08/05/2010 10:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

In the Immigration Debate, Real Lives are at Stake

On immigration, one thing has become abundantly clear this year: the status quo will not stand. Change is coming.

Unfortunately, the change brewing right now is disheartening and dangerous. After promising efforts to finally deliver a much-needed overhaul to our immigration system were stalled by Republican resistance, vile and racist proposals have been injected into the void. Arizona's racial profiling law and the push to amend the Constitution to deny citizenship to newborns whose parents are undocumented come to mind as prime examples. Although most of these efforts will likely not survive scrutiny from our courts on constitutional grounds, they have poisoned the well and exposed how even respected politicos are willing to trample on minority's rights if it serves them.

Lost in the fights over the 14th Amendment and Arizona's racial profiling law are the very people most affected by the lack of immigration reform - the undocumented students, workers and their families. For many of them, the status quo is not an option; their lives are changing.

One example is Yves Gomes, a caring, intelligent young man from Silver Spring, Md. who graduated from high school in June as an honors student with a 3.8 G.P.A. Gomes is scheduled to be deported on August 13. This young man who has lived in the U.S. 16 of his 17 years, will soon be sent to India, a country he has no memory of with a language he doesn't speak. Our system of justice has always stood out in the world because it always seeks a solution that benefits the common good. Yves' deportation benefits no one; we all lose. That isn't justice.

Fighting for immigration reform can be soul-crushing because we know that every day that passes without reform, without relief, Yves' story is replayed 1,000 times. Every day, there are 1,000 acts of injustice, and most of our elected officials find this acceptable. And yet, the faces of these men and women are largely unseen. The media only focuses on individual immigrants when a tragedy occurs and, too often, it is to demonize an entire population for the acts of an individual.

But what about people like Carlos Roa, an undocumented young man from Florida who's lived nearly all his life in America and had aspirations to join the military but couldn't? Or Montserrat of Arizona who worries her undocumented mother might disappear while she's in school?

My organization recently launched the We are America Stories Project to change the debate by lifting up the stories of those most affected by the broken immigration system, as well as other immigrants and citizens who remind us we all have immigrant roots. Let's not continue talking about immigration reform in the abstract. Instead, let's consider Yves, Carlos and Montserrat when we talk about what path we should pursue. Let's not abandon our values, sense of justice and the strength that comes from our diversity. We can fix our broken immigration system and emerge from this nightmare a stronger, more inclusive and united nation.

The status quo will not stand, but what direction our country takes is up to us. We can demand reform for Yves, Carlos and Montserrat that allows them to fulfill their potential. That's justice.

Action: Help Yves stay home. Sign the petition asking to stop his deportation, join his Facebook page and share with your network.