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Immigration Reform – By a Student in Durham, North Carolina

Before January 28, 2016, the most I, a white, middle class, United States citizen, knew about America’s current immigration policies was that some of the undocumented students at my high school in Durham, North Carolina qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), while others did not. As I covered their stories for the school newspaper, I learned that many of the students fled violence and corruption in their home countries, taking perilous risks that many Americans cannot even begin to fathom. I also came to understand that these immigrants were some of the most hardworking students I have ever met, stopping at nothing to achieve the American Dream for themselves and their families.

On January 28, 2016, Wildin Acosta, a fellow senior at my high school was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He went outside to warm up his car before school, ran back inside his home to grab his backpack, and then walked to his car again. As Wildin was walking towards his car, ICE officials arrested him. Since his arrest, Wildin has been held in a detention center in Georgia. He has been detained for over six months because he missed a court date and was then assigned a deportation order.

Wildin’s detainment and the detainment of other high school students, young children, and mothers made me recognize America’s current immigration system as broken and immoral. The fact that three year old children are expected to fend for themselves in immigration courts, detainees sit at detention centers that are unhealthy and inhumane, a student has been taken by ICE officials while on school property, students are receiving no education while they are being held, the release of many of the detainees is up to prosecutorial discretion, Wildin was seemingly punished with solitary confinement because of the outspokenness of his case, Yefri

Sorto’s bond was recently set at $30,000, and that once a person is deported their life is put at risk, especially in the Central American and South American countries where many immigrants come from today. This is why immigration reform is pressingly essential and is the most timely matter of any political or humanitarian issue of the century.

Although I have never met Wildin, in March 2016 I chose to take a stand in supporting him. As an advocate for Wildin’s release, I have organized and led events in the Durham community to raise awareness about Wildin’s situation. I have spoken at press conferences and participated in numerous interviews. I have also published pieces in the News & Observer, the  Herald Sun, and The Huffington Post where I wrote about Wildin’s situation and how his case is not only a political issue, but a humanitarian issue that cannot be ignored as Wildin’s safety, education, and freedom has been denied. Additionally, I traveled to Washington D.C. in May 2016 to speak on Wildin’s behalf at a Congressional briefing, and I met with Secretary of Education John King, multiple members of Congress including GK Butterfield, Zoe Lofgren, and Luis Gutiérrez, and staffers from the Department of Homeland Security and the White House.

Most recently, I wrote an open letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson that was featured in The Huffington Post where I asked him to allow students like Wildin to finish their high school education while their cases for asylum and their appeal processes play out. I would not have dedicated countless hours and stepped out of my comfort zone so many times if I did not believe immigration reform is necessary.

While I was advocating in Washington D.C. for Wildin’s release as well as urging government officials to put an end to the raids, I heard time and time again that immigration reform is a monstrous task and that many people in power are only following the law. Because government officials are “only following the law,” sons and daughters are being torn away from mothers and fathers, students are being stripped of an education, and fear has spread across communities. This is why current immigration laws must be reformed.

I agree that immigration reform is a monstrous task, but I also believe that when a change is so desperately needed, specifically in the case of immigration reform, that no matter how large the task may be, the task must be completed. I believe that at the core of immigration reform, we must refine the system so these immigrants are treated with the respect, dignity, and care of equal human beings. It is detestable to place a teenager in solitary confinement for being vocal about his situation, for focusing a series of raids on mothers and children, and expecting young children and students who are new to the country and who barely know English to navigate the court systems. It is inhumane to allow this crooked treatment of other human beings to take place.

Immigration reform must start with simple decisions that are pressing our society today. A decision about DACA and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) must be reached. President Barack Obama and Secretary Jeh Johnson must use their authority to release students while their court proceedings play out. The judge who grants approval for less than five percent of asylum cases must be replaced. With these small decisions, the United States government will be better prepared to focus on major immigration reform. Finding a path to citizenship for people who are already in the United States can be debated and the American people can decide if we want to become involved in deterring crime and gang violence in countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala where many of today’s undocumented immigrants are fleeing from. We can decide if we want to tighten our borders and we can strategize about what policies will be needed to make that happen. But in the end, because of the current state of America’s immigration system, it is clear that  immigration reform must take place immediately.