Half-baked immigration policy could split up even more families. As a student immigrant who grew up in the United States, I am filled with both great hope and paralyzing fear over the ongoing and divisive immigration debate.
Beneath my optimism that Congress will ultimately get reform right, I am worried that as the debate drags on, students and families with complicated legal immigration stories like mine will be left behind if the proposed policy solutions fail to encapsulate the full nature of the immigration quagmire. If policy makers fumble the solution, my American dream may be trounced by the same reforms looking to alleviate the lives of dreamers like me.
Most people are unaware that the majority of visas in the system cover only the children of the primary applicant until they turn 21. These existing regulations endanger the futures of immigrant children who grow up in the United States. My own family's story is a perfect example. When I was nine-years-old, a group of narco-terrorist detonated a car bomb in my neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia. This was the life my family left behind when my parents decided to venture to the United States in search of a better life. The immigration system fragmented my family.
When my older brother turned 21-years-old he had no choice but to return to Colombia; risking deportation and getting barred from returning to the U.S. and his family for as long as 10 years was simply not an option. Similarly, my sister and I faced the same pitfall to illegal status when we came of age. She is still trying to climb out. Although President Obama's policy changes concerning immigrants her age give her the ability to reside here for the time being, without reform she will also be forced to leave her family.
As for me, I have lived in the United States for 12 years through an awkward patchwork of costly and ephemeral visas statuses. Every status change has been an attempt to gain at least a couple of years of transient legal standing at a time. Now, graduating with a dual bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering and political science, my F1 student status is set to expire and I find myself against the crushing weight of the immigration system once more. It has been over four years since I have seen my brother, and not a day goes by that I do not worry about the deportation of my closest family members.
This is not something evident on my face as another nuclear engineering student at the University of Florida, but certainly the reality I live in. With immigration reform poised to hit Washington this spring, I worry that policy makers will overlook families with ambiguous legal statuses like mine. I also fear that more families will be torn apart if a comprehensive deal is not reached. The composition of my own family has disintegrated into a Rubik's cube of arcane immigration statuses as we have wrestled with the system over the years. If a piecemeal approach to reform like the one being proposed in the House of Representatives is adopted, tackling that status of several immigrant groups separately, it is possible that Congress may leave behind a trail of broken families and a permanent scar on the immigrant population.
In my heart, I feel American and could not be any more grateful for the opportunities this nation has extended to me. But the journey has not been easy. I urge Congress to embrace a comprehensive measure of reform, in the same all-encompassing spirit as the proposal outlined by the bipartisan group led by Senators John McCain and Chuck Schumer, that addresses the situation of not only illegal immigrants and legal immigrants "in line," but also the group of us lost in translation. I further encourage Congress to do this in a humane manner that prioritizes keeping families together above politics.