. 

  • Held local convenings in 3 key locations: Los Angeles, New York and the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia area.  These gatherings offered free legal consultations, featured Mental Wellness workshops, Know Your Rights trainings as well as discussed topical issues pertaining to our unique communities.

UndocuBlack Network Co-Founder Yannick Diouf leads the opening session at our DC, Maryland Virginia Convening

UndocuBlack Network Co-Founder Yannick Diouf leads the opening session at our DC, Maryland Virginia Convening

UndocuBlack Network member Ronnie James leads the mental wellness workshop at the New York convening.

UndocuBlack Network member Ronnie James leads the mental wellness workshop at the New York convening.

 

  • Organized and led our first Congressional Briefing this Summer highlighting The State of Undocumented Black Immigrants, in collaboration with the National Immigration Law Center, Black Alliance for Just Immigration and African Communities Together. Our presentations included the voice of a Black undocumented middle-aged mother, perspectives from current DACA recipients and critical analyses of Comprehensive Immigration Reform from those who are directly affected.

A packed room of congressional staffers listened as our presenters covered anti-blackness in legislation and other issues on the Hill.

A packed room of congressional staffers listened as our presenters covered anti-blackness in legislation and other issues on the Hill.

  • Successfully fought and won one of our members’ deportation case in conjunction with United We Dream and the Student Immigrant Movement
  • Hosted 3 dynamic fellows who focused on their individual areas of interest: compiling resources specific to our community's needs, delving into public policy that acutely affects Black undocumented immigrants and engaging in storytelling that captures our undocumented Black complexities

  • Hosted 10 community calls to keep our membership abreast of what we’re working on, maintain our kinship with each other and to build on the progress achieved so far

  • Shared our stories in the media, participated in panels and led workshops on Black undocumented issues

  • Organized 2 webinars alongside the National Immigration Law Center on Workplace Issues and Health Policy for Undocumented Immigrants

And we’re not stopping now. 

Over the next couple of months, we are engaging in an organizational building process with our membership to fortify our vision for 2017 and forward.

We recognize that though our communities have been in a state of emergency for the past few years, we are under special vulnerability due to the election of Donald Trump.

Now, more than ever, we are ready to stand up and fight back for our communities.

Now, more than ever, we are ready to protect and show our community and other vulnerable populations the radical love we’ve dreamed of.

But to do so, we need to build capacity. 

All of our work in the past year has been done by a group of dedicated volunteers. With the increased threats towards our community in the coming years, we need your support to build the adequate infrastructure to meet the challenges ahead. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today.

We thank you for your support, for believing in us and for supporting our leadership.

Sincerely,

UndocuBlack Core Leadership


Donate to the UndocuBlack Network!

ANONYMOUS

In celebrating our 1 year anniversary since the Undocumented and Black Convening in Miami, we are relaunching our UndocuBlack Blog. Here is our first submission from one of our members who prefers to stay anonymous. If you are a Black undocumented person and you are interested in submitting a story, please contact info@undocublack.org.

I was born in Nigeria in February 1980. My father came alone to the United States in 1981 to attend university in Brooklyn, NY, on a scholarship he was awarded by the Nigerian government. A year later my mother came with me and my older sister to join my father in Harlem. I was 2 years old at the time and my older sister was 4.

A year or two later, the corrupt Nigerian government stopped paying my father’s tuition. They sent him a lone airplane ticket to return to Nigeria, which showed that they did not take me, my mother and sister into consideration. As a result, my father did not return and instead opted to stay in New York to find work and seek a better life for the family. In 1985, our U.S. visas expired and all four of us became illegal residents of the United States.

When I was 17 years old, I wanted to start my life out right and attempted to get a summer job and a driver's permit. It was then my mother explained to me that there was a problem with my status in this country. Ever since then, my life has been full of let downs. The way immigration laws are in the U.S., I did not have an option for my sister and I to get legal status without returning to Nigeria. Doing that would’ve been a big gamble because it was unknown if and when we would be able to return to the United States.

However, my parents had four more children here in the United States beginning in 1983. The law states that if you have a U.S. citizen child that is at least 21 years old, they can sponsor you to become a legal permanent resident. In 2006 when my younger brotherwho is a U.S. citizenturned 21, he petitioned for my parents and they were able to get their green cards. Furthermore, my mother became eligible for U.S. citizenship in 2013, as a result of living in the country for more than 5 years as a permanent resident. I was told that as a U.S. citizen, my mother could now petition for my sister and I, but that was half true. Such a petition would have been feasible if we were both under the age of 21 and we were both well into our thirties when my mother got her citizenship.

So basically my sister and I are stranded here with no other options, not even qualifying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as that is for people who were no older than 30 when it was passed in 2012. Our hopes rested on the expansion of DACA that would’ve removed the age limit from the program. This would’ve given us social security numbers, work permits, and protection from deportation. Unfortunately, with the recent SCOTUS decision, our hopes were shot down. To say all this has been difficult would be the understatement of the century. People often talk about the “Dreamers”, well I am a DREAMer and have been dreaming for almost 20 years with no end in sight.