Guerrero, Mexico

The girls taking the public transportation to the swimming pool with their cousins. (February 2015)

Tlaxcala, Mexico

Erika picking out pan dulce at our favorite panaderia. (January 2015)

Bend, Oregon, United States

Our family photo taken in Drake Park with all three of my daughters (October 2014)

San Francisco, California, United States

Enjoying the beautiful view from the top of Twin Peaks (July 2015)

Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Exploring the ruins of Palenque during our Great Mexican Road Trip. (May 2014)

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Most Awesome Day

You are always so lucky said my sister as soon as I called to tell her the news. I don't think I'm lucky. I think I'm smart enough to pursue the opportunities that exist in our country and attain those goals when possible. I also realize that I am very fortunate to live in the country I do. The opportunities that I'm being given do not exist in many countries. In fact, the opportunity that I received today would equate out to winning the lottery for many people across the world. As it is, I'm just giddy and excited inside.

When I flew home in June, I didn't really have a penny to my name and I was faced with having to start over again and somehow manage to get my husband home too. We did have a house to return too but we had people living in it and I had to give them some time to get out since we returned so much sooner than expected. I had a car that I'd left stored in the garage since we were still making payments on it. I reopened my unemployment claim and started work searching right away. My benefits were denied at first so I was trying to support two households on my one disability check.

We stayed with Corri our first night back home. We were talking about a mortgage assistance program that she had signed up for. I remember hearing about Oregon Homeowner Help while I was working at the employment department. It was a part of the recorded message that played every time someone called into the office. I decided to give it a shot since I was basically unemployed and a little frightened about our financial situation. The deadline for the cycle was July 1st and everything had to be turned in by that date or you would be disqualified. I ran all over town collecting up every single document they requested and going through my files in storage trying to find the rest.

I received a confirmation that everything had been received and that the process generally takes 120 days before any thing would happen. I got an email around the 90 day mark (Sept 29) asking for some additional documentation:

  • Need: A current mortgage statement
    Need: Property tax statement
    Need: Documentation for any pension income received from 5/6/14 - 7/1/14 or a note stating that no pension income was received
Bend Area Habitat for Humanity has been fabulous about helping me with the paperwork and assisting me with my application to the program. They carry my mortgage in-house and I have no interest, just the mortgage, insurance, and taxes. I gathered everything up and turned it in again. I asked what stage I was at and was told that it was a required 120 days so I needed to have a little more patience.

Yesterday morning ( Oct 30), I received an email with a copy of the loan documents and the request to make an immediate appointment to come in and sign before the papers expired. Well, I was in their office at 9 o'clock this morning signing papers!! Since our taxes and insurance are rolled into our monthly mortgage payment, everything will be paid for us. I had expected only the mortgage portion to be paid by the program. So as of right now, I will not have to make another mortgage payment until either a) December 2015 or b) we file bankruptcy or c) I fail to comply with the quarterly income verifications and view the 45 minute homeownership education videos. 

So I am so freaking excited!!! We can finally start paying off some personal debt like my sister's credit card and save up for a car since Jose usually  has to run to the gym after work if I'm driving, which is the case 90% of the time. And I can then start saving for SPAIN!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Immigration, the trumped up credentials, and the SSA

 If something were to have happened to Jose, the kids and I would have been without any type of survivor benefits. I'm not a morbid person by any means but the planner in me wants to always be ready for anything that may happen. Since my father slipped into a three week coma before passing away in 2010, I have had my affairs in order. Do you know what it's like to make a DNR decision for someone when they have left you nothing to go on? After I suffered and agonized and got my father's affairs in order, I flew straight home and set up a living will and testament for my family. I have young children who will not see adulthood for many years to come. 

Almost better than receiving the elusive green card is the valid social security number. Growing up, I hated being a number in a system. Enter the Army and now I have to stencil my social security number in big black numbers over all my gear. People freak out nowadays about keeping their number super secret and I'm like what the hell ever, my number has traveled through so many countries that it's not worth bothering now! You have a child, you register for a social security number, and you don't think about it anymore. Now hike across the burning desert in search of the dream and it becomes a lot bigger than that!
Currently available for about $150 on street corners in just about any immigrant neighborhood in California, a typical fake ID package includes a green card and a Social Security card. It provides cover for employers, who, if asked, can plausibly assert that they believe all their workers are legal. It also means that workers must be paid by the book - with payroll tax deductions. - New York Times (2005) 
It works the same way here in Oregon, drive to a certain corner in a certain town and just hang out for a bit, and they will come to you. You must not look like an American though, not light skin or suspicious airs, or you'll go home empty handed. Now they are getting wise and sending in the Latinos undercover to trap the vendors. What that piece of paper did create was a huge flow of money into the coffers of the Social Security Administration, billions of dollars of money.
As the debate over Social Security heats up, the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year. Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions according to the New York Times April 5, 2005
Jose had been working here until a fictitious number and paid thousands of dollar into the SSA. Every year after you file your taxes, you get a letter from the SSA letting you know that they are having difficulty matching your wages up with your social security number and could you please respond with a copy of your card. It is no secret what is happening and our government doesn't do anything because it is more beneficial than detrimental. The IRS issues you an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) to use when filing your taxes. You send in your W-2's each year with the bogus social security numbers and your ITIN on the front of the form. You get your limited refunds or you pay your taxes. Being married to a spouse with only an ITIN, I lost my privilege to claim the Earned Income Credit every single year, until this one.

This year it all changes. This year I amend all the paperwork and wrongs and I continue to better my family. Yesterday I drove to the post office and mailed a letter to the IRS and asked them to please cancel his ITIN number and update their records with the new social security  number. It's unlawful to have both an ITIN and an SSN assigned to one person. I used a sample letter that I found here. Since we are planning to file bankruptcy, I won't be updating his credit bureaus!! I should receive a letter in approximately a month confirming the update.

The next step had me awake until 12:30 in the morning. I dug through our files and pulled out the last 11 years worth of tax returns. I carefully separated each one by year and then I created a header at the top of a word document. On the top line is font size 24 and bold, I put the year. On the second line, I put his full legal name and the (other) SSN and the new SSN. On the next line, I put the total amount of earnings and the names of the employers on the W-2s. Then I printed out that sheet. Then I put that sheet of paper back into my printer, set the W-2s on the glass and then hit the copy function. What came out was a sheet of paper with all the pertinent info on it and copies of the W-2s right below on the same sheet. For the years that he had more than 2 employers, I added a second sheet and wrote page 1 of 2, page 2 of 2, etc. All told, it came to almost $270,000 of earnings and thousands of dollars paid into social security and medicare. I filled out this form (SSA-7008) that I found on the SSA's website for correcting earnings. I filled it out and where it asked me to list the employer's and earnings, I wrote "see attached" since there was not near enough room. We went together to the SSA office with his valid social security card clutched in hand and feeling a little nervous about what type of representative that we'd end up dealing with. After a 15 minute wait, we were called to the window and I handed the paperwork to the lady and explained our situation. She asked Jose the security questions and then sought assistance from a colleague who assured her that we had everything in order. She asked Jose to sign the form and asked where the other number had come from. I just told her that it had never been issued and was undocumented. She said no more and we were all done. We should receive a letter in a month showing the earnings that have been credited to his account. Then we can log online and determine his estimated benefits.

Disclaimer: If you have worked under another name or have not filed taxes correctly, be prepared to not receive credits for your earnings or expect a demand from the IRS for any back taxes that they feel you owe. We did everything correctly so this can only be beneficial for our family!

UPDATE 2/24/15: We received our confirmation letter in the mail today that all of Jose's wages have been moved over to his new social security number. We were able to log onto the SSA website and view his estimated benefits for disability, survivor, and retirement.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Power in Planning

Have you ever felt as if life was completely out of control and you're holding on by a thread? You have these people in your Facebook feed. It seems like one bad thing after another seems to happen to them and you don't understand why. I'm not one of them, I can't be.

In the chaos that it called life, I am The Planner. While we figure out what the next year is going to bring to us, I'm planning for all possible scenarios. Staying home and living life day after day is the easy one. Jose goes to work, I go to work, the kids go to school, and life passes us by.

Wait, what?!?!

I am not going to let life pass us by any more! This might just be fine and dandy for everyone else but I really feel like life is passing us by while we sit here and wait for something to happen. Erika is a middle schooler now and thus our day starts every morning at 6:30am. It means she has to go to bed at 8pm and our time together is reduced to two hours after I get home from work in which we also have to eat dinner, do homework, and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow. I never planned for her to attend middle school. This is her choice. This is Erika having a say about what she wants to do and I'm letting her. Do I think it will be short term? Absolutely but at least she knows that she gave it a try and it wasn't the right thing for us.

Mia is a first grader now and she loves school most days. Are there things wrong with elementary school? Absolutely!! Will the benefits outweigh the negatives for her? I believe they will. She loves her teacher, she hates how the behavior of others in her class equates out to her losing out on reading time as well she should but she is reading so much every single day and I love to see that light bulb pop when she figures out a new word. Mia is exactly where she needs to be right now and we are going to take it one year at a time for her. By the time Mia reaches middle school, Erika will be finishing up high school and we'll be able to focus on helping both of them with their educations. Mia doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up and that's perfectly fine. I'm still trying to figure that out myself.

I'm a planner, a maker of a million lists, with a hundred reminders set up in my phone to keep on track with everything that is going and so I don't forget the little stuff like going to bed at a decent hour or picking up the kids from school. I don't know how much relates to my PTSD and what is just old age but I struggle with the little stuff the older I get. Yesterday I was driving to pick up Jose and by the time I reached the traffic signal, I had forgotten where I was going and went the wrong way. It's frustrating because then I feel like I'm out of control and it usually triggers an anxiety attack. I try to use the GPS on my phone as much as possible to help me get from Point A to Point B. The sad part is that I actually do completely fine when I'm in a new place and don't know the layout but if I'm on familiar ground, I make one wrong turn after another.

In order for something to happen in my life, I have to plan it. My bucket lists are my hopes, dreams, and goals all rolled up into one plan. I'm a visual planner too, I like to see my lists, carry them around, jot down things, and add little graphics to it.

Right now that is being materialized in my smash book

Adding all the little bits and pieces of my dream
I must confess that this is my first time making an actual smash book. Normally I use a traditional paper journal and just write down everything that comes to mind. This is more than a simple vacation though, it's another international move and this time to a country that we've never been to. To me, information is power and I must be in control. There are so many things to prepare for with this program as well so I'm trying to get ahead of the curve now. I have yet to read about anyone else in the program ever going as a family of four! By the time I reach the point of Spain or Bust 2015, this little smash journal should be completely filled with my dream.

How do you plan? How involved do you get with making your dreams come true? Are you a do-or-die planner too?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Coming full circle back home

This week has been one of many revelations for me. Coming home has actually felt harder than leaving did. We have been a united family for so long, always focusing on this goal of fighting immigration and proving against the odds that we were going to keep our family together and come out smiling on the other side.

Well, we're on the other side now and it hasn't been all smiles. Our relationship has been stretched very thin and I spent days wondering if we had survived so much only to lose it all after the battle. It was as if all of our energy and passion had been focused on fighting the enemy and now what? Where do we put all of our energy and passion?

My passion has always been to travel. I eat, sleep, breathe, and dream about traveling and places that I've never seen. This fire has been with me for as long as I can remember. These last 8 years of my life have been restricted because any travel I did was be limited to the United States if I wanted my husband as my travel companion.

Jose's passion is his family and the home front and then travel might come into play at the bottom of the list. He can finally walk around without the fear that we are going to lose everything we've created here. His passion is to make our home better and do all of the projects that we put off like pavers in the front driveway with a wooden deck and jacuzzi out back. He wants that Toyota pickup that I promised him if I ever succeeded in helping him get that elusive green card.

Since April 15th, I have been making my dreams point towards Spain. I want him to acknowledge the sacrifices that my privileged white self has done and jump on the train with me. I am consumed with this desire to travel and spend some serious time in Europe and see everything that it has to offer. I want to find a quiet little town and settle in for the 8 month stay and make it our life. I want to get my Master's in Linguistics so I can travel the world later on and teach English. Spending a year in Spain teaching will be a huge step in that direction and I hope that I can get my CELTA certificate in Barcelona at the same time. The time clock is still ticking on my GI Benefits and I don't want them to go unused. Jose doesn't understand why we can't wait another year and do it later. I'm afraid that the longer you put something off, the higher the chance that it won't happen. Maybe it will end up being me and the girls going while he stays home. I hope not but I am so focused on my dreams that I'm having a hard time acknowledging his. Buying a new truck means adding another large monthly bill onto the ones we'll already have to pay while we are gone. Why do that? Our mortgage and utilities will already consume most of the savings we need to take with us, let's not make it any harder, not to mention cut into my European vacation fund!?!?!

Right now we're sitting in Bend, in our little house that we call home. I think we have finally reached a point where we are not bickering and fighting about every tiny little thing. Oh my goodness, that just saps the energy right out of you! Jose was able to go right back to work when we returned but it took me quite a bit longer. I finally found a temporary position as a bilingual legal assistant for an immigration law firm. Wow, talk about coming full circle. This is what I have been living and breathing on an extremely personal level and now I'm doing it for a job. I've been there about 3 weeks now and I am fitting in perfectly. Our immigration journey was a very stressful, emotional journey and I am now being reminded of that on a daily  basis. I pick up the mail on my way into work and when I sat down to open it up one morning, I saw an approval for someone's provisional waiver and the tears just welled up in my eyes and spilled over. This is why I have a hard time becoming a high profile activist because it is so personal to me and hits me so hard. I have a hard time fighting my PTSD and depression without a drug cocktail and I can't drag myself into something that will end up pushing me into that dark place again.

So where are we heading now? I don't know. I can only hope that it is going to take me overseas on another wild adventure. A family member commented last week that they couldn't understand why I was creating shadow boxes that said Home Sweet Home on them with a map of the United States, Oregon, and Bend. I had to explain that I don't hate the land that is my home, I hate the way our society behaves and how dark and bleak the future seems for our people but I love the beauty of the mountains, lakes, and streams that make up my home. I want to take my children out into the world and show them the beauty of the world's people, not the borders that divide us. In order to do that, I need to leave home. World citizens weren't creating sitting at home in the comfort of our daily routines. That is where fear and phobias are bred.


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