Cristian Padilla Romero represents the immigrant story held out as an example of the American dream. Brought to the United States as a child from Honduras, Padilla Romero has been able to pursue his education through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program.
His parents risked illegal entry into the U.S. to give their kids a chance at a better life. Padilla Romero made the most of that chance at Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County where he was the 2014 salutatorian.
Unable to attend a top-tier Georgia university because he is undocumented, Padilla Romero attended Pomona College, a private school in California that U.S. News & World Report ranks as the #5 best national liberal arts college. He is now a doctoral student at Yale University.
Padilla Romero is also the face of another immigrant story; his mother, who is recovering from stage 4 cancer, is facing deportation after years of living and raising her children in Georgia. In this piece, Padilla Romero shares her influence on him and her plight.
By Cristian Padilla Romero
My name is Cristian Padilla Romero. I am an undocumented immigrant from Honduras. I am also a Ph.D. student in history at Yale University. My mother Tania Romero is the single most important reason I have gone from a public high school in Georgia to Yale.
She is now being punished for one of the most basic human acts: working to secure a better future for her children.
My mother survived stage 4 cancer that almost killed her in 2017. Since mid-August, she has been detained under awful conditions at Irwin County Detention Center, a private, for-profit detention facility 190 miles south of Atlanta. She is subject to deportation at any moment. ICE has denied her parole to see her oncologist, and an immigration judge has rejected her attorney's bid to re-open her case.
She now confronts life-threatening consequences – a de facto death sentence – because she failed to appear in court to respond to a notice she never received.
It is a tragic irony that my own development as a student of social and political history has now intersected with the fate of my own mother. For my part, walking the path blazed by my mother, I have achieved something that is close to unprecedented. I attended and graduated from Cross Keys High School, a predominantly immigrant and heavily Latino school that serves the immigrant-dense Buford Highway area in Atlanta. The unlikely academic path that has taken me from there to New Haven never would have been possible without my mother's guidance and care.
My mother finished the sixth grade in Honduras. This was a major achievement for a "campesina” (peasant woman). Many people in her situation never attend school or drop out after the second or third grade. With what formal education she had, she inculcated in me an abiding intellectual curiosity and drive. The only difference between her and me is that I received a formal education while she was deprived of one.
Thanks to an impeccable immigrant work ethic, my mother managed to establish herself in Atlanta and to navigate an often-inhospitable environment in the early 2000s. Together with my father, she fed four children, kept a roof over our heads, and made sure my sisters and I stayed out of trouble. None of us disappointed her.
After I finished high school, I left Georgia because of the state's ban on undocumented students at its top-tier universities. Instead, I went to Pomona College in California. Georgia's approach to undocumented young people pushed me out of the state; my mother's tenacious labor and steadfast devotion to family propelled me to Yale. I accept that immigration has divided this country.
Yet, at the same time, I believe in the power of human decency to create consensus in the face of disagreement. For me, my mother represents the purest form of such decency, and had she not encountered such decency from others she never would have accomplished what she did.
I implore everyone to support my mother’s petition and to advocate for sensible policies toward people like my mother and her children. Empty political posturing and bureaucratic inertia make it all too easy to use such individuals as pawns. We do not have to go down this path.
What are we as a country really about, if we allow basic common sense, fundamental decency, and family-rooted morality to fall into a chasm?
Will my mother's needless detention in a cold, inhospitable place grow to overshadow the good she has accomplished by raising me to take advantage of the singular promise this country has so often heralded to the world?
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