Justice demands immigration reform

As a member of a family who came to the U.S. without documents when I was 9 years old, I never thought I would one day be sitting with the First Lady at the President’s State of the Union Address. But 14 years later, there I was, a guest of the White House, listening to President Obama tell Congress the time is now to pass commonsense immigration reform. 

I thought back to last November, when I fasted for 22 days near the U.S. Capitol with giants in the immigration reform movement like Eliseo Medina and others, to show the immorality of our current laws. Back then, I wondered why Speaker Boehner and his leadership team would not meet with us. Now, the speaker and the Republican Party seem ready to debate immigration reform. 

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These events have occurred for one big reason: The undying spirit of the huge immigration reform movement that has been fueled by the purity and spirituality of our cause. As a participant in this monumental campaign through my work with Mi Familia Vota in Arizona, I have seen our broad coalition turn adversity into an opportunity to grow national support for fair and just immigration reform with a path to citizenship. 

It is now up to the politicians to do what is right. We will not go away until Congress approves and the president signs a new immigration law that fixes the current broken system, helps families stay together and makes our economy stronger. 

My presence inside the House Chamber during the president’s speech was a great honor and an experience of a lifetime. I hoped that by being there, I could help bring a human face to a crisis that needs to be addressed today. That was the same hope I had months ago, when the president, Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden and many others visited the tent on the National Mall where other “core” team members of the “Fast for Families” and I went without food for 22 days. 

Congress forgets that for millions of families like mine, immigration is not just a political issue but deeply personal. 

I wonder if a member of Congress knows what it is like for a 9-year-old to crouch in fear on the floor of the family car, as I had to do, to avoid detection by a police car driving past. Or to be discriminated against in my home state of Arizona because of the color of my skin or because I was not born in the U.S.? 

Have the politicians considered what it is like for someone like me to get good grades and earn a full scholarship to a private boys high school, only to be denied college scholarships because I lacked a Social Security number? To be a varsity leader for the Boy Scouts of America and pledge allegiance to the flag of a country that has denied my family and I citizenship? To not be able to join the U.S. Marines even though I am a recipient of the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) because it is a temporary program? 

Though my brother, sister and I qualified for DACA, we live with the daily fear that our parents can be taken away from us at any time and that our own legal status is not permanent. 

Like other immigrant families, my parents brought us to the U.S. to try to make our lives better. It is their values that led me to do well in school and be active with our church and community; to become a civic engagement coordinator with Mi Familia Vota. We are like millions of other families, regardless of status. 

We are Americans and this is our home. 

Every day of my fast last fall, I worried about whether we were saying and doing the right things to touch the hearts of Speaker Boehner and GOP members of Congress. 

Today, I remain hopeful and committed. “Fast for Families Across America” will visit more than 100 congressional districts in the coming months to engage constituents in a dialogue about the moral crisis caused by our broken immigration system and encourage them to fast, pray and act for commonsense immigration reform. 

If Congress refuses our sacrifices and prayers, we will not go away. We will keep working until Congress passes, and the President signs into law, an immigration reform bill that brings justice to families, workers, and us all. 

In the meantime, I say, “Thank you” to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, for giving me the privilege of representing our great immigration movement.

Avila is an immigration reform activist who participated earlier this year in the Fast for Families in Washington and was honored as a guest of Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address.