Sunday, June 2, 2013 | 2:02 a.m.
College can be hard enough. Between classes and the societal pressures of making friends, the road to higher education is filled with challenges. We expect these things when we go to college; what we don’t expect is spending nearly two weeks in jail.
In 1997, my family joined my father in the United States from the Philippines. As a 7-year-old, I was mesmerized. From my first plane ride to the clean, wide roads, everything about my new country seemed full of promise and possibility.
By the time I got to high school, I was ready to take advantage of what this great country had to offer. I had made friends, excelled academically and volunteered regularly with groups like Key Club in order to make a difference. I did so because it was my community, a community that was not only my home, but also one that gave me the opportunities that many others may not have had. It was through this service that I decided I wanted to become a nurse and devote my life to helping others.
In the summer of 2011, after my first semester of nursing school, I was detained. First in San Diego where my passport was found not to have a visa, and eventually at the Henderson Detention Facility. For nearly two weeks, I dealt with the stress, humiliation and frustration of simply trying to get my life back. All I wanted was to deal with the normal pressures of being a student, to worry about tests and homework instead of legal fees and jail time.
After I was released, I found myself in the middle of a slow and cumbersome process. My case was scheduled to be heard, but not for months, leaving me in a state of unease and uncertainty that was simply crippling. In June 2012, I found new hope through President Barack Obama’s announcement of the Deferred Action against Childhood Arrivals program, which is for people like me who came to the United States as children.
While I continue my journey down the road to citizenship, I see others passing me by, working hard and living their lives free of fear of detention or deportation. I fight every day to one day arrive at my destination of becoming a citizen. Having even the chance of becoming a citizen of the United States means every hard exam I stayed up for studying, every sweat I broke riding my bicycle to school, and every minute I spent in the detention center was worth it.
There are so many stories like mine of men and women who simply want to work hard and achieve the American dream. These are proud people who should be defined by the work they do and what they contribute to our communities, not their status on a piece of paper.
We have our best chance right now to pass critical comprehensive immigration reform, and change the lives of millions. Now is the time to make sure that the next 7 year old who comes to this great country with wonder in her eyes can do so without fear, and with the hope that her dreams will one day become a reality.
Anna Ledesma lives in Las Vegas.