This week, I'm traveling to Bolivia to meet with Pope Francis during his visit to the Americas that will include stops in Ecuador and Paraguay. Upon his arrival in Quito, the Pope said "Progress and development must ensure a better future for all." In that same spirit, I will share with him the dreams, pain and aspirations of millions of immigrants across the U.S.
Like most Brazilians, I come from a Catholic upbringing, and I'm encouraged by the Pope's response to our country's mass-incarceration problem. For too long, people of color have been criminalized and marginalized, and I invite him to speak out against the U.S.' unjust immigration system that terrorizes our community every day.
I came to the U.S. when I was 14 years old, leaving the life I knew behind for an opportunity at a better life. I settled in Miami where I reunited with my sister, and where we both lived under constant fear of being deported and separated. And as someone who is also LGBTQ, the thought of being detained also kept me up at night, having heard the horrific conditions that LGBTQ immigrants face.
But last year, through a petition from my husband, I was able to adjust my status and am now a legal permanent resident of the U.S.
Unfortunately for my sister, she remained in the shadows and unable to begin living out her dreams. That was until last year, when after a years-long campaign led by immigrant youth, our community once again won and pressured President Obama to use his executive authority to provide deportation relief to up to five million immigrants, including my sister.
I remember calling her on November 20, hearing the excitement in her voice, and telling her that she would now no longer fear deportation and would be able to work legally. Eight months later, my sister still lives in fear. At every corner, there have been politicians who have resisted and delayed the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program and the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).
United We Dream is asking Pope Francis to speak out against the political games that have halted the implementation of administrative programs that would provide relief from deportation for my sister and close to five million undocumented immigrants.
We're also asking Pope Francis to visit an immigrant detention center and meet with undocumented immigrant families in the U.S. during his trip to America, so he can hear firsthand from those impacted by the current inhumane and unjust immigration enforcement system. Every day there are 34,000 immigrants who are kept in detention centers, away from their families and loved ones. Most of these detention centers are run by private companies that are profiting from our community's pain.
This administration is also continuing the inhumane practice of detaining vulnerable populations and our demand is that it immediately end the detention of families, LGBTQ individuals, people with chronic illnesses as well as those who are differently abled.
As a person who identifies as LGBTQ, the abuse and treatment of trans women in detention is especially abhorrent, where they are 15 times more likely to suffer from sexual abuse including rape.
By speaking out against the political games that are leaving our communities vulnerable to detention and deportation and meeting with immigrant communities, Pope Francis has a historic opportunity to expose the painful experiences that millions of immigrants have faced but the vast majority of Americans still don't understand.