Coming out of the shadows

  • by Luis Liang
  • Wednesday June 19, 2013
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Luis Liang attended the National Center for Lesbian<br>Rights gala in San Francisco last month.<br>(Photo: Courtesy NCLR)<br><br><br><br><br><br><br>
Luis Liang attended the National Center for Lesbian
Rights gala in San Francisco last month.
(Photo: Courtesy NCLR)

I got the letter on May 19.

I had prayed this day would come since I applied months earlier to President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which permits some immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as a child by their parents, who entered the country without a visa, to apply for two-year work permits and relief from deportation.

I stared at the letter from the U.S. government in awe, inspired and excited about the future it spelled out for me with one word: Approved.

Never would I have guessed that not only was this the start of a whole new life for me " one free of the fear of deportation " but that it would lead to a special invitation to the White House Pride Reception on June 13, where I had the honor of meeting Obama. The president has stood beside me not only as an immigrant who was brought to this country by my mother and given a sense of hope through the DACA program, but also as a gay man with renewed faith in equality.

My journey began when my mother brought my three sisters and me to the United States when I was 14 years old in hope of giving us a future and greater opportunities. We settled in with distant relatives in southern California, where we crammed 12 people into a three-bedroom house until we were able to move out on our own.

I had been at the top of my class in Mexico, and I was excited when I enrolled in the local high school as a sophomore and began taking classes. I worked hard that year, honing my English and devoting myself to studying so I could excel " dreaming of becoming a community pillar, as I knew I had the commitment and determination to be.

I knew I was an immigrant, but it wasn't until my senior year in high school " when my friends and I began plotting our college futures " that I learned I was, in fact, a Dreamer, an undocumented immigrant with a status that would become my biggest obstacle to achieve success.

Up until that school year, my life was consumed with being the best student I could be. But I soon became focused on trying to find a scholarship and saving money so I could achieve my educational goals and give back to my community. Each week, I applied for different scholarships, hoping to find one that would recognize my determination to succeed instead of placing limitations on me because of my status. All the while, I took every job I could find " tutoring other students, working at swap meets " to build my college savings.

My status continued to be a major roadblock, one that prevented me from taking a public scholarship " covering tuition, room and board " to my dream school, UC Berkeley, in 2009 because I didn't have a Social Security number to finalize arrangements. Thankfully, with the support of private scholarships, mentors, friends, and family, I received enough aid and saved enough money to eventually enroll at UC Berkeley, where I recently graduated with a degree in business administration.

Now, with a work permit and a Social Security card through DACA in my hands, I feel a sense of ease for myself. But anxiety lingers for my mother, whose status could result in her being taken away from my family at any moment, which would tear us apart. Right now, Congress is reforming our nation's broken immigration system. The proposals would create pathways to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to this country by parents, who entered the U.S. without a visa, including Dreamers, and will include many crucial provisions for LGBTQ immigrants.

I'm hopeful for comprehensive immigration reform for my family and for countless others like us, finally putting politics aside and passing compassionate, common sense immigration reform so that nobody else has to live in the shadows.

On June 13, I had the honor of being invited to be a special guest at the White House Pride Reception. When I arrived, I was ushered into the East Wing, where I was joined by celebrities, movement leaders, and other distinguished guests invited to meet the president.

I had thought of so many things I wanted to say to the president, but as he approached me to introduce himself, I found myself stumped for words and caught up in the moment.

"Hello, I'm Luis Liang," I said.

I never would have thought I'd have this opportunity, and I never would have if the Obama administration hadn't committed to fixing the system that hurts people like me simply because of who we are. As fortunate as I am that I've been able to come out from the specter of deportation, I know there are countless people who continue to live in fear.

As Congress continues to consider immigration reform, I hope they remember the abilities, the aspirations, the hope that each of us brings, and create a path forward that makes us part of the American story.


Luis Liang graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2012. He hopes to use his business education to start a nonprofit that will help students from immigrant and low-income families get a higher education.