Why I Gave Up My Legal Status
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Steve Heap
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The following is an excerpt from Undocumented and Unafraid: Tam Tran, Cinthya Felix, and the Immigrant Youth Movement.
It is part of a short series on the youth-led immigrant rights movement, produced in solidarity with the 11 Million Dreams Week of Action. For an overview of the movement, you can read the first piece of the series here.
On July 26, 2006, ICE officers came to my house looking for me. They took my sister by mistake and took my parents and other sibling along with her. When ICE realized their mistake, I was told to come in right away or my family would be sent to different detention centers. I rushed to see my family where they were being detained and found my parents chained to chairs with handcuffs on their ankles. It was one of the most horrible days of my life. After a few difficult hours and an interrogation, ICE revealed that the reason they came looking for me was because I was speaking out to the media, and they did not like that. They let us all go but only after ordering me to stop talking to the media. However, I did not stay silent. I got involved in the immigrant rights movement because although I had a legal visa to remain in the United States, members of my family and many of my peers do not. It didn’t seem fair that a small piece of paper gave me opportunities they didn’t have.
I entered this country with a tourist visa, and my parents later obtained a student visa for me to study in the United States. When I graduated from fifth grade and went on to middle school, I lost that visa because my family didn’t realize they had to reinstate it whenever I switched schools. This is how I learned about the importance of legal status in this country. When I graduated from high school, I was blessed to have found someone at Miami Dade College who helped me reinstate my visa again. The only way for me to maintain my status was to stay in school, paying international student rates and earning good grades. When I was asked to participate in the Trail of Dreams, I understood that it would mean making several sacrifices, including giving up my legal status because I would have to leave school. The importance of the Trail of Dreams overshadowed everything else, including a piece of paper that provided conditional status. This was an opportunity to fight for something bigger than myself.
On January 1, 2011, Felipe Matos, Carlos Roa, Juan Rodriguez, and I left Miami to embark on a fifteen-hundred-mile walk to our nation’s capital. The Trail of Dreams was my way of challenging the distorted depiction of immigrants in this country. We set out to dispel the myths by talking to the average American. It was time to claim our to take risks and lift our voices instead of settling for a life full of uncertainty. I have to remind myself that it is an oppressive, broken system that forces us to make these difficult and heartbreaking decisions.
From the very beginning when the participants talked about the Trail of Dreams, we knew we were going to engage in conversations with people from all walks of life. These included people who might have different beliefs or values from ours. We used nonviolent methods and had strategic conversations with people from across the political spectrum. On one occasion, we encountered a white, older US veteran who told us he strongly believed immigrants humanity and change people’s hearts and minds by walking through our country one community at a time.