I used to be indifferent-verging-on-unsympathetic when it came to immigrants living in the United States without authorization.
Yes, me, the U.S. born openly gay son of working-class Salvadoran immigrant parents (one of whom lived undocumented for a few years), who knowingly had and has undocumented family members (including my aunt who helped raise me), and lived in predominantly latino and Asian-American immigrant communities in Los Angeles all his life.
Before I tell you how changed my mind on immigration, let me tell you about why my family came to the United States.
My parents, like hundreds of thousands of others, fled El Salvador for the United States in the 1980s in the middle of a bloody civil war between leftist guerillas and the U.S. backed and financed right-wing Salvadoran military government. I remember hearing my parents' stories about living in absolute terror with government-mandated curfews, shoot-outs breaking out in their neighborhoods, and pick-up trucks full of dead bodies. Even when my mom tells me those stories today, the desperation in her voice is as palpable as it would be if she were telling me in 1981.
At the time in El Salvador people were living in such fear they were desperate to leave, and had no option but to make the 3,000 mile journey crossing the borders with Guatemala, Mexico and finally the U.S., a country directly tied to El Salvador's government's countless human rights violations. This is the same country that refused hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans the same refugee status it had granted to Cubans and Vietnamese. The same country that today I love by working to make it better and speaking out against its injustices.
I knew very well why they and others came and crossed the border or borders to get here. So why in the world was I previously "indifferent-verging-on-unsympathetic?" There's plenty of reasons, but perhaps the strongest driving factor were the negative, racist, anti-immigrant messages I internalized that were rampant in media around the time of hostile anti-immigrant sentiment in California in the mid-'90s, but especially post-September 11, when I happened to be a teenager and more vulnerable to negative ideas, especially about my identities.