“I’ll be back,” I told my family. Though I didn’t believe it.

Twenty years ago I was treated as a criminal for wanting to become a U.S. citizen. The system has not improved.

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Columnists

November 3, 2021 - 9:54 AM

A protestor holds a sign reading "No one is Illegal" during a rally against U.S. immigration policy on Sept. 14, 2019 in New York City. (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

In 1989, when I was 4 years old, I arrived in the United States, along with my mother and brother. After spending the first seven months of my childhood in U.S. detention, I lived undocumented for the next two decades.

Then, on a cold morning in March 2009, a group of ICE officers came to my home. “Don’t worry, I just have to go with them for a while, but I’ll be back,” I told my family, including my wife and our 2-year-old son. I didn’t believe it, but those were the only words I could mumble while trying to remain calm as our world was falling away from underneath our feet.

My biggest fear was playing out in real time: I was being separated from my loved ones.

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