It was my grandmother who introduced me to God. As a child, I remember kneeling by her bedside to pray. We used to pray every night, and say one by one the names of each of our family members, our friends, and people who, sometimes at church, had asked for our prayer. And so the list of prayers would sometimes be long, causing us to spend hours praying on our knees. As a child, I found this to be a little excessive and somewhat painful, but deep down in my heart I cherished that moment where we held hands and prayed in a dark and silent room,
It was in 1993 when my dad told my mom, "If we move to the United States, I promised you I will seek God." My mom was tired, scared, and just fed up with the living situation we had in Ecuador. My dad was a drinker and was absent in our lives. My mother wanted a father and husband. When he said, "I will seek God," she imagined a new life and future for her children. She accepted his proposition and so began our journey.
We moved to the United States for all the reasons many immigrants move here, but the one reason that really brought us here was God.
The transition to living in the U.S. was difficult for my parents. My mother often cried because she missed her family. Although we came to reside in Miami, a city known to be a microcosm on many Latin American countries, she still struggled to fit in. The language was different, she missed her family, the flavor of cigarettes. My father, keeping his promise to my family, indeed began to change and actively sought God. Every Sunday, our family would take a 30-minute drive to Resurrection, a Christian Baptist church in Miami. There, my father became active and so did I. Later, my father would become the music minister at another church, where as a family we served and sang in the choir. I spent my weeknights and weekends at church teaching bible school and Sunday school classes.
The church where we served began an immigration process, petitioning for my father and our family. It was a complicated, convoluted process, but we hired an attorney who had already helped two of my dad's friends. With excellent recommendations, despite the fact that she did not speak Spanish, my parents felt that this lawyer would be the best person to represent us. Little did we know that she would neglect our case, leaving it under the hands of an unsupervised paralegal. Later, my sister would be told to call immigration services in Texas to check on the status of our case. We were clueless to the fact that my father had been approved for a religious visa, but he was missing one document that immigration services needed in order to finalize the paper work. The worst part is that years later, we would find out about this missing document but it could not be taken back since the appeal period had elapsed.
So my parents, two sisters, my brother and I were left in what is too commonly referred to as immigration "limbo." My family tried to do the "right thing," but the right thing was way too complicated for a new immigrant and his family. The process which we paid an attorney to complete was neglected and abandoned. We were left undocumented with no ability to adjust our status.
Many people don't understand this. Some believe that immigrants are here without papers because we chose not to have papers. Others think we are too lazy or simply unwilling to return to our home countries and come back the right way. Some even think that it is our pride and resistance to acculturate that prevents us from wanting to become Americans. Overall, people just assume.
The players in the current immigration debate fail to recognize that the legal migration system is not working. The antiquated system we have in place is inaccessible, unaffordable, and does not come near to competing in the new global economy. Let alone, this system has many loopholes to allow entire families to enter the United States, pay taxes, work, and build an entire life in the shadows without a legal status. Somewhere along the way, left unattended, our elected officials have allowed this situation to become the status quo, although truthfully, it benefits the economy.
A couple of months ago, I used two words in a meeting with staffers that made everyone in the room cry. I said from the bottom of my heart, "I'm sorry." I asked the staffer to forgive me for having broken the law, and to give me a chance to right that wrong. I asked the staffer to give my family and I and people like us, a chance, an opportunity to get right with the law, and as his eyes filled with tears, he said, "I have never heard anyone [undocumented person] apologize before, you just said, 'I am sorry.'"
I know the immigration debate brings a lot of emotions, and there are people who believe that we shouldn't reward "law-breakers," but I know that if they took the time to hear our stories and understand how it wasn't that we broke the law but rather that the laws are broken and inadequate, they would come to agree that we need to fix our immigration system.
Earlier this year I took my beliefs to the Capitol Hill. I asked God to guide me and give me direction. I started an organization called the Bridge Project aimed to bring our stories and struggle to the hill. An organization aimed at educating staffers and members. An organization that believes and acts on its faith. Earlier this year, I walked the halls of Congress by myself, I went office by office praying for each member. I asked God to give them wisdom and courage, to touch their hearts so that they could do what is best for us, but I knew I was not alone. You see when we started calling ourselves DREAMers, it was not just because of the DREAM Act, we called ourselves DREAMers because before we even set foot on this land, our parents believed and dreamt of a better future for themselves in America.