By Rich Stolz
Today, Lisette woke up and got her children ready for school. At 7, 10, and 12, her kids are bright and motivated. They aspire to be doctors, scientists and community leaders. They love their mom.
This month, the Supreme Court deliberates a case that could decide the fate of Lisette's family - whether her children grow up separated from their mom, or whether their family can continue to thrive in America. Lisette is undocumented and is not authorized to live or work in the United States, despite living here for 15years, raising her family and volunteering in the community.
The case of United States v. Texas, which blocked President Obama's executive actions on immigration, was heard by the Supreme Court on April 18. Collectively, these actions promise to free more than 5 million undocumented immigrants, with children who are citizens or permanent residents, just like Lisette, from the fear of having their families split apart by deportation. These families would gain the right to work hard and contribute to American society. And they would gain the dignity of knowing that they have place in America.
Lisette avidly volunteers at her kids' school. She was offered a job, but was not able to take it because of her immigration status.
"With the President's executive action, I'll be able to get a work permit and do the work I love," she said. "Because I really do love it." Her husband, was an attorney in Peru and his dreams of continuing his legal career in America hinge on the Supreme Court's decision.
Since its inception, America has always been seen as the land of opportunity, and it has always welcomed the contributions of immigrants. Some of America's most valuable companies were founded by immigrants, and they have contributed to nearly every element of American society. Last year, undocumented immigrants alone contributed over $11 billion in state, local and federal taxes, including almost $300 million in Washington State alone. And they have gone on to raise generations of hardworking Americans who continue our traditions of freedom, hard work and prosperity.
The base of the Statue of Liberty, one of America's most enduring symbols, spells out our values clearly: "Give me your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free..."
That promise should hold as true today as it was when Emma Lazarus wrote those immortal lines.
This case is about Lisette's family. It's about the millions of undocumented American families who endured hardship to find a better life for their loved ones. But on a deeper level, this case is about more than that. What hangs in the balance is nothing less than our values and character as a nation. At its core, this case is about what it means to be American.
Immigrants like Lisette are American. Her children have been Americans their entire lives. Yet they feel the constant fear of being separated from one another, of being ripped away from the life they know and love. To place them in this terrifying situation betrays some of our most cherished values: family unity, compassion, freedom and dignity.
As the Supreme Court decides this critical case, America has a choice to make. Will we stand by our immigrant brothers and sisters, honor the tremendous contributions they've made to our country and take a stand against the inhumane practice of splitting families apart? Or will we succumb to xenophobia, prejudice and insularity?
The fate of Lisette's family, and that of millions just like them, hangs in the balance.
Rich Stolz is executive director of the immigrant rights organization One America.