The Faces of Immigration Reform

The time has come for immigration reform. President Obama has said one of his biggest regrets from his first term was that he didn't pass immigration reform. After his speech in Las Vegas, the immigrant rights community is determined to make sure he follows through on his promise to make it a reality in his second term.

Immigrant rights activists are motivated and mobilized to ensure that immigration reform is comprehensive, fair and fast. The families torn apart by our current patchwork of failed and mismanaged policies can't wait another day for change.

When the president unveiled his proposal for immigration reform, he said, "Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It's about people... It's about men and women, and young people who want nothing more than a chance to earn their way into the American story."

A roadmap to citizenship must be fair and without insurmountable barriers so that it will not take decades for immigrants to become full-fledged Americans. Latinos and immigrants spoke loud and clear during the 2012 elections and we will continue to harness our political power to get an immigration bill passed that includes citizenship and measures that keep families together in this country.

In the coming months, the policy debate over immigration reform will rage in Washington. But as we work to establish a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, we should listen to the stories of those who know personally why we need change so urgently. The faces of our broken immigration system may not be the ones you expect.

Jennifer, born and raised in Manitowoc, WI, no longer lives with her husband of 16 years and the father of her four children. About a year ago, Jennifer received a call at work telling her that her husband would be deported to Mexico in less than three hours despite never committing a crime - not even a traffic ticket. Jennifer and her children saw her husband for a few, final moments. Her six year-old was so distraught by the sight of her father chained to other deportees like a criminal that she ran after the bus that took him away, throwing rocks and begging the driver to come back. Jennifer's husband is stuck in Mexico while she works two jobs and goes to school at night to support their four children, who still have nightmares about the day their father left the U.S.

Kevin was born in South Korea. When he was only a toddler, his parents used their savings to come to America because they wanted their son to have more opportunities than they could give him in Korea. Kevin's parents' hands show the signs of their labor - they washed dishes in scalding water and worked in meat lockers that covered their hands in frostbite, so they could afford to live in a place where Kevin would get a good education. Kevin studied hard and was accepted to college, and as a DREAMer, is on his way to achieving legal status. But his parents still live in the shadows, undocumented and terrified of deportation. When Kevin and his parents are out driving, he can see his parents tense up when a police car passes and he feels the burden of their constant fear.

And there's Max. He left Pakistan with his family when he was 11 and came to the United States - the only place where his older sister could get the treatment she needed following life-saving brain surgery. His sister's doctors warned that Max's sister needed long-term care. Max's parents applied for visas, but due to mistakes made by their attorney, their application and subsequent appeals were all denied. They faced a choice: leave the country, and risk the life of Max's sister, or stay and live undocumented and in fear. They stayed. Max went on to study chemical engineering - giving back to the scientific community that saved his sister's life - and is gaining legal status through deferred action. But his parents remain undocumented and fear that they, along with Max's sister, who is disabled and requires their care, could any day be forced to return to Pakistan, where their safety and their daughter's health would be at risk.

Jennifer, Kevin, Max and millions of others just like them cannot wait any longer for policymakers to fix our broken system that pulls families apart. The Fair Immigration Reform Movement launched a campaign called "Keeping Families Together" to give a voice to undocumented people living in our country. The men, women and children who have had their families torn apart by our nation's broken immigration are speaking out about the need for reform that includes a path to citizenship.

The president's dream for immigration is tied to the dreams of millions of families that want unity, stability and opportunity. It's time to face not just the policies but the people of immigration reform, and push forward on a plan that opens up a path to citizenship, ensures fair and humane treatment for all aspiring Americans and keeps families together.

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