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It was a Saturday morning, around 9am under a typical morning in El Salvador: hot and humid—too hot and too humid, even at 9 in the morning.  My brother and I were standing in the outdoor viewing platform of the San Salvador international airport. We were both fixated on a particular plane which we believe my mother will be boarding soon.  I remember the different silhouettes of the passengers and I wanted to imagine that one of those silhouettes was my mother’s.  We stayed in there for a while, frozen, expectantly waiting for something unexpected to happen.  Somehow during our wait I fantasized about an earthquake striking San Salvador right at that moment, and I imagined my mother coming out of the airplane running, embracing us, telling us she was not going to leave us that day or any other day.  But the earthquake never came and the airplane boarding process took place as expected.  Then, I saw the walkway slowly folding, the airplane door closing.  The airplane started to move, slowly first, then faster.  And as it passed fast right in front of our eyes, ready to take off, I remember running along with it, until the end of the platform, and following it all the way with my eyes full of tears.

I didn’t see my mother for seven years.  A single mother did not have a chance to provide for her four children in a country with a full-blown civil war. So she overstayed her tourist visa became undocumented, leaving us behind with my grandmother.

And so my mother, thanks to President Reagan, became a legal resident in 1986, and we finally saw her again in 1987.  Then she became a citizen in 1992, and I reunited with my her 13 years later when I became a legal resident.

When people ask me why I am a community organizer working towards a comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for all our undocumented brothers and sisters, I go back to that hot and humid Saturday morning for my answer.  I know what it feels to grow up without a mother.  I know how it feels to attend a school fair and see parents and children together, and answering to the question “where is your mom?” with a lie, “she is not here, she is working, she’s busy today.”  I know how it feels to be sent to the school’s principal and hearing her or him telling me that I can’t come to school until my mother of dad come to talk to her.  And then asking a friend or a relative: “Can you come to my school to tell them that my mom sent you?”  Or better, “pretend you are my dad or my mom, so I can go back to school.”

And so, this is why I work on immigration reform.  I can’t afford to tell one more generation of American children that they are better off without their deported or undocumented parents.  How can we tell our children that I stand for family values and community building when we sit idle watching families being torn apart by immigration raids from our Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents?  This system is broken, and our children and their parents are the sick recipients of it.  Would we fix now or would we wait for another generation to do so?

If you want to be the generation who fixes this broken immigration system, contact me at Together we can do it.

Salvador Leavitt-Alcántara was born in El Salvador and immigrated to this country in 1993. He holds a Ph.D. in Theology from the Graduate Theological Union and has taught classes on social justice, violence and religion. He is currently working as a Community Organizer with Ohio Prophetic Voices to create a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million aspiring citizens in this country.