Written by Adrian Avila
In a packed high school gym in Las Vegas, Nevada, President Barack Obama calmly spoke on the real possibility of comprehensive immigration reform. As I sat in my chair just 15 feet away from the president, I was trying to understand what was going on in front of me. As an individual that was undocumented for 22 years here in the United States, I couldn’t believe that I was about to hear a speech that I have dreamed of my entire adult life.
Only four months prior, I would have not been allowed in to this event since I wouldn’t have been able to provide proper identification. Back then, I was an undocumented immigrant with very little opportunity in this country.
Words can’t and never will truly explain what it means to be undocumented. It would be like describing what a marathon feels like to someone who has never ran more than a mile. But as someone who has seen both side of the undocumented line, I am hopeful that, this time, change will come.
After surviving as an undocumented immigrant since the age of six, I am now a current U-Visa holder, which grants me legal status in this country for four years. I also now have a path to permanent residency and one day citizenship.
I am following the path that millions of hopefuls would walk if the plan Obama proposed on January 29th passes. That plan includes a background check with biometrics, and penalty fees for entering the country illegal — all things I was more than willing to partake in.
As the president gave his speech recounting stories as to why reform is needed, I thought of some of my older relatives who raised me, as they worked and lived with little hope that their status would ever change. I had images of them driving to their jobs, better new jobs, with a new drivers license they always needed but were always denied. That ability of being able to share the road with all the other citizens of this country, without the fear of prosecution, is a freedom that really feels life-changing.
What some – even advocates for immigration reform – may not know is that legalization is not only about basic privileges, like being able to drive and work legally, but that it relieves the unbelievable, and at times debilitating, stress of being undocumented. Becoming legal transforms a person’s being. I know because I’m experiencing those feelings now. I can have moments now that I’ve always dreamed of — being able to drive my wife around, being able to present proper identification when asked, and being seen as a human being while doing so, and not some kind of Mexican boogie monster.
Now imagine the 11 million undocumented immigrants who will be given the same opportunity – it will change this country in ways that are practically unimaginable. You will have millions of individuals that are willing to work harder than ever before. It would be one of the best investments that this country could make for its people.
When the president introduced deferred action this past June of 2012, it was a small step toward achieving this long awaited aspiration. That policy allowed qualifying undocumented youth who came here before the age of 16, and are under the age of 31, to get a work permit. But the change it brought is small compared to what we have on our hands — a broken immigration system that is a big problem needing big solutions. We need to fix the old broken down laws that govern our immigration system and allow access to individuals of all ages that meet the requirements to be Americans. One never knows at what age they will achieve greatness. So to say, through the deferred action, that America only validates young smart people, is wrong.
I know that the road to victory is a long one, one that will have to travel through the craziness that is the U.S. legislative process, but I hope and pray that the same opportunity that was afforded to me will be given to those individuals wanting to be a positive part in this nation. One thing that many forget is that not all of the 11 million want to be citizens in this country. But for those persons willing to go through the process, whatever it may be, I know that the rewards will be more than worth it. You can’t benefit from anything you don’t put work into, and compared to what immigrants face on the daily, this battle should be a walk in the park.
This post was originally published by New America Media.
Photo courtesy of New America Media