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How — And Why — I Got Permission To Leave The US To Visit My Homeland Of Mexico After 30 Years

A picture collage of a Mexican passport, a photo of a man with glasses, a government work permit and a two boarding passes.
An image collage of Brian's travel documents.
(Dan Carino
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I’d been waiting for this moment for 30 years, and it came in the form of a letter in the mail.

“Authorization for parole of an alien into the United States,” the title of the official government letter read. It was sent to me from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

I combed the letters and dates at least twice and then it hit me: For the first time of my entire life living in the United States, I had been granted advance parole and was finally able to visit my country of origin, Mexico, with an authorization to come back to the U.S.

Being a DACA recipient

But, why was I able to do that after three decades living in LA and not before? I’m a DACA recipient, and have been for the last 10 years. That means that I am among that group of nearly 800,000 people — DREAMers, as they often call us — who entered the U.S. unlawfully as children, and some were granted permission to stay. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program doesn’t work like a visa and won’t grant me citizenship, but it does allow me and other recipients to stay in the U.S. with a work permit, driver’s license and a Social Security card. And, yes, it also allows me to pay taxes, but it doesn’t allow me to re-enter the country if I leave.

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Nothing much has changed for immigrants in my status since former President Barack Obama introduced the program in 2012. There’ve been federal court cases that have tried to repeal the program and eventually blocked USCIS from granting new work permits. But there hasn’t been progress toward a pathway to legalization for us, our mixed-status families and other undocumented immigrants.

Getting serious about traveling

As that decade of DACA has passed, my grandmothers’ health declined. I’ve never seen my paternal abuela in person since I left Veracruz, Mexico when I was 2. My maternal abuela used to visit L.A. often, but she isn’t up for long travel time anymore. Both my grandfathers died years ago — I didn’t get to say goodbye because of my legal status.

People say that time waits for no one, and now more than ever it felt like a stopwatch was over my head to see my family in my “home country.”

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So, last year, I got serious about processing an advance parole request.

It allows certain non-residents to leave the country and re-enter during a certain amount of time for specific reasons — educational, family emergencies and business. You apply with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and send them a check for about $500 with your request (which doesn’t guarantee that you will get the authorization).

I knew about this request — essentially a permit — for years, but I had never done it.

I’ve covered immigration as a journalist and I’ve been surrounded with legal experts, advocates and others in the community who have done the same process; everyone has a different opinion and experience. And sometimes there’s too much information to take in: “You should go because of this…” “My lawyer told me this…” “I read this in the newspaper…” Yes, I had knowledge and resources, but it’s still daunting.

I considered everything, laid it out and decided to take the steps to get my advance parole filed. I wanted to see my abuela, experience mi tierra, as many call their homeland.

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I’m 32 years old now and I feel like I’ve tried to do everything right in this country. Small things like paying off those L.A. parking tickets and bigger, exciting challenges like buying my first house in the Coachella Valley in 2019. I rep Los Angeles hard as my city, but I know very little about my history in Mexico, and particularly my family’s story from Veracruz. There has been a part of me that’s been missing because I don’t have the papers to go back and forth.

And I have to shout out my friends and community who lovingly pushed me to do it — including José Muñoz, who also did advance parole twice and came back into the U.S. safely. He became my coach-cheerleader as I began my paperwork and gave me pep talks to prepare myself mentally. Another friend, who is an immigration reporter, sent me resources and links to read. Other folks offered connections and friends to meet in Mexico when the time came.

It felt like I would have a community back home, here in L.A., if anything went awry. That gave me comfort. But as I looked toward visiting Mexico, it felt like it could redefine what home meant.

I worked with a lawyer right as summer was ending. I wrangled official documents from Mexico, like my maternal and paternal grandmothers’ birth certificates, and filled out forms to make my case. We filed my paperwork in October 2022. It was now out of my hands.

Authorization to go — and a big warning

USCIS or the Department of Homeland Security hadn’t sent anything except for a letter late October 2022 saying they received my petition. This advance parole letter was their official yes.

Forward to Feb. 6, 2023. After four months of sending my application, the advance parole document finally arrived.

A sense of freedom was in my hands as I kept reading that letter. I imagined visiting my abuela’s pueblo, eating Mexican street food, enjoying conchas with café — my favorite. I also thought about my friends’ trips and the fun they’ve had in my “homeland,” a place I didn’t know. “I’m going to Mexico!” I screamed. It was finally my turn to visit.

But it came with a big warning:

Leaving the United States, even with your advance parole document, does not guarantee that you will be paroled into the United States. CPB has discretion to deny a request for parole. Traveling outside the authorization period indicated above may result in termination of DACA.

Essentially, you’re not guaranteed re-entry to the country.

There were 10 seconds of fear that percolated in my head, but the excitement overtook the anxiety. It felt like a defining moment: the trip of a lifetime, my first visit to Mexico.

I had about a month to leave and re-enter the country with my permit. March 14, 2023 was the expiration date on my trip.

All right, on to the next task at hand: finally getting there. But I will talk more about that in the next part.

This essay is part of How to LA’s series Finding Home, Con DACA.

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