A Once Undocumented Immigrant Reflects Upon Obama’s Plan

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.


Related Stories:

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Everything You Need to Know About the Bipartisan Immigration Reform Framework

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Photo courtesy of New America Media


Nadine McFarland
Nadine McFarland5 years ago

Immigrates do not come to this country illegally, they do it the legal way the first time and do not break our laws. If we were to go to their home country, we would be jailed and possibly shot for doing what they have done to this country. In addition, way too many are getting money that legal US citizens have worked for years and years to have for retirement and aid when dire situations arise, now our country is close to broke due to all the upkeep given to illegals. Sorry, but it someone wants to come to this country, do it the legal way, learn our language which is English, speak, write and understand it fluently, do not expect us to cater to your desires, and prepare to work for what you get, not get a free ride that so many are given today. I am 61 years old with three grandchildren and would like for them to have a decent life without having to pay for all the free rides our so called leader ( not much of a leader in my book, more like a you do it my way or I will have a drone kill you,) is giving out to illegals. Am I angry, yes, I do not have a thing against someone that comes here through the proper legal channels but to have millions come here illegally, be given a free ride to education, health, housing, food, and everthing else here, including our jobs is sickening. Am I fed up, not just yes, but hell yes. I am not alone in how I feel and a word to the wise is, if you want us to accept you, then abide by our laws, come here legally, learn our traditions, join our

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

Before we deal with the illegal immigrants here already we need to fix the problems that allowed them to come illegally. I have no problem with helping them to become legal law abiding citizens of this country but we don't want to have to do it again with another whole batch of them.

Sheri D.
Sheri D5 years ago

Thanks for this article. I just hope that Congress passes immigration reform as close to what President Obama has proposed.

Care member
Care member5 years ago


Gail G.
Gail G5 years ago

Mr. Avila, Thank you for your article. I appreciated the positive emotion you gave to us for feeling more like you belonged. But you always belonged to people like me. I grew up in a foreign country, but America was my home, and so I know what it's like to come back and yet feel sort of like an outsider. One thing I know you deal with, I can really relate to. Since I spent many of my younger years away from the U.S., I didn't know what was going on in the public schools, which was a lot of anger all over the place, the beginnings of bully junk. I didn't know of this and so I automatically stood up to it and still do to this day. When you grow up in one environment or homelife and then go to another place, people can be unpredictable. But as long as you feel like you belong, nothing can ever take that away from you. For anyone who has ever been mean to you, may I say you have an angel in heaven just for you for every one of those incidents. God bless you and yours, God bless our good President, and may you be as succesful as you would like to be. Gail

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance5 years ago

Immigration reform is a many faceted issue, partly because it has been left to languish for so long, partly because of the caustic political atmosphere, and partly because of fear, discrimination and bigotry which is very much alive.

Thank you to Adrian Avila for putting a new face on the issue, for reminding people of the human side of immigration.

Holly McClenahan
Holly McClenahan5 years ago

Immigration reform is needed. Thanks for the article.

Patricia G.
Patricia Gal5 years ago

I personally think the whole "immigration" system wasn't staffed, trained & has never worked properly or effectively. Its been unemployed, loose ends, turned cheeks for decades making this country the messy immigrated system it is today.
Government failures over and over again!!!

paul m.
paul m5 years ago

Thanks for ....

Nils Lunde
PlsNoMessage se5 years ago