Are We Welcome Entrepreneurs or Unwanted Criminals?

Almost deported in First Class

Are We Welcome Entrepreneurs or Unwanted Criminals?

They seemed to only see an aberrant foreigner randomly traveling to and from the US, instead of a skilled person that American companies have tried to hire legally.

I further explained that my current work visa application had been complicated due to a filing mistake and that I had been waiting on a decision. This fell on deaf ears. They searched my backpack, found my hackathon badge which drew incredible suspicion and asked, “What’s a hackathon? Are you a hacker?” I slowly explained that I’m a social entrepreneur promoting global change through the concept of ‘hackathons’ where attendees work together and find solutions to community issues within a tight time constraint. They were dismissive and didn’t seem to want to hear an explanation. We spoke two totally different languages. Mine, the language of reasoned hope and optimism. Theirs, the language of suspicious cynicism, fear and ignorance.

“We’re denying you re-entry into the United States and deporting you back to Mexico tonight. You won’t be allowed back into the US”

I was handed a plane ticket, put into a small cage in the back of a police van and transported to a secondary detention center. I was being treated like a common criminal without having committed any crime. I was frantic.

My life was being disrupted over a visa technicality.

I asked to speak to a supervisor and was told I would have to wait until after being transported to the detention facility. This is how I found myself stuck in a cage in the back of a police van.

The US and Silicon Valley had become my true home.

The opportunities in this country never cease to amaze me. Here we are able to chase our entrepreneurial dreams and work towards building a better world regardless of gender, ethnicity or creed. When I embarked on my own dream with Hack for Big Choices last year, I realized how much I had absorbed and learned here. I had seen the best America had to offer. However, sitting in the back of the van, I was beginning to experience the darker side of the country I had grown to love and call home.

The tall, blonde woman supervisor told me that she didn’t want to ruin my life and was willing to let me back into the country on a tourist visa as long as I settled my affairs and left the country within a month.

This meant I wouldn’t be allowed to return for at least a year. It was a small respite after what I had just experienced and I accepted my fate grudgingly. For the first time during the whole ordeal I felt like I was finally being treated like a human being instead of a statistic. However, before I was finally released, the other officer turned to me and said hatefully, “If it wasn’t for my supervisor here, I would have deported you immediately.” Why did he harbor such hate and anger towards foreigners?

I have now been forced to leave the US and I have a better understanding as to why many immigrants manifest feelings of being persecuted while simply trying to make life better for themselves and others. We are viewed as outsiders needing to prove ourselves worthy of being in the US. At the same time, I know there are also those who understand the difficulties faced by immigrants and are working hard to solve these issues.

I’m taking with me the many years of education and experience invested in me. My feelings about my time in America are bittersweet and I still have many lingering questions about what happened to me. The most important question being:

I will continue to further develop business relations for Hack For Big Choices within the international community so that I can one day come back and create a better world with the country I still love. I only hope that it will have me back.

[Update 26th February 2016] In January 2016, after 19 months, I have been able to come back to the U.S. with a O1 visa.

I’m grateful to all the people who supported me in this long journey, especially my lawyer Tahmina Watson , and Craig Montuori . They are both doing a tremendous work to improve the immigration system in the US.