THE BLOG

Immigration Dialogue: Giving Thanks to Reagan and Looking to Obama

02/01/2013 12:23 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2013

In light of President Obama's announcement in regards to immigration reform, I'd like to take a moment to thank President Reagan for signing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

While I was only five-years-old, this act had a significant impact on my life. You see the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to my parents and siblings allowing our family to remain in the United States without the fear of deportation and without the fear that some day our family would be split up. My parents immigrated to the United States in 1979 with the hope of creating a better life for their family. They grew up in rural Mexico, neither of them receiving more than an elementary school education. After they immigrated they worked as laborers, often holding up to two jobs each and balancing raising a family of seven while living in a one-bedroom house. Growing up I remember hearing the stories of how terrifying it was for them to cross the border and in one case how my dad was swept away by the Rio Grande and left for dead. They came in two waves, a family separated and sacrifices made all for a chance at the American Dream. From an early age we were instilled with a hard work ethic and a sense of responsibility for those around us. In 1990 my parents moved into their own house and became homeowners, in 2006 their youngest two children purchased their own homes fulfilling a chapter of the American dream that they always knew was possible. We live in an incredible country that affords so many opportunities to those who are willing to work hard, it's a lesson none of my siblings and I will ever forget.

Growing up in a bicultural environment straddling two cultures and two languages I lived a very rich life. As a product of my environment the paradigm for me has always been about helping people understand we are more similar than we give each other credit for. As the son of Mexican immigrants growing up as an American citizen the duality of my life was not lost on me, I am often reminded of the poem Yo soy Joaquín, and the message of our past as it shapes our present. As our national conversation turns to immigration reform it's important to remember where we have been and to not be afraid of where we can go.

President Obama said it perfectly "It's about people." A conservative president got it in the 1980s and one of the most progressive presidents in the history of this country gets it today. It's about people like my brothers and sisters who grew up in this country and have been a fabric of their communities as they raise their own families. It's about the millions of children brought to this country by their parents who exist without any pathway to citizenship. It's about families being torn apart because of the record number of deportations we've ever seen. It's about the Dreamers, those brave undocumented youth who have worked and studied hard fighting to have access to a college education but without any legal right to work in this country. And we must not forget that it's also about bi-national same-sex couples who are stuck in limbo, separated because they have to choose between love and the reality of the strict immigration laws that prevent them from being together. All-in-all it's about people in a broken system that continues to marginalize communities all over our great country and a Congress that needs to do right by those who have been relegated to live in the shadows for too long.

The time is now and we must not forget que sí se puede.