Sometimes it's easy to think of immigration reform as a political issue, yet another thing for Congress to disagree about. But it's so much more than that. Lack of papers is a huge deal in the lives of people all around us.
Over the years, I've heard so many stories from family members living in San Diego, about their experiences with immigration agents. One of my relatives was picked up on a day when he forgot his wallet, and was driven around for hours before being allowed to go home and show the agents proof he was a legal resident. A family friend was arrested at a laundry mat while folding clothes. My niece's 10th birthday party, at a local beach, turned into a nightmare for several undocumented moms when ICE agents showed up. No one was taken into custody, but never would those moms again risk going to a beach or park with their kids. And to me, that is incredibly sad.
I know ICE agents are just doing their jobs, but it breaks my heart to think of people living in fear and hiding.
As a gay person, I remember hiding, and it was not a good way to live. I know there's a difference between orientation and legal status, and hiding who you are is different from literally hiding, but the feeling of being an outsider, I think, is very similar.
Our current immigration system is both cruel in the way it punishes some and also unfair. Laws are not applied the same way for everyone. My partner's from England, but if any of her family members came here and overstayed their visas, do you think an immigration agent would peer through a window at a laundry mat and sense that they are undocumented? Or pluck them off the street and drive them around for hours before allowing them to get their ID? I sincerely doubt it. An Irish undocumented woman living in Boston has a far different experience than as a Guatemalan or Chinese or Kenyan undocumented woman living in Arizona.
Congress could do so much for the 11 million people waiting for a pathway to citizenship, yet they are treating this like an "issue" that can wait. This reminds me so much of the way the LGBT community is treated, as if our rights and needs are just another political wedge issue to be employed or ignored as needed.
There are many people in our community who are both LGBT and undocumented or immigrants. Many of us aren't undocumented but have family and friends who desperately need reform. And, finally, there are a lot of LGBT people who don't know any immigrants but don't want to see people around them living in fear or hiding. I'm proud so many LGBT organizations are working for meaningful immigration reform and a path to citizenship.
The House should pass comprehensive immigration reform and stop militarizing the border. These political games do nothing for the progress of our economy or our society. Immigrants want to come out and participate fully in this culture. They want to contribute and work hard. They are doers -- that's why they fought tooth and nail to get here. And they want to live openly.
I admire my undocumented friends and family members so much. I don't have to do the kind of work they do to make ends meet. And I certainly don't live with the fear that incarceration could happen at any moment for driving over the speed limit or anything else I might do that is "illegal." And I don't have to worry when I'm standing at a laundry mat, folding towels, day dreaming about the dinner I'll have with my family when I get home. If I get home.