During the House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform last week, many of the committee members described the creation of a roadmap to citizenship for aspiring Americans as a topic too “toxic” to even discuss. As a DREAMer, a Californian, and a civically engaged college student, I have painfully discovered that a major source of toxicity comes from members of Congress themselves.
Since learning in high school that I was undocumented, I’ve known that people struggled with the idea of undocumented Americans living and working alongside them. But I have never before experienced the kind of naked hostility I did when I attended a meeting in Washington to discuss citizenship legislation with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who represents my hometown in California’s 48th district.
I have lived in Costa Mesa since my parents brought our family here when I was 3 years old, and it is the only home I have ever known. I played in TeWinkle Park with my brothers and cheered for the Mustangs at Costa Mesa High School. I was a part of the Business Academy team that placed 5th in the nation my senior year. Now I am 18 years old, working and going to college full time. Last November I went door to door to encourage people who could vote to support more funding for our schools, and because of our civic engagement we showed that Californians care about education.
I work hard, I study hard, I pay taxes, and I have applied for the deferred action program that President Barack Obama instituted last year for young undocumented Americans like me.
On Feb. 6, I went to speak with Rep. Rohrabacher at his Washington office about the need to include a roadmap to citizenship in an immigration bill. President Obama has made it clear that a roadmap to citizenship should be part of legislation, and bipartisan groups from the Senate and the House of Representatives have begun to talk seriously about creating a better immigration process for people like me and my family. Support for citizenship is growing; I was excited to talk with a member of Congress about the possibilities, even if he wouldn’t agree with me in the end.
I wanted to tell Rep. Rohrabacher my story, I wanted to explain that I have no other home than Costa Mesa, I wanted to speak for all those in my community who are too afraid to talk about their status, all those who live in the shadows and who have had their families torn apart. But when I told him I was an undocumented American he stiffened visibly. He got angry and told me he “hates illegals.” He pointed his finger at me and asked — who are you, that you think you’re so important?
Who am I? I am a person who the president of the United States and even members of Rep. Rohrabacher’s own party think should be given a chance at citizenship. I am a Christian. I know that a roadmap to citizenship that keeps families together is the only solution that is consistent with our moral values and our national history of welcoming immigrants. I believe that every person is created in God’s image with dignity and unique worth. I am an American. I believe in American values of hard work, improving yourself through education and serving your community. But most of all I am a human being — not “an illegal” and not an “alien.” I am a person, and no matter how vigorously you disagree with me I deserve to be treated like one. I am ready and willing to try this meeting again, and I am praying for the congressman to have a change of heart.
As I left his office, he asked me if I had registered for the meeting. I nodded. “Now I know where you live,” he said.
No congressman, I know where you live. You’ve made it clear exactly where you stand. My church, my family, my friends, and my community will not forget that you refused even to discuss a roadmap to citizenship and a better immigration process for aspiring Americans. The people of Orange County who know me and have taken the time to listen to my story will remember your stance when they vote. And unlike you I’m not making a threat. I am making a promise.
Jessica Bravo is a DREAMer from Costa Mesa and a first year student at Golden West College in Huntington Beach. She is a youth leader with Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO), a PICO Network federation in in Anaheim, Calif.