by Xochitl Velasco, Kaiser Fresno
[This column was originally published July 21, 2013 in the Fresno Bee.]
As the U.S. House debates whether to vote on immigration reform legislation this summer, the lives of young adults like Victor are on the line. These determined and idealistic “dreamers” wait with their futures on hold, while the bill languishes in Congress.
I wish they had the chance to meet someone like Victor, a friend of my family. If they did, they would understand why this legislation is so urgent. They would appreciate the sacrifices and fear that have dominated the lives of so many immigrants and their families. And they would see how dedicated people like him are trying to improve their education and find better paying jobs.
Victor just graduated in June from Mt. Whitney High School in Visalia. He’s 18, and he came to this country when he was 5. At the time, his parents were divorced, and he was living with his mother in Mexico. But his father was living in California and felt his son would have greater opportunities growing up in America. So he brought Victor to California, where they eventually settled in the San Joaquin Valley.
Victor says he has no memories of his early years spent in Mexico. In fact, he didn’t fully understand until the fifth grade that he was born there. Once he understood his story, he was afraid to share it. He didn’t tell his friends that he was undocumented. He didn’t tell them that he was afraid of being deported. Instead, it was his secret – one which left him full of doubt.
If he were deported to Mexico today, Victor said he would be lost and couldn’t make it. He speaks little Spanish, doesn’t know the culture and doesn’t know his way around the country. Because of his young age when he was brought to the United States, deporting him to Mexico would be no different than sending any 18-year-old American-born child to a foreign country to which they have no ties, no understanding and no connection.
His story is more than just about avoiding immigration authorities. Victor dreams of something bigger – he wants to go to college and eventually raise a family and become a productive, tax-paying adult. He wants to enroll at College of the Sequoias in Visalia and become a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician.
While Victor is eligible for a special visa program created last year for young adults who entered the United States without proper papers, it only lasts for two years before he would have to leave the country or apply for an extension.
There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Victors in America, and it is just one more reason why immigration reform is so vital. People like Victor shouldn’t be deported because of a decision he had no control over. He identifies as an American, but he enjoys few, if any, of the same rights and freedoms.
I understand and relate to Victor’s story because it’s similar to my own. I came to the United States when I was 14, having left Mexico to live with my sister in San Jose. I didn’t choose to go; my parents sent me because they felt the U.S. offered a better future.
I spoke no English and initially struggled in school. However, I enrolled in English classes to overcome the language barrier, and through hard work I eventually caught up to my peers and graduated from high school. I later attended San Jose City College, where I earned a degree in nursing.
Today, I’m grateful for the opportunities I have in the United States. I pay taxes and Social Security and I am able to provide for my three kids because I have a stable job with benefits. My life is stronger because I gained a green card in 1981, and don’t have to live in fear of being deported and separated from my kids.
The challenge for Congress is to do the right thing by people like Victor and all the other millions who came to this country in pursuit of building a better life. Our elected leaders know our society is stronger if we enact common-sense immigration reform that toughens security along the border and creates a path to citizenship for young adults like Victor.
It’s the right thing for all of the Victors out there, and our country as a whole.