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December 10, 2014

“We should be deporting felons, and not families” – an immigrant student speaks out

carlos1How would you feel if you had the right to stay in the United States, but your parents didn’t?

Around ten years ago, my parents left El Salvador and came to this country for a better life. They left me and my sister alone with my grandmother. She could barely take care of us because she was old.

When I was 12, I had to leave El Salvador because of the gangs. They were really bad: they raped girls, stole money and jewelry off of people’s necks, and they did drugs. They were trying to force me to join them. The gangs were getting worse and worse, and there were a lot of crimes where we were living with my grandma. So my nine-year old-sister, my cousin and I left to cross the border into the U.S.

We were really scared about what would happen to us. We knew that the border patrol protects the border really well. I had heard that a lot of people died of thirst and hunger on their way to the U.S. On TV, you could see the skulls of dead immigrants in the desert.

We made it through Mexico and into Arizona. When we were walking in the desert, we got to a point when the immigration helicopter started to chase us, and everybody started to run everywhere.  We hid in a dry canal and we had to jump and stay there for a bit. When we started running again, one of the women with us tripped and fell down. But we kept running. I was so tired of running.

After that, we slept until one or two in the morning and we woke up and walked again. My hands froze and I felt I couldn’t move my fingers.  I cried like a baby because it hurt so much.

Then after that, officers caught us. They took everything we had to eat, and hours later we were at their offices to get fingerprinted. They took my cousin, who was 20 years old, and said they were going to deport him because he was an adult, but that they would leave me and my sister here in Arizona by ourselves. We cried because we were alone and we felt nervous and sad.

We went to a youth center in Arizona and waited for someone to come pick us up. After three weeks, my uncle came to get us and took us to see our parents. We were so happy to see them face-to-face and finally hug them again.

After that, we moved to Oakland and started school here. We found lawyers at an organization called Centro Legal de la Raza that helped me and my sister apply for asylum because of the problems we had with the gangs. We got status, but my parents did not.

It felt bad that my siblings and I were legal, but my parents were not. We worried—what if they get stopped by the police and the officers see they don’t have papers? What if they are deported?  We’re always scared that something is going is going to happen and our family will be separated again.

So when we heard about the new rule that Obama announced, we were so happy. My parents will be able to apply to get a work permit and work legally here. If they get their papers, we will not have to worry anymore that they might be deported. We can just work hard for a better future for our family. We’re trying to make a good life because now that we’re in this country, we have a lot of benefits: we can get a good education, a job with a good salary, and we don’t have those same opportunities in our home country. And here, we don’t feel worried about the gangs anymore. We feel safe.

I agree with Obama that we should be deporting felons, and not families. Families like mine are just here to have a good life and contribute to the community. We don’t want to destroy this country. We just want to make it a better place to live—for us, and for all Americans.

Carlos is a senior at Oakland International High School in Oakland, CA.

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