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I have lived in the United States for 30 years, but I have never forgotten my humble beginnings as an undocumented immigrant. My family and I lived our first years in the US with the fear of being sent back to El Salvador. “La Migra” was a consistent threat in our lives.

My personal experience as an immigrant keeps me connected to my community. For many years during my professional life, I worked closely with the Latino immigrant community, and developed deep ties with many families. When ICE began aggressively raiding and detaining immigrants, people I love were deported.

A few years ago, I got a desperate phone call by the daughter of a woman I had trained as a community leader. The young woman was yelling on the phone: “Rhina, my mom is being taken away by ICE … help us.”

I got off the phone, and I started calling agencies to get legal assistance for them. Nothing could be done. This woman was deported to Mexico within a week. She had lived in the US for 15 years, and was leaving behind her three children.

The past recent years had been hunting season of undocumented immigrants. More than 400,000 were detained in 2011. Immigration detention centers are a rapid growing industry in the US. Last year alone, the business of jailing immigrants generated 5 billion dollars in profits for private companies.

Family disruption due to this broken immigration and profitable system is at his highest level.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard another sad story of family separation. Jose Asencio’s wife, Maria, has been detained for 8 months ago. Maria’s case is still pending in immigration court. In the meantime, Jose is working really hard to take care of their 3 sons. He fears about the emotional cost this separation will have on his children. Jose says that one of his children is struggling with overeating because of his mother’s absence. Jose’s voice breaks while talking about Maria not being there to celebrate family birthdays. He cries, and longs for the days when his family was together during the holidays.

Having crossed the border without documentation is an experience I will never forget. It helped make me an activist. And it fuels my deep desire to end the mass deportation and detention that are plaguing our communities. Here are two easy ways you can stand with me:

Please join me to demand that President Obama bring families together during this holiday season and stop funding immigration detention centers. Sign on to this call now.

Secondly, if you live in Northern California, please join me at the Ella Baker Center’s 2nd annual legacy event. This year we will highlight the activism of young leaders working for immigration justice. Reserve your seat now.

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