On May Day, let’s take back the immigration debate

By Tomas Kennedy

GMauro y Tomasrowing up undocumented was a stressful experience. I lived with the nagging fear that any little mistake, any circumstantial event that found me in the wrong place at the wrong time, could potentially end with the deportation of my parents and I, and everything we had worked so hard for as a family would be taken away from us.

I resolved my legal status through marriage in 2011, but my parents are still undocumented. They are among 11 million undocumented immigrants who work hard every day to provide a better life for themselves and their children, while at the same time strengthening this country’s economy with their labor. I fight for all of them because I can never escape how my parents, and my community as a whole, are treated by politicians who seek to divide and attack us in their quest for power.

There are thousands of young immigrants who are future voters like me, who will be naturalized citizens one day and who will forever remember who stood with us and who stood against us. Applications for citizenship increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before and rose 14 percent during the six months ending in January, federal data shows. I register voters for a living in Florida and I know Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has a lot to do with the increase. Those immigrants want to become U.S. citizens so they can vote down the man who has described us in the vilest of terms and used us as a wedge with other Americans.

It is for that reason that we, the members of pro-immigrant community-based organizations, made up of workers and students, are organizing a May Day rally and march in the city of Miami. We are not alone. Immigrants in cities across the country – New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and so many more – will hold rallies and demonstrations this Sunday. Our goal is to drive home the message that the climate of hate permeating this electoral cycle is destructive to the nation. Our immigrant communities have rightfully earned dignity and respect through years of hard labor without any relief. Miami is a cosmopolitan city. The immigrants that make up the spine of this multicultural metropolis will not tolerate hateful rhetoric that characterizes us as rapists, killers and thieves.

It has been heartbreaking and discouraging to see the debate over immigration policy shift away from comprehensive reform with a pathway to citizenship to proposals about massive deportations, border militarization, and the complete ban of all Muslims entering the country. Fortunately, protest is at the heart of our right to freedom of expression and a necessary exercise for a healthy democratic system.

This May Day we will take to the streets demanding that our voices be heard and we will unite in pushing for a progressive platform, centered around people, that truly empowers and looks out for our communities. We call for a return to real debate over immigration, including much-deserved reform with a pathway to citizenship, a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the end of the for-profit prison system, affordable college education, voter restoration rights to the thousands of disenfranchised voters across the country, equal rights for the LGBTQ community, and climate justice to protect communities, such as those in Florida, that are on the front lines of climate change and sea level rise. We are under attack like never before in recent memory. It has pushed us to be more unified, focused and organized as a community. It is the only way we will change the course of history.

Tomas Kennedy is an immigration writing fellow for the Center for Community Change Action.

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