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Hope for Our Country

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Former House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor's historic primary defeat has thrown the Republican Party into complete disarray at a time when Congress' approval ratings are at an all-time low. If we relied on Washington policymakers for hope and change, we would be feeling a lot of despair right now. Fortunately, many of us know that true hope and change comes not from elected officials but from "we the people."

Recently, I got a call from 13-year-old Lupita (short for Guadalupe) and her mother that gave me so much hope for our country. Lupita decided she wanted to tell her story of the life-changing experience she and her family went through when her father was detained during an immigration raid in 2008. In the aftermath of the largest worksite raid in the Los Angeles area in decades, the National Immigration Law Center, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and others came together to form the Raids Rapid Response Network, a group made up of private immigration attorneys, local nonprofits, law students, and other volunteers. We combined legal representation, advocacy, and organizing to keep as many of the workers as possible who had deep ties to our communities from being separated from their families. Within a few days, we were able to get most of the workers released from immigration detention, including Lupita's father.

Throughout the last six years, I have stayed in close contact with Lupita and her parents. A few years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Rojas shared with me that Lupita was struggling in school because she was still traumatized by the raid. I began tutoring her and grew even closer to the family. (Lupita now has a 4.0 GPA.)

These devastating raids had a silver lining. As a result of fighting for their freedom, workers and their families have become some of the community's strongest leaders. Thanks to CHIRLA's investment in their leadership development, today the Rojas family are model community leaders. That's why I was not surprised that when Lupita felt it was time to tell her story, she decided to take it straight to the top. She wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner with a birthday wish.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I was 13 I never thought of writing to a member of Congress. But Lupita, like countless U.S. citizen and immigrant children who have experienced the terror of having their parent or loved one ripped from them, is growing up keenly aware of politics and injustice.

Rather than wishing for the type of gifts teenagers dream of, Lupita's selfless wish is for Speaker Boehner to bring immigration reform to a vote.

She understands that achieving immigration reform will not only help her parents, who are aspiring citizens, but it will also benefit her 6-year-old sister, who is a U.S. citizen like Lupita. Lupita's young age shines through as she writes about wanting Boehner to vote for immigration reform so that her little sister can go to Disneyland and get new clothes.

It pains me to see Lupita have such worldly woes. But then I think of her courage, resilience, and the power she is already showing at such a young age, and it gives me so much hope for our country.

Just think about it. In 2020, Lupita will vote in her first presidential election. I have no doubt that Lupita's decisions about whom and what to vote for will be shaped by the story she has decided to share. She, and many other low-income children of immigrants (who are the fastest growing segment of the child population in the U.S.) will grow up to become the types of leaders who will help us achieve economic, social, and racial justice.

But don't just take my word for it. Read Lupita's story for yourself. I am honored and grateful that she chose to allow me to share her story with you, along with Speaker Boehner, who received the letter last week.

Lupita is so precocious that when I explained to her that Cantor's defeat in the primary election means Congress is unlikely to do much of anything for the next months -- including immigration reform -- she said, "That's OK. If Boehner doesn't vote for immigration reform, I'll tell the president about my birthday wish. He has two daughters, so I'm sure he'll understand." Let's just hope Speaker Boehner or President Obama are as courageous as Lupita.

Meet Lupita. You, too, will have greater hope for our country.