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Immigrants Are the American Way

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Superman is not real, but I have met many people like him. Chances are, you have too.

Superman is an immigrant. Born on Krypton, he came to the United States with the promise of Hope -- a symbol he bears on his chest. My own parents came to this country with that same hope when I was only two years old. I am an undocumented American. My story is one of eleven million.

When my friends were all getting licenses and I couldn't, I had hope. When they started applying for scholarships I couldn't apply for, I had hope. When the DREAM Act didn't pass, I still had hope. I have hope because I know this country's history, and to borrow a phrase from Dr. King, I know "[t]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

In the summer blockbuster Man of Steel, Superman struggles with his identity as an immigrant, terrified that if he tells the American people that he's from another place, they will reject him. I felt that same fear when I was old enough to understand what it meant to be undocumented. Last year, I finally found the courage to publicly speak about my undocumented status in a video blog that has now been watched over 16,000 times. The outpouring of support that followed was astounding. Through the support of the Harry Potter Alliance, a non-profit organization that uses analogies from the Harry Potter series to channel fan enthusiasm into social change, it was featured on every major Harry Potter fansite, rallied the support of celebrities, created a movement that allowed me access to an important conference despite my lack of papers, sparked a fundraiser that raised $100,000 for equality, and supported the movement to pass the Maryland DREAM Act. Most importantly, it started a conversation that is too often silenced by fear or confusion, and gave others the courage to find their own voice.

I couldn't have done it alone. I was inspired in part by my own personal Superman, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. Like me, Jose spent many years dominated by the fear that his status as an undocumented immigrant could mean the end of his career and being kicked out of the country he's called home for the last 20 years. But he realized that he could not allow his status to define him, and found the courage to tell his story to the American public in the New York Times two years ago.

He created seismic changes in the national conversation of immigration and helped force immigration reform into the forefront of mainstream media. His bravery showed the American public and our leaders that undocumented immigrants are not something "other," they're Americans in every way except on paper. In his new film, DOCUMENTED, he delves deeper into his journey of identity and his life from journalist to immigration activist. Jose reminds us that we all have a story worth telling. Trace each story back far enough, and you will inevitably find a narrative of struggle, relocation, and new beginnings. These rich histories inform the larger story of who we are. They are the American Way.

And yet, millions of immigrants still live with the very real fear of deportation, incarceration, loss of income, inability to support their families, and being separated from their children. Every year, more than 90,000 parents of U.S. citizens are deported, and that number is projected to rise dramatically this year. The reality of life as an immigrant is that there are things to lose, and people lose them. Often.

But we can change that. Comprehensive immigration reform is being discussed in Congress right now, including a DREAM Act that would prioritize the documentation of students whom, like Jose and I, were brought here because our parents hoped we'd have more opportunity. Now is the time to tell our stories. Now is the time to remind Congress that many of them too are descendants of immigrants and were elected to represent a nation built upon the ideals immigrants have always aspired to. This is why the Harry Potter Alliance and Define American have started the Superman is an Immigrant campaign.

In this campaign we encourage people to share their stories of struggle, understanding, empathy, or even simply heritage and identity. We each find our own superpower in sharing our stories. We want to spark conversation, help people understand how real lives are impacted by unjust systems, and change minds. It also shows that we are all Americans, with or without documentation.

Speaking up is an important start. We will only be able to truly make our voices heard and have a proper conversation about immigration reform when families are no longer being torn apart by deportation. When we talk about truth, justice and The American Way, by "justice" we mean the Superman Is An Immigrant Campaign is joining the call with the Not One More campaign to ask President Obama to stop deporting our neighbors, students, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and loved ones.

The struggle for change is never easy. Hope fuels truth and justice and as the Superman story teaches us, hope fuels us: We are the American Way.