Column: To understand the fear of U.S. immigrants, put yourself in their shoes

Javier Aldana is shown advocating in Washington, D.C., for immigration issues, here outside the office of Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.
Javier Aldana is shown advocating in Washington, D.C., for immigration issues, here outside the office of Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.
Published May 28, 2019

My mother said it was time to go. I was 15 years old, living in Cali, Colombia, and the instability and violence caused by the drug cartels made it unsafe for me to remain there. With the few resources I had, I made my way to the United States. My first job was cleaning a restaurant at the top of one of the original World Trade Center towers.

Today, Colombia is a distant memory. My parents are here. My family is here. I'm a proud U.S. citizen with a union job, a wife, two daughters, a one-year-old grandson, and another grandchild on the way. My mother realized her own version of the American Dream by opening up a restaurant in Philadelphia. None of the progress we made was easy, but it was worth it. This is our home.

Recently, I found myself asking the question that all Americans should consider before jumping into the immigration debate — what if someone threatened to take the life I've worked so hard for over the past three decades away?

The answer is the nightmare that undocumented youth and people with Temporary Protected Status have had to confront every day. Since taking office, the Trump administration has embarked on a reckless crusade of demonizing immigrants both in his rhetoric and policy in order to divide everyday Americans and distract working people from the problems he doesn't want to resolve.

That has included a blind fixation on terminating DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and Temporary Protected Status, programs which past administrations kept in place to allow people who have lived and worked in the United States legally for years to remain here without fear of deportation. We're talking about young people who have lived in this country since they were kids, along with families that our government has allowed to stay for years because of dire circumstances in their home countries.

As more of us put ourselves in the position of the over 2 million mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who could disappear from our communities, losing everything to be sent back to a country they don't even recognize, support for a permanent legislative solution grows. Polls show a majority of Americans agree that we need congressional action that prevents the human suffering and economic harm their mass deportation would inflict on our nation.

Currently, our best hope is the Dream and Promise Act, which the House Judiciary Committee passed last week and will be up for a full vote in the U.S. House this summer. It offers Dreamers and people with temporary protected status who call this country home an opportunity to stay here for good through legal permanent residency and a chance to earn citizenship.

As an immigrant, it's especially easy for me to see our similarities outweigh our differences, namely a common need for economic stability and security for our families. And as a U.S. citizen, I feel responsible for helping other Americans see that so we can all make sure that our elected officials are held accountable for advancing an economy that works for everyone and an America that is welcoming to all people.

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Thankfully my local congresswoman, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, has already signed on to the bill. But Reps. Ross Spano, Vern Buchanan, Brian Mast and Mario Díaz-Balart have not, and they should join the rest of their Florida colleagues in supporting this bill. They're not only responsible for defending Florida from the devastation President Donald Trump's termination of TPS and DACA would have on our communities, families and local economy; it's also their job to pass laws like the Dream and Promise Act that give more people a chance to invest their skills and talents in our state.

Some may say it's a long shot, but if living in this country for the past thirty years has taught me anything, it's that when we come together to stand up for the rights of workers, immigrants, women, and people of color, we can win.

Javier Aldana is a naturalized U.S. citizen and a member of 2692 Workers United, SEIU. He lives in Tampa.