As an undocumented immigrant living in America, I've always refused to be defined -- or confined -- by my immigration status. I am so much more than just an immigrant; I am a college graduate, an engineer by training, a sorority sister, a peer counselor, a volunteer for abused women and an advocate for immigration reform.
Despite all of the roles I have played in my life and in my community, the fact remains that I am an undocumented immigrant. I have spent much of my life in the shadows, living in fear that I will be deported. For many years I didn't share my story because of that fear. But with immigration reform a real possibility, I feel compelled to add my voice to all those calling for a path to citizenship for people like me.
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and came to the U.S. when I was 14. From a very young age I dreamed of becoming an engineer. Once I got to America I worked hard to fulfill that dream. I graduated in the top five percent of my class and was admitted to one of the country's top universities. In 2002, I graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering.
I quickly learned, however, that while my undocumented status didn't hamper my ambition and drive, it did prevent me from finding my dream job and working in my field of expertise. Like my diploma, my skills as an engineer have been shelved for now. In the meantime, rather than sit and wait for change, I have dedicated my time to working to pass fair and humane immigration reform and to ensuring people like me, who qualify for temporary relief like deferred action, which allows me to work legally in the U.S., have access to it.
There are 11 million undocumented immigrants like me. They pledge allegiance to the flag, sing the national anthem and consider America home, like me. They have families and friends here, like me. And like me, they live with the constant fear of being torn from their home and from the people that they love because of their undocumented status.
Our current immigration system is a patchwork of broken and failed policies. It tears families apart and deports good, hardworking, law-abiding people who only want the chance to build a life here in America. In my work as an immigration reform advocate, I've heard countless stories of others' struggles, heartbreaking stories of parents separated from their children, husbands and wives torn apart and people ripped from their communities by our immigration system. Each of these stories gives us another reason to fight for citizenship and adds another voice to the growing chorus calling for long-overdue reform. That's why I can't wait in the shadows any longer; I must tell my story until we get the change we need.
Sharing my story and fighting for the futures of all undocumented immigrants and their families has led me down roads I never thought I would travel. I have marched on the Capitol, raised my voice at rallies and advocated tirelessly for immigration reform. And this week, my story led me to the most exciting moment of my life to date: introducing President Obama at a speech at the White House on the need for immigration reform. At that moment, I realized how far I'd come, but simultaneously recognized how far we, as a country, have to go.
Until we pass fair, humane immigration reform, the futures of millions of people living in America will be defined by their immigration status. Our status will follow us as we pursue education, get married, have children and look for jobs, confining us and limiting the paths our lives can take. It's time to pass comprehensive immigration reform and allow me and all the people like me to write our own life stories.