Views & Voices

Dreams deferred: Why we need immigration reform

Jose Cicahua-Perez

Jose Cicahua-Perez

My father carried me to this country on his back.

When I was three years old, economic conditions in Mexico forced my parents to bring me and my brother to the U.S., where our family would have a chance at a better life. Crossing the Rio Grande with me on his back, my father was terrified by the feeling that I could slip away from him at any moment, lost to the giant river that flowed around us.

But once we had arrived in the U.S., we quickly settled in Alabama. My mom found work as a waitress and my dad joined a construction crew. I became an active member of the community, making friends and going to school like all kids do.

Jose Cicahua-Perez

During the early years of my life, my citizenship wasn’t something I really considered, but that changed after my mom received devastating news from her family.

My childhood slipped away when we learned my grandfather had developed kidney failure.

Since I was only nine years old, I didn’t understand how significant my mom’s decision to return to Mexico to see her dying father was, and the reality that she may never be able to rejoin her husband and children in the U.S. While my mother was soon able to return, the experience forced me to confront reality – my family was undocumented, and that meant we couldn’t just come and go as we pleased.

In 2011, Alabama passed the country’s strictest immigration law, HB 56. The protests and discussions that followed made me realize that I needed to be open about my immigration status.

When I told them about my background, my friends quickly accepted me, and it wasn’t long before my brother, our friends and I were active members of the fight for immigration reform.

Yet there was a part of me that felt hypocritical, telling people that I was “undocumented and unafraid” while I kept a different secret. A few months ago, I made the decision to come out as gay. Since then, my family and friends have inspired me with their support.

Today, I am out and proud as an undocumented, gay immigrant. My brother and I recently received deferred action because we were brought to the U.S. as children, which means we no longer face the threat of deportation. For me, this means I will be able to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse. However, my parents’ dreams are still on hold.

I am fighting for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform because I want my parents to be able to fulfill their dreams.

A pathway to citizenship would give my parents, and our country’s 11 million aspiring Americans, the chance to come out of the shadows and live their lives with pride. With bipartisan support, the Senate recently passed a reform bill that includes a path to citizenship. It is time for the House of Representatives to respond to the overwhelming demand of Americans that their elected officials fix our broken immigration system.

I know what it’s like to be forced into two closets, unable to openly share your immigration status and sexual orientation. That’s why I’m thrilled that the LGBT community is standing up for immigration reform.

The reform legislation passed by the U.S. Senate includes many provisions that will particularly benefit this country’s 267,000 LGBT immigrants, such as eliminating the one-year bar on applying for asylum; improving conditions for people held in detention facilities; and limiting the use of solitary confinement, and prohibiting the use of this practice based solely on a detainees’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the Senate’s bill is not perfect and includes needlessly harsh border security provisions, it’s the best chance in our generation to provide a road map to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens this year.

I am tired of being used as a piece in a political game. For me, my family and my friends immigration reform isn’t about politics, it’s about the people we love being able to live a life outside the shadows.

Now is the time for the House of Representatives to act. No more political posturing, no more piecemeal provisions and no more extremist amendments that seek to undo the bipartisan progress the Senate made. We deserve action.

My favorite poem is called “A Dream Deferred,” by Langston Hughes. It asks, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” I know my parent’s dreams will never dry up; I know my mom and dad are just waiting for the day when they can live their lives how they have always pictured.

It’s time for Congress to do the right thing and give people like my parents the opportunity they’ve been waiting for.

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