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Views & Voices

Dreams deferred: Why we need immigration reform

Sunday, September 1, 2013

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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16 more reader comments:

  1. I don´t understand… if an American citizen brakes the law, he/she is held accountable. If an ILLEGAL immigrant brakes our laws, they get a free pass? How does that teach anyone to be a model citizen? I´ve nothing against immigration, hell, both sets of my grandparents were immigrants at one time. They followed the rules and became citizens. Why are those here illegally given a pass?

    Posted on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 7:34pm
  2. I don’t understand… if an American citizen brakes the law, he/she is held accountable. If an ILLEGAL immigrant brakes our laws, they get a free pass? How does that teach anyone to be a model citizen? I’ve nothing against immigration, hell, both sets of my grandparents were immigrants at one time. They followed the rules and became citizens. Why are those here illegally given a pass?

    Posted on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 7:34pm
  3. Make it easier also for Americans to GET OUT of America – there should be an easier way for Americans to live/work in Canada, Canadians to live/work in America, and Mexicans to live/work in America (vice versa). All this red tape is ridiculous. And if you are a US citizen, unless you are a rocket scientist or a billionaire you are stuck there and can´t leave as other countries immigration systems are airtight.

    Posted on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 8:12pm
  4. Make it easier also for Americans to GET OUT of America – there should be an easier way for Americans to live/work in Canada, Canadians to live/work in America, and Mexicans to live/work in America (vice versa). All this red tape is ridiculous. And if you are a US citizen, unless you are a rocket scientist or a billionaire you are stuck there and can’t leave as other countries immigration systems are airtight.

    Posted on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 8:12pm
  5. Thanks Jonathan Lund for adding some sense to the senseless borders idea

    Posted on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 9:48pm
  6. Come in legally like all the ones who are standing in line, or go back where ya come from. We should not award citizenship to those who come in illegally, I live by the border and see what illegals do almost every day. Stand in line like the rest and do it the legal way.

    Posted on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 10:31pm
  7. I have to agree – Asians and others get no free pass. Do it legally if you want to live here. I am NOT responsible for your parents decisions.

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 12:56am
  8. heres a quarter, call someone who care´s. your here illegally. unless or until your legal, I don´t want to hear your sob story.

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 1:22am
  9. heres a quarter, call someone who care’s. your here illegally. unless or until your legal, I don’t want to hear your sob story.

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 1:22am
  10. You shouldn´t be proud to be undocumented – you need to figure out how to go home and return legally. Or, is that impossible? Does Mexico make it hard to do it legally? I really would like to know – but either way, you need to go through proper channels.

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 1:22am
  11. You shouldn’t be proud to be undocumented – you need to figure out how to go home and return legally. Or, is that impossible? Does Mexico make it hard to do it legally? I really would like to know – but either way, you need to go through proper channels.

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 1:22am
  12. We have always been and will always be a nation of immigrants…

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 9:01am
  13. Yep!

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 10:07am
  14. I´ve personally met Jose, so let me tell you a bit about him. He is a high school student that works tirelessly for equal rights for all Americans, and he aspires to go to UAB to major in nursing. As he said in the article he was only a small child when his parents decided to bring he and his brother across the border into the United States. You tell him to go back to Mexico and figure it out the documented way, I´m sure if there was a simple of way of doing that he would have done that already, but anyone who knows anything about the rigorous hoops one has to jump through to become a citizen in this country would know that isn´t the case. Have you ever looked up what it takes to get a travel visa in Mexico? Go look that up then try and judge any person who is undocumented. Jose has worked hard, got an education, and even advocates for the rights of those that are on this post right now telling him to go back to Mexico. There are millions of young people like Jose, and there are even more undocumented older adults that have been here for years that have families and jobs and livelihoods here just like the rest of us. We as Americans act like it is so simple for other people to do things we could easily do. News flash, you´re an American! We are blessed to have been born in a country that gives us rights for simply breathing, but that doesn´t happen everywhere. If you have someone who has been willing to do this much work for this long and still want to further improve themselves, then I don´t see a problem in giving them the opportunity. That´s what America is about, correct?

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 1:23pm
  15. I’ve personally met Jose, so let me tell you a bit about him. He is a high school student that works tirelessly for equal rights for all Americans, and he aspires to go to UAB to major in nursing. As he said in the article he was only a small child when his parents decided to bring he and his brother across the border into the United States. You tell him to go back to Mexico and figure it out the documented way, I’m sure if there was a simple of way of doing that he would have done that already, but anyone who knows anything about the rigorous hoops one has to jump through to become a citizen in this country would know that isn’t the case. Have you ever looked up what it takes to get a travel visa in Mexico? Go look that up then try and judge any person who is undocumented. Jose has worked hard, got an education, and even advocates for the rights of those that are on this post right now telling him to go back to Mexico. There are millions of young people like Jose, and there are even more undocumented older adults that have been here for years that have families and jobs and livelihoods here just like the rest of us. We as Americans act like it is so simple for other people to do things we could easily do. News flash, you’re an American! We are blessed to have been born in a country that gives us rights for simply breathing, but that doesn’t happen everywhere. If you have someone who has been willing to do this much work for this long and still want to further improve themselves, then I don’t see a problem in giving them the opportunity. That’s what America is about, correct?

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 1:23pm
  16. We need to cut the cost of American citizenship as well. Over $600 per person is part of the reason a lot of immigrants are not American citizens.

    Posted on Monday, September 2, 2013 at 1:30pm