This blog post was written in response to the questions raised by the SocialWork@Simmons #MoreThanALabel campaign, an effort to highlight how immigrants are currently combating labels and stigmas and what can be done to promote immigrant pride.
My name is Victor Nieblas Pradis, and in June I became the first Mexican-American President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in AILA’s 69 years of existence.
Decades ago, proudly claiming to be Mexican-American might have led to slurs or denigration in this country, but times have thankfully changed.
As I shared in my first speech as AILA President, I was two years old when we settled across the “linea,” or border, of Mexico in Calexico, California. For me and my four siblings, immigration issues were a part of our experience and reality. The international border was only eight blocks from my home and the local border patrol station was only two. My next-door neighbor was a border patrol agent and across the street lived a ranking member of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
My upbringing exposed me to the good and bad of the immigrant experience and process along the Southwestern border of the United States. My childhood included the challenges faced by border residents. We experienced the entry of commerce and trade across our border. We experienced the long lines at the port of entry when we visited family across the border, including the regular “secondary inspection” stops that we became accustomed to.
We experienced the now common phrase, “driving while brown.” Anywhere you drove, jogged, fished, or rode your bicycle outside of the city limits, or adventured in the beloved desert nature walks, you had to expect the border patrol to stop you after triggering their hidden sensors and inquire about your legal status in the United States. This continues to be the reality for border communities.
Racial profiling and excessive use of fatal force does not just happen in U.S. cities; we also see it along the border regions. For years, policing concerns have arisen with the U.S. Border Patrol. But, whether racial profiling is used to justify the bad treatment of legal visas holders as they enter our country, or used to unjustly stop and harass many individuals while they travel 100 miles from any U.S. border, these acts must be challenged and brought to an end.
When I started my term as AILA President, I set out a list of goals. One of them is to continue to urge Congress to do its job and send the President a commonsense bill that will bring America’s immigration policy into the 21st century; a policy that will keep our borders secure, our families safe and together, and maintain America’s global economic competitiveness.
I am proud of my cultural background – grateful to my native Mexico, and proud of the United States of America where I have raised my family and become a citizen. I refuse to allow anyone else to limit who and what I can be. I embrace my heritage and my future. I, like all immigrants and their families, am #MoreThanALabel.