It still seems as if it were yesterday that I had the privilege of interning at the office of Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (CA-39 D) during the winter of 2004. As a young 21 year old Puerto Rican headed to our nation’s capital to work on the hill for a semester, I remember vividly how excited I was to get to work and gain the so anticipated up front and center perspective of our nation’s legislative branch and the law making process. Not only that, but I would be working at the U.S. Capitol during the final stretch of the 2004 Presidential elections in middle of the Kerry vs Bush frenzy, the presidential debates that followed, and the policy struggle and political chess moves made by both sides of the aisle in order to promote and advance the principles of each party’s respective visions for America. At the time, a nation that was once thought to be united for the common purpose of supporting the war on terrorism after the September 11th attacks, was then divided as a result of the Bush administration’s inaccuracies in regards to allegations of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in power of Saddam Hussein; inaccuracies which eventually misled Congress to approve an unnecessary war in Iraq that cost the lives of thousands of our brave men and women in uniform when our true targets were supposed to be Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
And so, as opposed to our current 2012 electoral cycle where the economy and job creation seem to be at the top of the issues priority list, national security and foreign policy were the priority issues back in 2004. During the course of my work experience at Congresswoman Linda Sanchez’s office, I remember taking on numerous research duties on an array of issues pertinent to the constituency based needs of the citizens of the 39th district of California, all of which I found interesting and important for the future of not only the congresswoman’s constituents but for our entire nation. There was however one issue that I must confess did not stimulate my interest when compared to the rest, and that was immigration reform. Having been born with automatic US citizenship by birth and all the benefits and responsibilities that entailed, my ignorance at the time blinded me to embrace the issue and to ultimately do as so many Americans do today and that is to irresponsibly take our citizenship for granted.
All of this changed one late afternoon workday at the congresswoman’s office when the phone at my desk ran and I picked up like I had done in so many previous occasions throughout the semester. However, this call would prove to be quite different from the rest. This time, the person on the other line would not be a conservative calling to blast the Congresswoman for supporting liberal policies, nor would it be a liberal calling to congratulate the Congresswoman for standing up to President Bush and the Republican controlled congress. On this occasion, I would be called by a sobbing voice of a young adult Hispanic woman who in spanish timidly requested for help. Caught off guard by the situation, I immediately attempted to calm her down and I recall how she loosened up and felt more comfortable after I began attending her request in spanish. She told me she was devastated by how her family was falling apart over the fact that her husband, an honest hard working blue collar worker was forcefully deported to Mexico causing him to leave her and their 3 children behind to fend for themselves. Despite of the fact that her husband earned a modest yet respectable income doing work that the majority of Americans would not be willing to do, with the sole purpose of supporting his family and providing his children with a path towards a decent education and ultimately the American dream, he was deemed unfit to remain as a member of our great nation because of his “alien” status; a term I would later grow to despise to this very day. The desperation in the woman’s voice would increase whenever I would attempt to gather more information about the details of her case and I remember how bad I felt for her and the urgency I had to help solve the problem.
Her case however, would prove to be very complicated thanks in great part to the broken immigration system at the time, a system that remains broken to this very day. Despite of the Congresswoman’s due diligence in attending the situation, upon my exit as a congressional intern at the end of the semester the woman’s case status would prove to still be ongoing, despite of how much I wanted to receive good news before heading back home. One thing was for sure, immigration reform would no longer be an issue I ignorantly considered irrelevant to me due to my automatic US citizenship. I made a promise to myself that I would get active and join the millions of people in America that have worked and continue to be an integral part of the solution to this problem. Former Mexican president, Vicente Fox, once expressed in 2001, that President George W. Bush, and the leadership of both parties of Congress were about to pass significant immigration reform legislation benefiting Mexican emigration to the U.S., but then the terrorists attacked occurred on September 11th which unfortunately shifted immigration at the bottom of the priority list. However, the Republicans at that time are not the same Republicans we have today in Congress.
The republican congress today has now been hijacked by Tea Party activists lead by now Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan whomhave total disregard to human suffering and the needs of those within the immigrant community that come to our nation in search of a better quality of life for their families. As opposed to 2004 when Republicans’ justification to drop the immigration reform issue was the war on terror, a debatably viable reason for many, today they now present the “defeat of President Obama and the avoidance of a second Obama term as their sole priority in these elections”. As preposterous and ridiculous as this is, President Obama has remained focused on providing immigrants what they have anxiously awaited for decades, and that is true comprehensive immigration reform that would put a halt to unjust deportations and provide a path to citizenship to millions of Hispanic immigrants in our nation today, and he has acted.
Fast forward to the middle of the recently concluded summer of 2012 when I was humbled to have had the opportunity to work at the White House as an Economic Policy Intern for Vice President Joe Biden. On one glorious Mid June afternoon this past summer, I remember having hopped over from the White House to the Hill to have lunch with friends who work in Congress. It was from a TV at the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria where I witnessed President Obama’s historic announcement of his administration’s new immigration policy change, stating the government will stop deporting young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, many of which were in school. I stood in awe and realized I was watching history in the making by a President willing to stand up and do the work Congress had failed to do when they turned their backs on DREAMERS and were unwilling to work in bipartisan fashion to avoid the suffering of so many families like the one I attended on the hill back in 2004. As of yesterday, August 15th, 2012, young undocumented immigrants now have the opportunity to apply for the President’s new deferred action policy through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website at:
By order of the President of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to focus its resources on the removal of individuals who represent a danger to national security, including individuals convicted of crimes, felons, and repeat offenders, DHS will exercise prosecutorial discretion as appropriate to ensure that enforcement resources are not expended on low priority cases, such as individuals who came to the United States as children. The YDA Hispanic Caucus urges you to pass the above included link to friends and family members who are interested in applying for deferred action and spread the word to as many people as possible. Together we will be saving one family at a time. Una familia a la vez. There is still so much to do. We have to ensure President Obama is reelected along with a democratic majority in order to make immigration reform a reality and only together can we make it happen.
After watching President Obama conclude his remarks that glorious summer day, I hurried over to the metro train station in route to head back in time to the White House. As I boarded the train and sat down, a young Hispanic woman sitting next to me with her adorable toddler daughter asked me in Spanish: “Señor, en que direccion vamos?” “Sir, in what direction are we headed?” Before replying with the name of the next Metro station, I paused and while remembering the sobbing woman I attended back in 2004, I turned over to her, smiled and answered: “Hacia adelante señora….” “Vamos hacia adelante….”“Forward ….We are moving forward……”
Phillip Arroyo Rodriguez
Chairman of the Hispanic Caucus
Young Democrats of America