Activist takes risks fighting for US immigration reform
WASHINGTON, DC—Raymond Jose, 22, knows what it’s like to live in fear every day. He goes through each day knowing that his mother, father or sister could be taken away from him because they are undocumented immigrants.
In a protest demanding comprehensive immigration reform that doesn’t separate families, Jose sat on the back of a deportation bus at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Phoenix, Arizona, in order to stop the deportation of the people on board.
Federal agents threatened to use pepper spray, and law enforcement subsequently arrested Jose. But for him, the activism was worth the risk of both arrest and possible deportation.
Jose and another immigration rights activist, Jose Patino, were arrested around 12:30 a.m. on Aug. 22, but were released about one hour later. The next day, ICE let someone out from the bus who was of lower priority and the person was able to return to his family.
Message to Congress
“I definitely went in with the mind-set that this is something I have to do,” Jose said. “I feel that through civil disobedience the American public would see this is the pain our community goes through on a daily basis. It’s a message to Congress that they need to act now and stand up [for] families.”
Members from the largest youth-led immigration rights group in the US, United We Dream, participated in this act of civil disobedience. Jose works as the Washington, DC, organizer for the group.
A resident of Rockville, Maryland, Jose came to the US from the Philippines with his family when he was nine years old. He was not aware of his undocumented status until he started applying for college, when his parents informed him that because of his status, he could not accept scholarships.
Although Jose admits his family was initially upset to hear about his arrest, he said they understand why he did it. It’s difficult, he said, for most people in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities to reveal that they are undocumented and to stand up for fair immigration reform, but his parents are slowly breaking out of their shell.
“If we stay silent and keep our heads down nothing’s going to change,” he said.
Becoming a leader
Someone who has seen Jose grow as an activist is his close friend, Yves Gomes, who works with the Maryland Dream Youth Committee.
“I’m very glad to see that [Jose has] been able to step up to leadership and he’s really seized it. He’s one of the best leaders,” Gomes said.
Gomes, who was born in India, said although one out of every 10 immigrants is of Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) descent, most people would never know that based on media coverage and turnouts at events.
“It just can’t be myself and [Jose] to represent our AAPI community in the [D.C., Maryland and Virginia] area,” Gomes said. “Our community is still very afraid and ashamed. It’s not a Latino issue or Asian issue; it’s a human issue.”
Immediate action needed
With debates over military action in Syria and the budget raging at the forefront, immigration reform could be pushed back to the end of the year, or even longer, but activists like Gomes stress the need for immediate action on the immigration issue.
“Our focus is to remind [legislators] that this issue is very urgent,” Gomes said. “It has to be done now. Every day we wait, every day we remain silent, thousands of people get deported from the country.”
Gomes continued: “My parents have been deported, I haven’t seen them for about five years. I want everything to see my parents here.”
Gomes added that Jose is adamant about fighting for his family to stay in the country. He observes how close Jose is to his family and he sees all of them work hard from day to day.
“It’s not about us, it’s about our parents; it’s about our families,” Gomes said. “It’s about all the hardworking people who otherwise pay taxes do everything else, but aren’t American on paper.”
Jose hopes that some form of relief will be passed sometime this year addressing immigration. For the time being, he will continue empowering people in the DC, Maryland and Virginia areas who are facing deportation.
With United We Dream, Jose’s mission is to encourage people around the nation to share their immigration experiences and stand up for fair immigration reform. He will also continue meeting with legislators and doing lobby visits.
“We’re all trying to pursue the American Dream,” Jose said. “It’s time for this broken immigration system to be fixed.”