Guest opinion: Immigration reform a timely dream for many

2013-10-01T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Immigration reform a timely dream for manyBy SUSIE RODRIGUEZ The Billings Gazette
October 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As an immigrant, I see how our immigration laws affect me, my family and people I know. I’ll bet you know more immigrants than you realize, because most of us can’t tell the difference between someone who is a citizen, has legal paperwork or is undocumented; someone who came, or whose family came, generations ago. And, unless you are Native American, somewhere down the line, you are an immigrant, too.

In the past 25 years, immigrating has become a much more difficult process. I’d like to share some of what I see within our community and state.

I fight for immigration reform for those who can't wage this battle themselves because they risk deportation. Deportations are at an all-time record high, and there are thousands of children who are U.S. citizens in foster care because their parents have been deported.

I came here as many others have, by crossing the border at a very young age in the dead of night. I was raised to love and respect the United States as my own, and was proud to become a citizen at the age of 18, because of legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan. It took me years to become a citizen. I work full time, I’m married and we have a beautiful daughter.

I work as an emergency room tech at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital where our motto is to save lives. The color of your skin, the language you speak, or where you are from doesn’t stop us from saving your life because, here in the ER, our mission is to treat and save everyone.

But in my community, I see immigration policies destroying families and draining their dignity and respect. 

A friend of mine lost her brother and father, and it broke her heart that she was not able to see them for the last time. Although she is eligible for a green card, she would have to return to Mexico and wait for all the paperwork to go through. What should take a few months now can take many years — even a decade — to process. This friend wasn't able to kiss her father goodbye, grieve with her brothers and sisters, or give her mother moral support. She has been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, speaks perfect English, is married with beautiful children. Except she’s not a citizen.

People say, "Why don't you become a citizen? Why don't you get in line?" It's not that easy, and that line is mostly something to make people feel good about immigration process and policy. In most cases, there is no line.

There are 11.5 million undocumented immigrants who have come to this country for a better life because living in the place of your birth may mean slow starvation or death by drug lords. Leaving your homeland means saying goodbye to your loved ones forever. When you do that at an early age as many have in their mid-teens, it’s impossible to understand the future implications.

Our extended families need us at times of death, birth, celebration and crisis. The thought that they are gone to us forever with no chance of seeing us leaves a sense of guilt that we carry for the rest of our lives.

Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.' " When King said this, he hoped that the separation of whites and blacks would stop. And it did. Are we repeating history with immigration practices that isolate people? Yet, our country is made up immigrant families, and that is what has made the U.S. so powerful.

There are many immigrant women who only think of only their children and their families. Many have little education and stay home while their husbands, the bread winners, work keeping America’s economy moving forward. Their only interaction is with their children and their husband. Each morning, undocumented parents take time to pray with their children and in their prayer they ask that everyone makes it back to the same place in the evening. When undocumented parents get pulled over for a traffic violation, the children cry. They’re frightened their parents will be deported and they will never see them again.

There are 11.5 million undocumented immigrants. These are not a number; these are people with dreams. People who have hope and faith. People who hope others will pay attention and do something constructive.

Today I have a dream, I have a dream that my family, my friends, my co-workers will live a life without fear. I have dream that we will all have an opportunity. My dream is that race, language and culture won't separate us, but will unite us. I dream that we will be able to walk the streets and not hide, that our children will not be taken away, that we will have the chance to kiss our loved ones goodbye. Today, I have a dream that all be treated with respect and dignity; that immigrants will not be looked upon as criminals. I dream of an immigration system that functions well for our government, for its people and for the prosperity of all.

Please call Rep. Steve Daines and urge him to support the bipartisan bill that passed in the Senate, "Border Security, Economic Development and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013." This bill is the closest we’ve come in 25 years to fixing our broken immigration system. Others deserve the opportunity to sacrifice and work for the American Dream, too!

The dream is alive, the moment is here, and the time to pass immigration reform is now.

Susie Rodriguez serves on the Board of Directors of the Montana Immigrant Justice Alliance (www.mija.org) and is a member of the Montana Organizing Project.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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