By Armando Cruz Martinez, North Carolina
Note: Armando Cruz Martinez is a 19-year-old student who was born in Austin, Texas, to undocumented parents. Since 2010, however, he has been involuntarily separated from his family. Three years ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents took his father. His mother, father, five sisters, and younger brother currently live in poverty in Mexico. Ever since, Armando has taken up the cause fighting for immigration reform with our Affiliate, Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, NC. This is his story.
“Our separation began on March 31, 2010: the day my father was taken by ICE agents. It happened right after I left the house for school. When I came home that day, I found my mother sitting in the living room crying. She told me that my dad was gone. I didn’t believe her because the whole idea seemed impossible to me; it felt like a bad dream. We tried to get in touch with my dad in the Mecklenburg County jail, but after a few days, he was sent to Georgia and then deported to Mexico. With my dad gone, my mother could not afford for our family to stay in our house, so we moved to a one-bedroom apartment. Life felt so unstable, and I realized that this was not just a temporary situation for us. My mother had to make a decision: either stay in the United States alone with her kids or go back to Mexico to be with her husband. She chose to take us to Mexico.
It was then that my mother told me that I could stay in the United States and live with my uncle and his family if I wanted. It was such a hard decision for me. I didn’t know how long I would be separated from my family, but I decided I had to stay for two reasons: 1) I wanted to support my family, and I knew I could only do that in the United States, and 2) I didn’t want to give up on the dreams that my parents had for me and the reason for all their hard work.
After I moved in with my uncle and his family, I was heartbroken and occupied myself with school. I just drifted from one day to the next hoping that each new day wouldn’t be as painful as the last.
In July 2011, I went to the Latin American Coalition, at first to use their computer lab for homework. Later, I started attending the meetings of their youth groups United 4 the Dream and College Access Para Todos. In these groups, I felt like I had a purpose again. I started volunteering and participating in meetings, workshops, trainings, and festivals. I met compassionate and understanding people familiar with my situation that helped me feel like I was part of something, part of a family. I found more than I ever expected to find.”
Today, though separated from his family in Mexico, Armando has found a new purpose and sense of belonging in fighting for immigration reform with the Latin American Coalition, United 4 The Dream, NCLR, and other groups that struggle for immigrants’ rights in North Carolina.
“We can’t forget about anybody in this fight for immigration reform because it affects so many people, and we can’t allow this injustice to continue,” Armando explains. “That’s why I’m fighting alongside Latin American Coalition and United 4 The Dream—to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform happens this year.”