What the undocumented community needs out of immigration reform

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    Image of Jose Patiño, who talked about what the undocumented community wants out of immigration reform.

    Jose Patiño, a 25-year-old Dreamer from Arizona, is seen here attending a pro-immigration reform rally in Washington, D.C., in April 2013. He says most undocumented immigrants want an immigration reform that will allow them to be safe from deportation, get a work permit, get a driver’s license and travel to their native country. (Courtesy photo)

    Jose Patiño is a 25-year-old Dreamer from Arizona who recently appeared in “The Dream is Now” documentary. 

    I was sitting in the kitchen with my mom and her prayer group when one of her friends, Lucero, got a call about her son, Luis, who is in detention. As my mom serves us menudo (spicy Mexican stew), I ask Lucero what happened to her son.

    She tells me that Luis was detained after a police officer stopped him and discovered he didn’t have a driver’s license. He is now in the Eloy Detention Center.

    Despite having two U.S. citizen children and having applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Luis was arrested and put in a detention center. The DACA program is supposed to protect undocumented young immigrants, like Luis, from deportation and allow them to work.

    I grew up in the same apartment complex with Luis’ family. His younger brother, Jose, was my best friend at the J. B Sutton Elementary School. We both went on to study together at Isaac Junior High School and Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix.

    Despite being a Dreamer, Jose was deported back to Mexico in 2010. He left behind his U.S. citizen son in Arizona.

    ‘What do you want out of immigration reform?’

    Deportation is such a big part of daily life in Arizona that these breakfast conversations almost seem “normal.”

    Thankfully, Lucero’s caller had good news. The person on the other line told her Luis was going to be given the chance to get out of jail on bail. After a short celebration, Lucero began asking me about the latest news on immigration reform.

    “Is Obama going to give us papers?” she asked in Spanish.

    Instead of responding to her question, I asked her: “What do you want out of immigration reform?”

    Lucero responded by first contemplating on Luis’ detention and on the deferred action program already available for Dreamers, which she and her husband don’t qualify for. She finally said she wanted something that would offer relief from deportation, because she feared Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies would detain and deport her and her family members.

    “Do you want a path to citizenship?” I asked Lucero.

    “Yes, but what good does a path to citizenship serve me if I get deported first?” she responded in Spanish. “What I need is a driver’s license, a work permit and a visa that will allow me to go visit my parents. It’s been almost 20 years since the last time I saw them.”

    My mother, Delia, and her other friend, Carmen, agreed with Lucero. They expressed the same fear of getting arrested by Arpaio’s deputies and the desire to visit their family members in Mexico.

    All of them then turned to me and asked me, “What do you think?” I responded:

    “Our community needs relief from deportations. We also need driver’s licenses to be able to drive, a work permit to be able to work and some sort of way for us to be able to travel to our native country to visit family members whom we haven’t seen in many years. We don’t need citizenship to be able to do all this.”

    I then asked them if they would support legislation that included all this, except a path to citizenship.

    “Yes, we want to live in peace,” they said.

    The ‘citizenship or nothing’ strategy won’t work

    This type of conversation with family and friends happen daily, and they usually end up in the same place. The reality is that my community cannot afford an all or nothing hardline on citizenship.

    For me, the realization that we need to change our strategy on immigration reform also came from the two months that I spent in Washington, D.C., recently talking with members of Congress directly.

    The conversation that stood out for me was with Adam Leyva, House Speaker John Boehner’s immigration staffer. He basically said: “Over my dead body will my boss bring this up for a vote.”

    Republican Congressmen Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Raul Labrador of Idaho, Trent Franks of Arizona and Cory Gardner of Colorado all told me and several others that H.R. 15 was not going to happen. However, their whole attitude changed when we said we were open to working with them on other solutions.

    Then there was the interesting conversation with Rep. Darrell Issa of California who told us we should pray for compromise.

    From dozens of hallway conversations with both Republicans and Democrats, I came to the sad realization that H.R. 15 and S. 744 are not going anywhere in the House. Some politicians were more honest than others but all led me to the same conclusion: H.R. 15 was not a viable piece of legislation.

    It wasn’t easy for me to accept everything I heard in D.C. I remember sitting for hours in the hallways of Congress with my head down between my knees. I called my mom when I was most discouraged. After her comforting ‘Pidele a Dios, Él te va a guiar’, I came to the conclusion that I can’t give up.

    Finding another solution for immigration reform

    I let go of H.R. 15 and S.744 and decided that there has got to be another way to get relief for our people. I can’t give up after everything that my mom has done for me. Giving up is not an option and neither is waiting for another month, another year, or for the “right” Congress.

    So long as my community turns to me and asks me “what do you think” with the look of guidance, I will fight for what is true in my heart.

    My community needs relief from deportation. The Obama administration can give the undocumented community administrative relief by extending his deferred action program.

    Congressional Democrats, like Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York can join Congressmen Raul Grijalva and Luis Gutierrez to call on President Obama to stop the deportations of undocumented immigrants.

    So what will come of all those conversations I had with Republican Congressmen? I can’t predict the future, and I am not sure if they will actually introduce the legislation they have talked about (Eric Cantor’s KIDS Act or Mario Diaz-Balart’s legalization bill). But I do know that if Republicans do introduce legislation, I am open to working with them if their proposal provides legal status for my parents, my community and me.

    As for Democrats, they should listen to what the undocumented community wants and needs. If there is legislation introduced by Republicans that can help us, Democrats should not block it — even if it includes a path to legalization instead of a path to citizenship.

    What is needed is compromise, because if not, the undocumented community will suffer the consequences of President Obama’s deportation machine.

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