Reuniting With My FamilyShare on Twitter Share on Facebook
I was 6 years old when my mother told me we were coming to the United States to reunite with my father. My father had been working in the U.S. for many years and was sending money to Brazil in order to support us. I remember crying and not wanting to leave, but my mother said Mickey Mouse lived in the U.S. and that instantly removed any doubts I had. With three children—my younger sister who was 2, my older brother who was 9, and me—my mother crossed the border. Some might say that she is a criminal, but to me she is a hero. When I finally saw my dad for the first time in years, I completely forgot about Mickey. All that mattered was that we were a family again.
Years passed and my parents worked tirelessly so that eventually we would have a home, clothes, and food. I poured myself into my studies and was always a little bit of a bookworm. I felt the need to study and work hard because my parents never got the opportunity to do so. When I was 15, my dad’s asylum case was denied, so he went back to Brazil. Once again, my family was separated. After my dad self-deported, my brother felt like he had to take care of us, so he dropped out of high school during his senior year to work full time. I knew I would be the first in my family to graduate high school, but I didn't know if I would go on to college. I won a college scholarship during my senior year of high school, but my immigration status prevented me from receiving it. Because I was undocumented, I wasn’t able to apply for financial aid or loans. However, with my eagerness to learn, I knew I would find a way. With the support of my family, I took the money I had saved up from working throughout high school and was able to pay for one year at UMass Boston. I thought that if I worked hard and had my family to support me, I would be able to get through the four years without any problems.
But I was wrong. Right before my second semester in college, while my mother and I were working, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came to my home and detained my older brother. They told my 15-year-old sister that they would be back for the rest of us. That night I didn't sleep and the place that I loved coming back to felt more like a prison.
I didn’t understand why this was happening to my family and I was angry. I was angry that my brother was in jail just because he didn’t have any documentation, angry that my mom was depressed, and angry that my sister stopped going to school because she was afraid. That same week I decided that no matter what happened, I was going to stay in America. My mother and sister were forced to return to Brazil in 2007. After a hard fight, my brother was deported in 2009, leaving me alone in the U.S..
Luckily, after my family left, I found the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM). SIM was the first organization I had ever heard of that had undocumented students leading campaigns and not just volunteering. I was hooked. I met students who were also undocumented and I learned about politics. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and told my story to strangers for the first time in my life. I loved being a part of SIM and I spent all my free time working with them. Eventually, I quit my two jobs and fundraised so that I could build SIM into an organization run by undocumented young people.
In June, with the help of United We Dream, two other undocumented leaders and myself were finally able to see our mothers, whom I hadn’t seen in six years. Unfortunately, even during this emotional moment, we continued to be separated by an 18 foot rusted iron fence along the Arizona-Mexico border. Now, after five years of working tirelessly in the Dream Movement, six years of not being with my family, and 20 years since I came to the U.S., I have the opportunity to go to Brazil with advance parole through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It is still a risk, but one that I need to take. These past few days I have been feeling a mixture of excitement, happiness, and anger. I can't wait to be with my family to watch movies, eat dinner together, and to feel what it is like to have a family again.
However, this short visit with my family will not begin to repair the damage that the immigration system has done to us. I don't know if I will be allowed to return to the country, if DACA will be renewed, when I will be finally recognized as a citizen of this country, or when I will be able to see my family again after this trip; the uncertainty of it all is terrifying. However, the one thing I am sure of is that as undocumented immigrants, we will not stop fighting until we have certainty in our lives and we are able to live in the United States with dignity. My fight to reunite with my family is currently being documented in Indivisible, a film directed by Hilary Linder, and I want to invite you to watch our trailer here and help us raise funds so that I can continue sharing my story of family separation with others. The time for comprehensive immigration reform now!