New York Times (New York)
By Liz Robbins
April 3, 2016
Angelo Cabrera was offered a job administering a program for Mexican immigrants at Baruch College in Manhattan more than two years ago.
This month, he will show up for his first day of work.
He spent around 24 months stuck in his native Mexico, trying to straighten out his immigration status and qualify for a work visa, and almost 24 years as an undocumented New Yorker. During those years, he earned two degrees from Baruch, part of the City University of New York, and started a social services organization. Now he is back — legally.
“It has been a miracle,” Mr. Cabrera, 41, said on Friday at the college. “It feels like I was under the shadows, under the darkness, for nearly 24 years.”
Mr. Cabrera crossed the border as a teenager in 1990 and made his way to New York. While working menial jobs, he earned an undergraduate and a graduate degree from Baruch and founded Masa, a nonprofit in the South Bronx that tutors Mexican and Mexican-American students.
In 2014, he was offered a job working with his mentor, Robert C. Smith, a sociology professor at Baruch. In that role, Mr. Cabrera would help immigrants apply for a deportation-deferral program for childhood arrivals. But first, he needed to fix his own immigration status.
That is when he returned to his parents’ home in San Antonio Texcala, Mexico. Because he lived illegally for more than a year in the United States, he faced a 10-year ban on re-entry unless he qualified for a humanitarian waiver.
His petition was rejected. Mr. Cabrera stewed for several months and then threw himself into what came naturally to him — helping others. He worked at a university in Puebla state with students recently deported from the United States — known as “Los Otros Dreamers” (the Other Dreamers) — helping them navigate the bureaucratic challenges of transferring academic credit. He sent youth groups to New York City to do volunteer work with community organizations helping Mexican immigrants. And he created a library in his hometown.
After an article about Mr. Cabrera appeared in The New York Times in January 2015, an international campaign to win him a waiver began. Dr. Smith turned to younger Latino activists who involved community organizations that leaned on lawmakers in Washington. The “Bring Angelo Home” social media campaign garnered more than 25,000 signatures on Change.org and the Daily Kos political website.
In January this year, Mr. Cabrera was granted his visa. Dr. Smith said he was pleased that the authorities had finally weighed Mr. Cabrera’s accomplishments more than the way he had entered the country as a teenager.
But the relief may be temporary, illuminating just how byzantine the American immigration system can be: The process took so long that Mr. Cabrera’s work visa has less than six months left. He may have to return to Mexico on Sept. 30.
His lawyer with the City University of New York, Andrés Lemons, said the university would seek an extension of the visa, an H-1B, though there is not yet funding for the job past September.
“The work is going to continue,” Dr. Smith said. “And we need him.”
After leaving Mexico last month, Mr. Cabrera had one last hurdle to cross. When he landed at Kennedy International Airport, a customs officer brusquely directed him to a back room for questioning, past a man in handcuffs.
It took one more anxious hour in limbo until he was free to go.
“To have that opportunity, even if it is a very short time, to fulfill that dream of being in the United States legally, has surpassed any other experience,” Mr. Cabrera said.
Back in New York, Mr. Cabrera registered for a Social Security number, which he would need to start his job. The official must have recognized him from news reports. “He said, ‘Welcome back. Sorry you had to wait so long,’” Mr. Cabrera recalled.
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