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Giving Thanks for Family Unity

November 30, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I had a great Thanksgiving. On Wednesday night, I drove up to Boston to be with family and friends for the holiday. I was greeted on Thursday morning with the sound of scampering feet and yelps of joy as my five-year-old cousins joined us to watch the parade. Throughout the weekend, I found comfort in the warm presence of my family and in the rituals we have developed together – the walk around the neighborhood, the late-night movie, and the Turkey Terrific sandwiches of leftovers that we WILL eat on Thursday night, no matter how full we may be from the meal itself.

I have a large family and I’m very lucky to have them all together for Thanksgiving. There’s really nothing like looking around a room full of 21 of the people closest to you in the world. This year, we were also joined by our close family friend, Rose, who helped us care for my grandmother for years. Rose is an immigrant from Uganda who has lived in the United States for over a decade. Because of the restrictions on her visa, she has been unable to leave the country. Doing so would mean that she would be unable to return. So, she has not seen her children for many long years, although she calls them frequently. As I reveled in my boisterous family and the fun times of the moment, Rose spoke of the distance between her and her loved ones.

At the Thanksgiving table on Thursday, I asked Rose how she was holding up. Times are hard, she said, and she is thinking that it is nearly time for her to go home. She has many concerns, the foremost being that she will need to develop a stable source of income when she returns to Uganda. Her children have relied on her regular remittances during her stay in the United States. Now, she will have to work hard to implement some of her entrepreneurial schemes in order to create a stable livelihood for herself and her family in Uganda. It is not an easy decision to leave the United States, knowing that it will be impossible to return even if hard times hit.

Rose’s is just one of many immigrant families that are unable to be together during this holiday season. Many of these families cannot afford to cook a delicious meal for Thanksgiving because they must save their earnings to send as remittances to their relatives back in their countries of origin.

Immigrants support their families across borders and also contribute economically, socially, and culturally to the United States. They are courageous, entrepreneurial, and hard-working. However, instead of being welcomed into the United States, they are met with a broken immigration system.

The immigration system that these immigrants confront is one with tremendous visa backlogs, in which families wait years and even decades to be reunited. It is one in which police officers operating with little accountability regularly arrest and detain immigrants on account of the color of their skin. It is one in which undocumented immigrants remain vulnerable to exploitation because they are unable to regularize their status and come out of the shadows.

There is some good news in all of this, some holiday cheer to be found for those who are unable to celebrate with their families as I have been so fortunate to do. Immigration reform is around the corner. Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL) intends to introduce his progressive bill on comprehensive immigration reform this month, and Senator Charles Schumer (NY) plans to release his comprehensive bill in early 2010. Communities around the country have been coming together to say that the time for immigration reform is now.

These changes may come too late for Rose. However, comprehensive immigration reform would strengthen communities across the United States and improve the lives of thousands of immigrant families both now and in the future.

Stay tuned for updates on what you can do to urge Congress to make comprehensive immigration reform a reality!

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