Fifteen years ago, my mother asked me to pack one bag with my most valuable belongings. I was only eleven, so I decided to pack three of my best outfits and dozens of letters that I had collected from my closest friends in the 5th grade. I wanted to take everything from our home in Mexico, where I lived for the first eleven years of my life, but I knew we were going to walk for a couple of days across the Arizona desert. I also knew that between my mom, my seventeen-year-old sister and I, we would have to take turns carrying my chubby two-year-old brother. So, I left all of my memories behind. But it was ok, because I knew that coming to the United States meant that we were no longer going to be afraid of my father's abuse.
Of my first memories living in Arizona, I remember living in a one bedroom apartment with about ten people. I quickly learned to adjust to any situation I had to face. Unable to find work, my mother and I went door-to-door in Mesa selling tamales (Mexican food). After much sacrifice and very hard work to put food on our table, my mom was able to find a job that overlooked her immigration status. We were finally able to buy a small home in Mesa and I was living the American dream.
A year later, Sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted a raid at my mother's workplace. I spent two days inside my house on my 21st birthday with our lights off, waiting for the sheriff's truck to leave our home. My mother was really scared and I thought we were going to be deported.
As a result of the raid, we lost everything. We abandoned our home and sold everything in order to make rent on an apartment. We had to start from scratch once again.
Unfortunately, stories like mine are not uncommon in Arizona. Due to the ideologies of anti-immigrant figures like Kris Kobach, Russell Pearce, Joe Arpaio, and most recently, Mitt Romney, attrition through enforcement or "self-deportation" reinforces the idea that people like me will leave this country if the government makes our lives miserable enough.
In 2010, my community saw an escalation of such scare tactics with the introduction of SB 1070, a law that allows racial profiling by the police to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. My neighbors started leaving to other states because they were scared of losing family members, and many of the local stores I used to frequent are now gone.
In this interview with Diane Sawyer I speak about our experience as the implementation of SB 1070 was approaching in 2010.
Since then, my heart has been filled with anger, frustration and a much greater sense of responsibility towards my family. My mother can no longer work due to the raid, so the responsibility of providing for my family has been left to me. What is even more frustrating is the fact that I worked so hard to receive my bachelor's degree in psychology, but because of tough worker enforcement laws in Arizona, I cannot legally use it. So, I have to find other ways to help sustain my mother and my little brother.
This whole experience has made me strong. I had to be. I became a co-founder and the founding president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and the DRM Capitol Group. Together with dozens of other undocumented youth in my state we decided to come out of the shadows and give an example to our community that fear is not the answer. Our fear feeds hateful policy makers.
Recently, I have heard comments and speeches from several presidential candidates and members of congress speaking about how much support they have for people who, like me, were brought to this country as children. Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been talking about creating a different version of the current DREAM Act and Mitt Romney has stated that he would support the military part of the bill only. However, these same individuals have supported SB-1070. Romney has even called it a "model for the Nation."
I don't know about anyone else, but why would I want the rest of the nation to go through what my family has gone through in Arizona? I will keep fighting for the DREAM Act and our immigrant youth, but I cannot ignore attacks and hate for individuals like my mother whose only "crime" was to love us enough to come to the United States in search of freedom from abuse and poverty.
We should no longer tolerate individuals like Mitt Romney, Senator Rubio -- and even President Obama -- who talk about the DREAM Act for political purposes, but support the criminalization and deportations of people who we love and care about.