Sebastian Velasquez saw his family for the last time when they were helping him move into his Georgetown University dorm before the start of his first semester. A few months later, he found out that his father, mother and sister were in deportation proceedings. They were eventually deported to Colombia.
“It was a very difficult period for me because I was adapting to a different environment,” recalls Velasquez, a 25-year-old DREAMer who was brought by his family from Colombia nine years ago. “I was shipping my family’s things to Colombia. And I was sending money orders to the [Krome] Detention Center [where my family was awaiting deportation].”
Velasquez's case is not unique. Every day aspiring citizens across America are being deported and separated from their families.
Last week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka characterized as a “crisis” when DREAMers are “needlessly” separated from their parents by deportation or when employers can deport employees for attempting to come together and gain a collective voice on the job.
Trumka’s remarks came following the much-anticipated release of the immigration reform bill by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight.” In a conference call with reporters, Trumka added that although the 844-page bill represents “another step toward addressing a real crisis” in this country, the number of aspiring citizens being deported keeps growing.
The labor movement, he says, has called on the Obama administration to "cease deportations of people [who aren't drug dealers or criminals] who will soon be eligible for a long overdue road map to citizenship so the legislative process can proceed without prolonging the crisis."
For Velasquez, who hasn’t seen his family in more than four years, it means a lot to know that the union movement will fight to keep families united.
His story is similar to many DREAMers across the nation. He transferred to Georgetown from Miami Dade Honors College’s Dual Language Program in Florida.
Even with his family deported, Velasquez earned a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in 2011.
Meanwhile, back in Colombia, Velasquez’s family has had a rough life. He says they survived an assassination attempt during their first year there. Now, they are forced to endure economic hardship and the constant threat of home eviction because of their political connections, which caused them to flee the country and arrive to the United States as political refugees in the first place.
Immigration reform could allow Velasquez to legally bring his parents and sister to the United States and safety, once more. But at this point that possibility is somewhere in the future still. For the time being, there is a way to address, as Trumka calls it, the “accelerating crisis” of deportations in this country.
“We could have the president stop the [ongoing] deportations,” Velasquez says. “We need to continue lobbying the president.”
And he adds:
Deferred action [for childhood arrivals] was a win, but that only covers 2.5 million people [known as the DREAMers] while the rest remain within the shadows of society. [If you’re an undocumented immigrant,] you’re a human being. You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.