immigration reform

When Supporting Your Family Earns a Criminal Record

Noemi Romero's Family. Photo from Define American

Noemi Romero's Family. Photo from Define American

America was a free country. There, freedom is everything. Growing up, that was the picture I had. America was the country where you’re free to do whatever you want.

It all changed when I turned 16. I woke up excited, ready to go to the DMV and get my driver’s license like all my friends were doing -- and then my parents told me that I was here illegally. I was undocumented. Reality sunk in. America was not a free country for me.

Will America Live Up to Its Promise?

Aly Wane speaking at an event in Syracuse - photo courtesy of Define American.

Aly Wane speaking at an event in Syracuse. Photo courtesy of Define American.

Last week would have been the 71st birthday of my mother who was tragically killed abroad 15 years ago. Because of my undocumented status, I still have not been able to visit her grave site. This experience is all too common in the undocumented community. This is one of the many reasons why, despite the fact that I am an American by default, I struggle with my connection with this country and with the very concept of citizenship.

My mother brought me here legally when I was 9 in 1985 after fleeing our home country of Senegal following a painful estate dispute once my biological father passed away. She found work as a diplomat at the United Nations, and I came here as her dependent. I then attended high school at Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., and thus switched to a student visa. I continued my education in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania for two years but had to leave because I couldn’t afford the tuition. My mother was in Zimbabwe then and I couldn’t afford going to join her. Unfortunately, neither my diplomatic visa nor my student visa statuses count towards getting a Green card. When I left school, my status lapsed, and I became undocumented. Three years later, my mother was killed — a victim of domestic violence. With no “home country” to go back to and no way to adjust my status, I had to adjust myself to a life in the shadows.

Should All Americans Have the Right to an Education?

Group from Freedom House, Photo courtesy Define American

Group from Freedom House, Photo courtesy Define American

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” —Mark 9:37, NRSV

I was raised in a family with strong beliefs in our faith. It is because of my faith that I continue to strive for a better future and do good to others. This is why I’m so passionate for my advocacy in education, regardless of gender, race, and immigration status.

When I lived in Mexico, I thought about America every day. To me, America was a country of freedom, a country where every dream could come true. My grandparents waited 12 years to get their visas. The wait was agonizing; every year we faced poverty and struggle in Zacatecas. With every year, my dreams of a better life in America got farther and farther away. The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming and pushed me to attempt suicide.

In that moment, I turned to faith. My family came to my aid and helped me through. Knowing how desperate for opportunity I had become, my parents reached out to my aunt in the United States. Together, they saved enough money to pay for my visa application. I finally had a chance at a life outside of our small family farm.

It was the summer of 2009 when I finally arrived in America. I was 16.

What Are You Most Proud Of?

Felipe's family at the Statue of Liberty. Courtesy Felipe Diosdado

Felipe's family at the Statue of Liberty. Courtesy Felipe Diosdado

My sons, Issac and Felipe are my pride and joy. My wife and I go to church with them every Sunday, and we spend our free time at the movies or enjoying a walk through downtown Chicago. We also take road trips, one of which brought us to New York City where we visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

I brought them there because I wanted them to see

the most important American monument in person. The Statue of Liberty is the icon of freedom and a historic welcoming signal to immigrants.

Chicago is my home. It's been that way for the past 17 years. I'm a maintenance worker at a residential building and a member of SEIU Local 1. I'm kind of living the American dream. I say "kind-of" because my undocumented status has prevented me from pursuing better job opportunities. I had the chance to become an assistant engineer at my building but declined the offer because I'm scared of losing the job if my bosses discover that I'm undocumented.

Jose Antonio Vargas and Others to Apply for Deportation Deferrals, Push Obama on Executive Action

Jose Antonio Vargas in 2012 at a TEDx event. Via TEDxMidAtlantic on

Jose Antonio Vargas in 2012 at a TEDx event. Via TEDxMidAtlantic on

Earlier this week Jose Antonio Vargas, joined by ten other undocumented immigrants, announced the 1 of 11 Million campaign in Washington to urge the delay of deportations for the millions of documented immigrants in the United States. Vargas is founder of Define American, a national organization that uses stories to shift the narrative on immigration in America, and hopes to influence the executive action debate.

The campaign plans to tell the personal stories of 11 people who come from diverse backgrounds and whose experiences reflect many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. By providing a snapshot of our complex, outdated, and unpredictable system, advocates hope that changes announced by Obama will address the needs of communities nationwide.

Where is the Joy?

Deep sea divers. Image courtesy littlesam/

Deep sea divers. Image courtesy littlesam/

How do you talk about joy in times like these and not sound like a traveling salesman with a bottle of snake oil up his sleeve?

Recently, I received word that Robert Gittelson, the cofounder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, had died suddenly from a massive heart attack. Over the next seven days, the prolific 63-year-old comedian and actor, Robin Williams, committed suicide, and revered screen legend, Lauren Bacall, passed away at the age of 89.


Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, MorganStudio /

Mirror, MorganStudio /

St. Paul once reminded the argumentative folks in the ancient Corinthian congregation that they were as people gazing dimly into a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12), hardly able to make out their faces staring back at them. His point was simply that the things we think we “see” really well in this life we actually see and understand rather poorly. And misinterpreted reality is the result.

The past several years have seen the release of two excellent films aimed at helping the Christian community understand immigration and the need for immigration reform. Gospel without Borders, produced by, and the just-released The Stranger film by the Evangelical Immigration Table, are two great presentations Christian groups and others should view and discuss.

LUCHA Ministries, the faith-based group that I work with in Fredericksburg, Va., recently screened The Stranger film for about 50 people in our community. Like Gospel without Borders, this film features vignettes of families and individuals crushed by our nation’s merciless and nonsensical immigration system. Both also interview religious and secular advocates who affirm the need to fix the system in a way that respects human life and dignity, guarantees secure borders, and creates a pathway to citizenship.

I watch these films and listen to their appeals and wonder why we can’t get immigration reform done. It all seems so obvious. Perhaps Paul gives us some insight here. Perhaps it’s because, like all things including immigration reform, what we think we see has little to do with reality.

Jesuits Tell Their Alumni in Congress: Protect Border Children

Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference of the U.S. since June 2006. Courtesy Jesuit Conference of the U.S.

American Jesuits are pushing members of Congress who were educated at the Catholic order’s schools to pass aid for thousands of refugee children who have surged across the border in Texas in recent months, calling proposals to swiftly deport them “inhumane and an insult to American values.”

“I ask you, as a leader, a parent, and a Catholic, to uphold an American tradition of which we are all proud,” the Rev. Thomas Smolich, head of the U.S. Jesuit conference, wrote to House Speaker John Boehner and 42 other House members who graduated from Jesuit high schools and colleges.

“We must welcome the refugee, the victim of trafficking, the child who has been abused or abandoned,” Smolich wrote in the July 29 letter. “Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus when he said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”

Since last fall, more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have flooded across the U.S.-Mexico border, mainly in south Texas, most of them from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The migrants are often driven out by endemic violence in their home countries and drawn to the U.S. by prospects of better economic opportunities or the chance to reunite with their families.

But the influx has created a humanitarian crisis that has become a political wedge issue.

Could Loaves and Fishes Change The Immigration Dilemma?

Generosity with loaves and fishes. Image courtesy Antonio Gravante/shutterstock.

Generosity with loaves and fishes. Image courtesy Antonio Gravante/

What might happen if we were to look at the two goods of protection and hospitality not as competing goods in a world of scarcity, but as complimentary goods in a world of abundance? I think we might come up with new solutions that no one has yet imagined.

In June, reporters for The Washington Post described deplorable detention conditions of the border patrol station in McAllen, Texas.

“The sick are separated by flimsy strips of yellow police tape from the crying babies and expectant mothers. They subsist on bologna sandwiches and tacos, with portable toilets and no showers, and their wait can last for days," they wrote. 

Soon after, President Obama declared a “humanitarian crisis” at the Mexico-U.S. border, citing a massive increase of undocumented children from Central America crossing the border. Without enough resources to house and care for the tens of thousands of children while they wait for an immigration hearing, the border patrol has been overwhelmed.

When Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the station in May, he asked one young girl, “Where’s your mother?”

“I don’t have a mother,” she replied tearfully.