THE BLOG
04/02/2013 05:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2013

Little Havana Needs a New Immigration System

As a Cuban American who has lived in the United States for 52 years and spent over 20 of those years serving the people of Little Havana through my organization, Vecinos en Acción (Neighbors in Action), fixing the broken immigration system is very important to me.

When I first came to Miami, Little Havana didn't even have that name and Cuban Americans like myself also weren't treated like they are today in Miami. Sometimes the police would harass us and accuse us of loitering when we were just talking to our friends. We would have to whisper on the back of the bus when going to our jobs in Miami Beach because some bus drivers would kick us off if we spoke Spanish. You would even see signs in some factories saying, "no Blacks, Cubans or dogs."

Things have definitely changed for Cuban Americans. For example, we have a Cuban American Senator, Marco Rubio, a man I campaigned for when he first ran. Plus the policies towards our community have changed significantly over the years. Today, we have a chance to become residents and citizens relatively quickly, and we use that opportunity to give back to our communities and make our city, our state and America a better place.

But in Little Havana today, many of our non-Cuban immigrant neighbors don't have that opportunity and they are facing the same we went through. Because of that, they live in fear and insecurity, many are treated badly by their bosses, and sometimes they are harassed by police officers to the point that they fear calling 911 when they are robbed or hurt because of their immigration status.

As a Cuban American, I remember how hard it was when I first came and I sympathize with anyone that has to go through those things now in my neighborhood. That is why I support President Obama's plan for a new immigration system with a path to citizenship. The path to citizenship gave Cuban Americans the opportunity to become full Americans, instead of being stuck in a temporary status or as second-class citizens. Thanks to that path to citizenship, we were able to build a future for our families, work, create businesses and contribute our full potential to this country.

The same could happen to my other immigrant neighbors and friends in Little Havana if we give them an opportunity. I am thankful for Senator Marco Rubio's attempt to build support for immigration reform in the Republican Party, but I ask him to support a real path to citizenship for all; it's fair with our friends and neighbors, and it benefits us all.

The people that come to this country are coming to find solutions, not create problems. So why not create solutions for them, instead of giving them problems? Everyday in Little Havana, I open up my doors to my neighbors from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia and other countries, because America opened its doors to me and allowed to become who I am. That is why, when they march through Little Havana on April 6th asking for a new immigration system, I will support them.

This post was originally published in Miami Diario in Spanish.