Immigration Reform Requires You to Interrupt, Speak Up

As Congress prepares to go on break once again, there is still plenty uncertainty regarding the fate of immigration reform. It seems that every week politicians from both parties, activists, and advocacy organizations alike declare the proposal either dead or alive - most of the time at a whim, just so that it can be spun once again into the media cycle to keep morale up among the immigrant community.

The latest headline in the ongoing push to reform the country's broken immigration system is that of Ju Hong, an undocumented immigrant from California who interrupted the president during an immigration related speech in San Francisco. The media has labeled him as a "heckler," almost reactionary to the fact that he interrupted the President of the United States. The truth is, however, that Mr. Hong was speaking out about the injustices that he and the undocumented community continue to face on a daily basis. This manifestation is only to be expected from undocumented youth, after all, it is our families who continue to work day by day under the fear of Mr. Obama's aggressive deportation initiatives.

A take away from this recent experience should not be concerned as to whether the president was interrupted during his speech. After all, Mr. Hong was doing what any responsible citizen of this country should do -- voice their concerns to the elected officials, in this particular case, he was doing so in a manner that was direct and uncensored. Those who tried to silence Mr. Hong, or stood idly by, are responsible for keeping the status quo alive. Would those audience members stand idly by if their loved ones were being deported that very same day? Would they have tried to silence Mr. Hong were they the ones that were unable to see their families?

What the president and his administration seem to forget is that we are conscious and aware of their support of immigration reform, a point that they deem needs to be drilled further in our heads. Even as the immigrant community remembers the promises made by the president back in 2008, we continue to be taken down this path where fear and insecurity reign, only to then be fed the same rhetoric that we as undocumented immigrants should not take "the easy way out" and yell at elected officials, but instead take the "harder" path and continue to lobby to get things done.

The truth, Mr. President, is that we have been doing just that. All of us who have high interests in getting the immigration laws overhauled have spent countless hours devoted to lobbying, calling members of Congress, writing letters, protesting, hunger-striking, and risking deportation by getting arrested in order to put the pressure back on you, the elected official, to end the political game in which our community continues to serve as pawns. Try conducting any of these efforts when you are also trying to make ends meet, or when the sole act of traveling across the nation could in fact earn any of us detention and deportation.

The fault here does not lie on the undocumented immigrant, who has consistently been portrayed as a "radical," "petulant," or in this case as "heckler," for trying to advance their cause, but rather it lies with our elected officials. The "harder path" that Mr. Obama referred to was clouded by those in Congress who were unwilling to vote on an issue when they controlled both chambers of Congress, a path that is now even more uncertain thanks to obstructionists in the House of Representatives.

Once again I return to my family for the holiday, all of whom will ask me, "Cuando hara algo el Presidente Juan? Cuanto mas hay que esperar?" which translates to "When will the president do something, Juan? How much longer will we have to wait?" -- and I will respond to them with nothing but uncertainty. The same uncertainty that we all face as we dread the day that we receive the call that our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, or loved ones have been pulled over for driving without a license, or picked up by immigration officials at our doorstep.

From this point forth, everyone who remains quiet at a public event where immigration reform is being discussed by members of Congress is just as guilty as those who are delaying the vote on issue. Your voice is needed, and not just on websites or petitions, but on the ground. Is your elected official hosting a town hall on immigration reform? Attend, and interrupt. Ask questions. Is someone speaking out against the rhetoric on immigration reform? Do not stop them, encourage them, add your voice to the dialogue.

The time to to wait idly by for immigration reform to pass has come and gone, and the time to act and speak out is here. Should this administration also fumble on this issue, the next administration can count on one thing - inheriting a bigger and more agitated base of advocates who will not sit still.