Immigration officer's secret: She was smuggled into the country


Sam Morris

Former Immigration and Naturalization Services employee Victoria Galan, the author of the the book “Forever Illegal”
about the immigration system, is sen in her home Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014.

Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 | 2 a.m.

Victoria Galan entered the country illegally but became a federal official who held the stamp of immigration in her hand.

Now, a new edition of her book, “Forever Illegal,” shares her story, disclosing for the first time after 19 years working for the government that she was smuggled here from Mexico as a child.

In her book, Galan, who retired from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in 2010 after a back injury, dishes out advice for both government agencies and immigrants.

She was passionate about her work and readily professes her love for the United States, but she has pointed criticisms. In her book, she recounts the work of dedicated immigration agents but also points out needlessly complicated procedures and often arbitrary decision-making. She also tells the stories of immigrants who tried but failed, through no fault of their own, to earn legal residency through proper procedures, and calls out immigrants who willfully gamed the system.

She was weeks from her fifth birthday when her mother, who was already in California, paid a human smuggler to take Galan and her siblings across the border. The book also marked the first time that Galan publicly revealed that she was raped during the journey. Galan’s mother earned her permanent residency and later sponsored her children for residency. Galan then became a citizen of the United States.

Today, she co-hosts, along with Gisela de la Rosa, a weekly radio show, “La Otra Cara de Imigracion” (The other side of immigration) on KRLV 1340 AM. She also takes several calls a week from people seeking informal immigration advice. She never offers legal guidance but does her best to steer the person in the right direction.

Galan sat down with the Sun to discuss her thoughts on reforming the immigration system, how her own experiences informed her work and the view from the immigrant perspective.

You seem to address several groups in your book. Who was your target audience?

There was no specific target audience. I’m one of the few people who became an officer and who is also a face of immigration. I know the story in the service, and I know the story of people coming in. I’m not on this side or that side; I’m on both sides.

I want the immigrant and the American to understand: I’m on the United States’ side.

If you’re an American citizen, I want you to know that not everyone is here without documents by choice, like the kids who were brought here. For a lot of them, this is their home. There are people here who have tried, but because they were ripped off by an attorney, a notary or just screwed by the system, they will be here illegally.

I understand that immigrants are people who are looking for a better life. They have to realize that there are other people in line trying to do the same thing, and it’s not fair to skip the line.

Did you ever allow your own experience as an immigrant to inform your decisions as an immigration officer?

I blocked out my experience of coming here for a long time, and when I was asked, I told people I was born in California.

I never allowed my story to influence my decision-making in the job. Never. I still believe the law has to be respected. I went by the book.

In your opinion, what should we do about immigration reform and the 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in America?

If you pass reform now, 11 million more will come. With the immigration system, we need reform within the system first, from the inside out, before we need changes to any laws. With the reform of 1986, people were getting off the planes and applying. There was a lot of fraud.

You have to reform the service, and you have to provide those who have been waiting the right way the first shot.

A work permit is not such a bad idea for the people here illegally, because we should be able to identify these people.

What problems do you see with the debate on immigration going on in Congress?

Congress does not know how the process works. They need to know what it’s like to be inside an immigration office and how things work in order to fix them. All they know is there are a lot of illegal immigrants, but they don’t know what’s needed. How will you fix something if you don’t know what’s broken?

Why was it important for you to share the story of how you crossed the border and the sexual assault you experienced?

I decided at one point, I have nothing to lose. When something like that happens to you, you’ve lost a lot already. If you don’t speak up, it will continue to happen. All these people who came without documents, how do you think their kids got here? If you smuggle a child today, and that child gets raped and killed, who are you going to go to? Are you going to go to American police and say, ‘I was trying to commit a crime, but in the process this is what happened’? So, I think a lot of those cases go unreported.

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Immigration officer's secret: She was smuggled into the country
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