Editor's Note: Guest blogger Raul Quezada came to the United States when he was 10 years old; now 21, he volunteers full-time with Border Servant Corps and Comunidades en Acción y de Fé, a faith-based community organizing group. Through his volunteer work, Raul has been a consistent advocate for immigration reform.
I used to be afraid: afraid to tell people I was undocumented, afraid to tell people I was gay. Even more afraid that my dad would come home and beat my mom. And when I made the decision to come out, my Baptist church -- which provided me with emotional support to deal with some tough situations -- kicked me out.
But now, after years of staying in the background and witnessing the trials that immigrants and the LGBT community face, I am no longer afraid. There are too many people to help and too many issues that need to be fixed.
I am currently working for a faith-based community organizing group that is fighting for immigration reform. Through this organization, I had the chance to share my story in front of 500 people. I also had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. to advocate for immigration reform. I met with Senators Schumer and Leahy and other members of Congress.
I was inspired that these officials are fighting for my communities. They're fighting so that one day immigrants will not have to live in the shadows, afraid of living their lives to the fullest, and they're fighting for LGBT equality. I had the privilege of being in the gallery when the Senate immigration reform bill passed, and for the first time in a long time, I felt that I have the power to change lives and empower others.
But it wasn't always that way.
At the age of 15, when most teenagers are excited about receiving their learner permits, I received my U Visa. Due to my dad's violent nature, we received permission granting us temporary residency in the United States. We were able to move away from our violent home and into a domestic violence shelter. There, I met the director of Border Servant Corps, a volunteer program that places volunteers in shelters, social and legal service agencies in Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. At a time when I felt alone but knew I needed to be strong for my mom and younger siblings, I met someone who helped me get through the tough days.
In high school I was terribly afraid of drawing attention to myself--I didn't want anyone to know about my sexuality or immigration status. After my graduation, I met with the director of Border Servant Corps and he suggested that I join as a volunteer so that I could give back to my community. Now, I live in a house with other volunteers and help people who are facing situations similar to those that I have faced. We serve people who are facing issues such as poverty, domestic violence and immigration. For one of the first times in my life I feel empowered, accepted and supported for who I am.
I help people who need someone to listen and provide support to get them through emotional events. They include mothers telling their children that their father has been deported, and parents who are afraid to take their children to school or to go to the store out of fear of deportation. These are people who came here to provide their children and families with a better future.
I can relate to their fear. I know what it feels like not to have a voice and to be afraid that your mom might not make it home. Life on the border is a constant struggle, and the police and Border Patrol make life worse. Immigrants are routinely profiled and pulled over for minor traffic offenses. Border Patrol is often called, and lawful residents are detained until they prove they are here legally.
Immigration reform needs to happen now, and there must be a clear pathway to citizenship. Right now the House of Representatives is debating an inhumane bill that would legalize some children of undocumented immigrants but would exclude their parents and maybe even some of their siblings. The bill threatens to continue the practice of ripping families apart and does nothing to address the millions of undocumented immigrants living in fear of deportation.
As politicians debate increasing the size of the Border Patrol, there must be guidelines for their roles. Immigrants do not need more profiling and scare tactics from law enforcement officials within the community. We should be able to call the police to report crimes without fear that they will respond by sending the Border Patrol.
I love this country. I am proud to live here, and I can't wait for the day when my green card application is approved. I have lived through many dark experiences, but I know that my future will be bright. No one should live his or her life afraid. We all deserve to live in a color-blind, sexual orientation-blind society and to be proud of who we are.
Photos are from an immigration reform demonstration on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. today. Around forty activists and top officials from the AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America, the Campaign for Community Change, the Service Employees International Union, and the United Farm Workers sat down in the middle of Independence Avenue and blocked traffic in an act of civil disobedience to protest congressional Republicans' inaction on comprehensive immigration reform.