A Family’s Turn at Freedom in an Unsettling Timeon September 19th, 2017 at 4:57 pm
Johnny* and his parents are migrant workers in rural Southeastern Idaho. As a 19-year-old undocumented Latino gay man, Johnny and his family long dreamt of the day when they would become U.S. citizens.
For years, Johnny and his family tried repeatedly to earn their citizenship, but with no success. Even though the uncertainty of having an undocumented status was problematic, their situation as a family had largely felt manageable.
Then everything changed after the election in November 2016.
“They began witnessing their family and friends being rounded up,” recalls Joe Kibbe, a board member of The Community Center (TCC), the LGBTQ center in Boise. “Since January, we’ve witnessed a massive surge in ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids, in places where, prior to the election, raids were unheard of—including in schools, churches, and courthouses. Now is just a very unsettling time to be an immigrant, a person of color, an LGBTQ person of color, or anyone perceived as different.”
Compelled by the Idaho Legislature’s recent failure to pass a bill targeting undocumented immigrants, Johnny and his parents decided to apply for citizenship one last time. This time, Johnny and his family knew they needed help navigating the complex and frustrating citizenship process—one that is known to require equal parts diligence, patience, and luck.
Unsure of where to go, they learned that TCC was partnering with Idaho Organizing Project to host a Citizenship Day event in Twin Falls in April. Ninety immigrants and refugees—including Johnny and his parents—came from across Idaho to receive volunteer assistance with their citizenship application paperwork, and Pride Foundation Rapid Response Funds were used to cover application fees. Fifteen of the applicants openly identified as LGBTQ.
During the event, Johnny’s parents explained that Johnny often experiences fear and persecution for being both an immigrant and gay.
“They said, ‘We love our son, our whole son, for who he is.’”
Their unwavering love and perseverance in the face of fear and discrimination sustained their family and created a bond that was unbreakable—and it also made their dream of citizenship become a reality.
“With their papers in hand and tears in their eyes, Johnny and his family stood in line for five hours waiting for what they called ‘a turn at freedom,’” Joe remembers. “They watched closely while we processed their information and then embraced in a big hug when it was done.”
And this spring, their dream finally came true: Johnny and his parents became US citizens.
Smiling, Joe reflected, “When you look someone in the eye who is distressed, especially in this moment of political uncertainty, and you can offer assistance—that is an amazing feeling. That is community.”
*A pseudonym has been used to protect this person’s identity.
Steve Martin is the Regional Philanthropy Officer in Idaho.
Interested in reading more stories about the LGBTQ community in the Northwest? Read more from the 2016-2017 Gratitude Report.
Interested in supporting the amazing work of The Community Center in Boise, Idaho? Donate here.