In “Amor & Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders,” Hoffman, a journalist, and Salgado, a biologist and educator, have exposed an aspect of the contentious immigration debate that readers may have overlooked until now.
Hoffman, 36, who attended Krieger Schechter Day School and Gilman while growing up in Pikesville, became interested in journalism at Cornell University. After graduation, he held reporting and editing jobs in news organizations across Idaho and northern California. One of Hoffman’s main beats was immigration, and through his reporting, he became knowledgeable and interested in the issue.
“I started meeting a lot of couples having trouble getting their partner’s green cards,” said Hoffman. Three years ago, he left his job at the Boise Weekly to concentrate on writing a book about the stories of these couples.
Meanwhile, Hoffman’s college friend, Salgado, who was living in the San Francisco Bay area, had begun dating her future husband, Margarito Resendiz, a Mexican immigrant.
“I met my husband in 2001 and then found out he was undocumented,” said Salgado, 35, an American who grew up in central New York.
“I knew a little about immigration, but I really didn’t have a good understanding of the policies. In 2004, we were married. By then, I realized that being married wasn’t going to help my husband [gain citizenship.] The problem was he was EWI [entry without inspection],” explained Salgado.
In other words, Margarito Resendiz had entered the country without undergoing the required admission process with an immigration officer.
At first, Salgado, who had always been an activist, assumed she and her husband would find a way around the legal red tape, but as time went on, she began to realize that there was nothing she could do to avoid it. Due to his EWI status, her husband had what is called a “permanent bar.” Therefore, his only path to legal immigration was to leave the U.S. and wait 10 years to apply for a waiver. In the meantime, the Salgados, still living in California, found themselves with a difficult decision on their hands.
“Things were going really well for us professionally. I was finishing my master’s degree, and he was offered a partnership in the construction company where he worked. But I was actually beginning to be fearful. [What would happen if] a light on his truck was out and he got pulled over? Then they would find out he doesn’t have a driver’s license because he’s not a citizen. That’s how it happens. I didn’t like living that way,” said Salgado. “So we weighed the options – stay in the U.S. and live the good life but risk deportation, or move to Mexico? It was a slow buildup to finally taking the plunge and leaving. No decision was a pleasant one,” she said.
Salgado and Hoffman had kept in touch after college, and he soon became aware of the irony of their situations.
“I was writing about this, but Nicole was living it,” said Hoffman.
When he learned that Salgado was keeping detailed notes about their ordeal and had her own plans to write a book, Hoffman approached her with the idea of co-authoring the book. Salgado, who has lived in exile in central Mexico with her husband and 3-year-old Mexico-born daughter since 2006, agreed.
“I think people are missing the point of immigration reform. The point is to keep families together, not to penalize Americans for their relationships,” said Hoffman, whose book also documents America’s history as a country of immigrants.
Hoffman said another issue portrayed in the book is the “plight of same-sex couples” with immigration dilemmas. Among the true stories that appear in “Amor and Exile” is that of Glenn Greenwald (a journalist whose column in the Guardian recently revealed details of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program) and his Brazilian partner. Since the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits Greenwald from sponsoring his partner for legal citizenship in the U.S., the couple resides in Brazil, where that right is available to gays.
“There are lots of same-sex, bi-national couples in the book. They have the same set of emotional and relationship issues [as the straight couples in the book], but they have no rights at all,” said Hoffman.
“What we did with the book was to try to raise awareness among Americans of what fellow Americans have gone through,” said Salgado.
Recently, Salgado and Hoffman raised $12,000 that enabled them to hand deliver copies of “Amor & Exile” to elected officials on Capitol Hill. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Chicago), a major proponent of immigration reform, wrote a letter to his colleagues urging them to read the book.
“When we were up on the Hill, I encountered people who are [supposedly] ‘in the know’ but who don’t grasp that an American citizen could be exiled for 10 years. We need relief and for people to consider their neighbors. Consider this country’s immigrant history,” said Salgado. “I hope people get a copy of the book.”
The day this article published, on June 27, the U.S. Senate passed sweeping immigration reform in a bipartisan vote of 68 to 23 with 14 Republican senators supporting the bill. Now the bill will be sent to the U.S. House of Representatives where Speaker of the House John A. Boehner has already said he will not bring the bill to the House floor for a vote. Instead, Boehner said the House will write its own immigration reform bill.
To learn more and to purchase a copy of “Amor & Exile,” visit amorandexile.com.