Introduction from Lisa Sharon Harper: Every once in a great while you meet someone who carries in their very body the scars of injustice that we talk about so much at Sojourners. These scars leave permanent reminders of the profound need for every follower of Jesus to follow him in word and deed. It is my great pleasure to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Ivone Guillen. As Sojourners’ Immigration Campaigns and Communications Associate, Ivone has worked tirelessly for the passage of just immigration reform for two years. As a formerly undocumented immigrant, she bears the scars of our unjust immigration system and has experienced the healing that came from changes in immigration policy last year. Please read Ivone’s story. It reflects the stories of millions of people in church pews across the country; people made in the image of God, people waiting for that image to be fully recognized and set free inside our borders.
I remember clearly the day I heard the announcement on deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) as I felt an overwhelming surge of emotions in that one moment. A path to opportunity, however fragile and short-term, had finally been created for undocumented young people wanting to become full members of American society.
As I sat on the sofa on the morning of June 15 in front of the television and next to my computer, I felt anxious, excited, and dazed at the same time. There I was, listening to one of the biggest announcements ever made in my lifetime, and it directly impacted me. It was a surreal moment since I had been working with the advocacy community for almost two years and had seen difficult developments take place at the state level on the issue. Then and there, I felt that all of my work was paying off and that change could be achieved with enough persistence and pressure. It was a moment that most people wish to live and see, especially those who have worked in the movement for decades but seldom experience the ultimate triumphs of slow processes.
When initially announced, the process seemed pretty straightforward. Applicants must be under the age of 30 and have entered the United States before the age of 16. They must have resided continuously in the U.S. since June 15 and have been physically present on the day of the announcement. Also, the applicant must be currently in school, have graduated or obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are a discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S. and must have not been convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor or pose a threat to national security or public safety. Not surprisingly, the nuances of the process came later, which made the procedure of applying more complicated than had originally been presented.
Although the process is more complex than what the public oftentimes perceives it to be, I figured that applying for the program could not be more difficult than having lived my life as undocumented immigrant in this country. Life up to this point had been filled with uncertainty, unnecessary pressure and, unpredictability for what lay ahead. I always had goals and dreams that I wanted to pursue but was never convinced that my commitment and hard work were ever going to be enough. Yes, I know what some might be thinking and agree that we all live with a certain level of ambiguity in our lives, but when you’re stripped of option, you see life differently. There is a greater sense of fear and hesitancy in your actions because you lack a greater sense of control over your circumstances.
Although this had been my life experience from early on, I was determined not to let fear win over my faith, which has always compelled me to be optimistic and believe that good things can happen. So I decided to dedicate my efforts and use my passion for helping others by advocating on behalf of the voiceless who shared in my situation. I have been forced to overanalyze each decisions, but have always decided that my efforts are for the greater good of those who don’t have the opportunities I’ve had.
Deciding to apply for DACA was probably one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my life because doing so meant I had to consider a number of ramifications. Since this program had been developed recently, uncertainty kicked in. The biggest stress of the process came from knowing there existed the possibility for unexpected outcomes. Going through with the process meant finally coming forward and taking advantage of an opportunity I had long awaited and worked for. It also meant deciding whether to put myself in a system that didn’t offer me a long-term solution but rather a two-year reprieve.
Many questions raced through my mind. What if there was a problem with my application? What if my fingerprints didn’t go through the system? And, of course, what if I was denied deferred action? I knew I had nothing to hide because I had done everything right up to this point in my life — I finished high school, obtained a college degree, had no criminal record — but even these factors didn’t assure me the process would go smoothly. I was keenly aware of the discrepancies that existed within the immigration system and its procedures, even with programs that are designed to be helpful.
Although this announcement was a step in the right direction, it is nonetheless a temporary two-year solution for DREAMers and a short-term solution for the greater need that exists within our country — the other 11 million aspiring Americans. My struggles, hopes, and fears are that of many other undocumented immigrants who deserve as much of a chance as I was given.
A long-term and sustainable solution is necessary — one that would give the millions of undocumented immigrants living in this country an opportunity to achieve their full potential and reach their goals. This solution can only be achieved through comprehensive immigration reform enacted by Congress. Those who harvest the food we eat, tend the homes we live in, watch our kids, and serve our meals need this opportunity. It is needed for your neighbors, your colleagues, and your church members. It is needed for people who are devoted to hard work and family and simply want to provide for their households.
Take it from me: the time is now to find common ground on immigration.
Ivone Guillen is Immigration Campaigns and Communications Associate for Sojourners. Lisa Sharon Harper is Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners.