three days and counting

November 28, 2007

The Law School Admissions Test has become so important to me in the past six weeks that I hardly remember life without it. The LSAT is not a knowledge test, meaning, it does not test one’s understanding of laws, history or politics, for example, but rather tests a person’s ability to reason. All the questions involve logic and reasoning, reading comprehension, or a combination of both. It also tests one’s ability to think and comprehend complex written passages and break down the structure of arguments as quickly as possible.

The timing is extremely important. One of my biggest problems is getting flustered with a question and not just giving up and moving on as soon as possible. With 22-27 questions per section, 35 minutes for the entire section and every question valued equally, it’s crucial to not waste two or three minutes reading and re-reading tricky questions. I don’t like to give up, so it’s sometimes difficult for me to move on, and that usually means I am rushed and hence error-prone near the end of my sections.

Here’s an example of a logical reasoning question:

All intelligent people are nearsighted. I am very near-sighted. So I must be a genius.

Which one of the following exhibits both of the logical flaws exhibited in the argument above?

(A) I must be stupid because all intelligent people are nearsighted and I have perfect eyesight.
(B) All chickens have beaks. This bird has a beak. So this bird must be a chicken.
(C) All pigs have four legs, but this spider has eight legs. So this spider must be twice as big as any pig.
(D) John is extremely happy, so he must be extremely tall because all tall people are happy.
(E) All geniuses are very nearsighted. I must be very nearsighted since I am a genius.

When I first started prepping these flaw in reasoning questions were difficult for me, but now I’m pretty good at them.

The correct answer is D.

Then there are the infamous logic games. Some people find these games fun, I suppose I am one of them, unless I am missing something and it doesn’t all click together, and I can’t breeze through all the questions after creating a diagram. Then I hate the games, I hate them. Hate.

But I also love the games, and I think I might actually…. miss…. the games after Saturday. I might even like it if there were a website where other sick people such as myself might go to play these games, and there would be challenge after challenge and there is no timer and you could just solve and solve and solve until you were fully convinced of your own brilliance…

See? I told you it was sick.

I’ve also found some of my writing starting to sound like the LSAT logical reasoning questions. Especially when I am writing on I2US. For instance, I’ll just find myself structuring my arguments a little more succinctly, and perhaps with more clear causes and effects. There are a lot more words like “thus” and “therefore” as well. I guess lawyer-speak begins with the LSAT.

Wish me luck Saturday!


identity crisis unveiled

November 26, 2007

I stumbled upon this profile of former Milwaukee police officer turned outed undocumented alien Oscar Ayala-Cornejo in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today. Months ago when this story broke, Ayala-Cornejo was reportedly not interested in talking to anyone in the media. I had actually attempted to contact his family, hoping to write a profile that would shed light on the larger situation of someone in his shoes – meaning, brought to the U.S. as a child with few ties to Mexico and few legal options in the U.S., but nothing came of it.

Anyway, I think this is a very good profile, so no complaints. I’m sure the JS will get a bucket of hate mail about it, but I’m glad they ran such a sympathetic story on him:

Ex-officer wants new start
by Bill Glauber

It was a name he put on like a new suit of clothes, a name that gave him a new identity, a chance to succeed as an illegal immigrant in America.

But Oscar Ayala-Cornejo could never have imagined the long-term consequences of taking the name of his dead cousin, Jose Morales, and claiming his birth certificate, Social Security number, even a childhood immunization record.

He was just a teenager when it happened in 1999, a kid taking direction from his a father, a kid who dreamed of being a cop on the beat in his Milwaukee neighborhood.

“Once I became Jose Morales, there was no turning back,” he said.

Now, the ex-patrolman with the Milwaukee Police Department is a felon awaiting sentencing Monday in federal court. In August, he pleaded guilty to falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen. He could be headed to prison or put on probation. But in the end, he’ll be going back to his home country, Mexico.

Wednesday, at his mother’s home in Milwaukee, Ayala-Cornejo sat for a 75-minute interview. The 25-year-old was composed and expressed remorse.

He said he wanted to “tell people my story because there are a lot of people in my shoes” who “don’t know the consequences” of assuming a new identity to remain in the United States.

“If you get caught, you’re not going to be with your family, you’re not going to succeed,” he said. “You’re going to have to go back to Mexico, back to South America.”

His older brother Alex Ayala – born in the United States – is a U.S. citizen. Alex Ayala was fired from the Milwaukee Police Department in September, shortly after Ayala-Cornejo’s guilty plea. He has appealed his dismissal.

His older sister is also an American citizen, and his mother is a legal permanent resident. His father, Salvador, who also had his green card, died in 2004.

But Ayala-Cornejo is not a citizen. He was born in Guadalajara and came to Milwaukee as a 9-year-old, when the family settled in a basement apartment at S. 15th Place and W. Lincoln Ave. The neighborhood was tough, but he was determined to make a difference.

He wanted to be a police officer. In high school he told his father that he wanted to eventually join a police aide program, he said.

“He had this really disappointed look on his face,” Ayala-Cornejo said. “With a sad face he told me . . . I was not a citizen and because of that I cannot become an officer, I can’t continue my education, can’t go to college, can’t get a decent job.”

A solution, or so it seemed, was found. A cousin in Chicago offered to give the family documents of her son, Jose Morales, who had died at the age of 7. The two boys – Jose and Oscar – were born months apart.

“It was the only option we had,” he said. “I didn’t want to be away from my family.”

In 1999, he took on the new name, switched high schools from Pulaski to Hamilton, repeated his junior year and created a new identity. His family didn’t call him Oscar in public. He referred to his parents as his aunt and uncle. He told friends different stories about his name.

He excelled in the police aide program and moved on to the police force in 2004. He slipped through a background check because “I was so young and kind of established the name Jose Morales with going to school, gaining part-time jobs. I seemed like any other kid in high school who wanted to become an aide.”

On May 31, his story unraveled. Ayala-Cornejo was arrested by two plainclothes officers and questioned by immigration officials. He said he recognized two of them from doing Spanish translation for them.

An anonymous tip had led to an investigation of Ayala-Cornejo. His yearbook pictures from two schools, with different names, helped seal the case, he said. He admitted what he had done.

“There is probably a reasonable likelihood that the guy could have followed legal steps and become a citizen or at least gain lawful resident alien status,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson. “I guess it’s an obvious lesson the shortcut may seem like a good idea but maybe really isn’t in the long run.”

Under a plea agreement, Ayala-Cornejo faces six to 12 months in prison, but it’s possible he could also be eligible for probation.

He’s eager to start a new life in Mexico.

“It’s tough but I know I can do it,” he said. “I’m young, I’m bilingual. Mexico has a lot of opportunities down there. I know initially we came over to the United States because those opportunities weren’t available. But I feel confident I’ll find something, and I’m going to make it.”

I have to comment, however, on the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s suggestion that Ayala-Cornejo might have had a chance at LPR status or citizenship had he not taken on the U.S. citizen identity. Those kind of uninformed comments constantly give Americans the idea that there is a reasonable legal path around some of these choices had the person just been a little higher up on the morality scale.

On one hand, a person who falsely claims U.S. citizenship does accrue a lifetime bar with no waiver available to him ever. So at this point, even if Mr. Ayala-Cornejo has an American girlfriend or fiancee, he’s S.O.L. He will never be able to return to the U.S. legally as the laws currently allow.

However, even if Ayala-Cornejo had never falsely claimed to be a U.S. citizen, he would have had to marry a U.S. citizen to be able to gain legal status in any sort of expeditious manner. (Not that there is anything wrong with marrying a U.S. citizen, but that’s just not an option for everyone). Even that would have involved the same waiver process and likely wait in Mexico that my husband went through. His other option would have been to have his permanent resident mother or father petition for him, but that would have taken about 16 years considering current processing times. Even if Ayala-Cornejo had entered the U.S. as an infant in the arms of his mother, he would have faced the same situation.

I hope Oscar is able to start a new life in Mexico. He is right – there are more opportunities there now, but I imagine he will still face immense difficulties. Husbands of friends I know from the forum have stated that despite being bilingual and educated, they have been unable to find decent-paying work in various Mexican cities.

ten years

November 26, 2007

This past weekend the Brookfield East Class of ’97 celebrated our 10-year high school reunion in Milwaukee. It was a surreal evening – catching up with old friends, remembering the names of people I haven’t seen in 10 years and observing how many have shed their youthful roles and become their own confident individual, not a derivative of a group of “band geeks” or “math nerds” or “soccer guys.”

I think I’m a very different person than I was in high school – my interests and the way I view the world have changed drastically. While it’s hard to believe 10 years has passed, I feel really, really happy with where my life is and where it is going right now, and even approaching 30 doesn’t scare me anymore.


November 23, 2007

It’s no secret that during the past two years immigration as an issue and a problem has taken center stage in my life. Years back, my husband’s undocumented status seemed almost a novelty. Not the lack of status, I suppose, as much as the values behind it: the decision to come to the U.S. at age 19 to work, a decision that undeniably lifted his 10-member family out of dire poverty in a matter of a few years, is still, to me, remarkable.

In early 2005, married a little less than a year, we started the long process toward changing that legally defined status. There was paperwork, waiting, an interview in Mexico,  an 11-month separation, and finally, in July, there was a green card. Thankfully, immigration is no longer an issue in my marriage, but it is still all around me: I see it in the news, in the blogs, the issue’s toll on people that I interact with every day, in the voices of old friends.

During the last 18 months, among the things that helped me keep my life together was learning about as much immigration law as possible. It started on the forum, and once I started understanding the laws that applied to our situation, I wanted to know others. I found that my logical side (thanks Dad) seems well-adapted to understanding and applying laws, and my level-headed sense of compassion (thanks Mom) allows me to empathize with people without becoming irrational.

My current job allows me plenty of time to post on the forum, and my typing speed and love for writing hasn’t hurt my capacity to be one of the top posters on I2US. (Okay, okay, the top poster). After a while, answering questions, helping people with their hardship arguments and becoming more and more proficient with the way some of the laws work, I started to think, “sheesh, I really should have been a lawyer.”

Laurel Scott, the attorney specializing in I-601 waivers like the one my husband needed to get his visa, also a member of I2US, once mentioned that she had waited several years between her undergraduate graduation and her decision to go to law school. It was a subtle hint of sorts, but at that time, before we were certain about our future, I just laughed off the idea.

But as the summer ended and our life got back to a wonderful normalcy, I couldn’t kick the law school idea. I have never been interested in being a salesperson for life, but part of me has always thought my future would involve some sort of writing career. The problem with a writing career is what makes me such a happy blogger – never wanting to write about something I couldn’t give a shit about. I’ve rarely regretted not becoming a professional reporter for exactly this reason. Only a fraction of lucky journalists get to cover things they actually care about. I’d much rather sell vaccines than be one of the rest.

A friend’s boyfriend is a first-year law student, and we started chatting about it regularly. She kept saying: “I think you should do it!” “You would be great!” I kept saying, “I can’t believe I am even talking about this – Law school??? I’m 28, this is crazy!!” Nevertheless, I succumbed to ‘net temptation and read the entire University of Wisconsin Madison law school web site. Then the friend gave me her boyfriend’s e-mail. He laid it out there: if you want to pursue this for 2008, you’re going to have to take the LSAT in December and apply to UW as soon as possible. He told me what the best prep books were, and gave me a lot of great tips. I talked to Fermin, and he said go for it.

I decided to stop blogging for a while for a number of reasons. I hadn’t been feeling very inspired. I had a steady stream of drafts that I never finished. I don’t want to post the same articles and commentary that a number of other great pro-immigrant bloggers are already doing. I didn’t exactly have a direction for this blog, and I like at least a little direction. Besides, I knew the next 4-6 weeks were going to involve copious amounts of study time at coffee shops and libraries, and focus would be key. I also needed to write personal statements, compile application materials, and most of all, practice, practice, practice. It’s not that I couldn’t still keep the blog running, but it just seemed like a good time for a little break.

And here I am. The LSAT is next Saturday. (Wish me luck). Despite my initial goal of UW Law or nothing, I’ve decided to apply to Marquette University here in Milwaukee as well. Besides the obvious benefits of not having to move, they have a part-time evening program that I could do while continuing at my current job. Besides, UW is top 25, and it will be significantly easier for me to get into Marquette.

If I get in, it will take a while, but I will eventually go into the private practice of immigration law. It’s lame to say, “I want to help people,” but that is definitely a big factor. So is the idea that I would have a very secure and flexible career doing something challenging and rewarding. So is the idea that I would be able to assist lots of people like like Fermin and myself, who wandered into this process confused and came out informed, successful and stronger for it. A lot of people in my life have recently suggested – “oh, you could do family law, or adoption law,” but no, I don’t want to do any of those things. Never say never of course, but this decision is based on a desire to help immigrants and their families, and in an abstract way, to affirm the good parts of our nation’s history in our modern world.

I’ll be around.

I’m baaack…

November 18, 2007