Immigration has always been a central component to my family’s story, one that can be traced back through several generations. Although my grandparents, parents, and I were all born in Barranquilla, Colombia, my paternal great-grandparents were born in Bethlehem, Palestine. In the early 1900s, seeking better economic opportunities, they immigrated to the port city of Barranquilla, joining the large community of Christian Arabs living in the region. They, like the majority of people in this ethnic group, fully assimilated to Colombia. My grandfather was born there, later meeting my grandmother who is not Arabic, but instead, like many Colombians including my mother, is descended from a mix of European immigrants. When they eventually had my father, they enrolled him in an American school in Barranquilla, as they knew that he would have better opportunities in the future if he knew how to speak English. As a result, my father was able to attend college in the United States, at Georgia Tech, but he had to return to Colombia after he graduated. His time in college, however, made him fall in love with the US and the opportunities that it presented, and he always dreamed of going back.
My father met my mother after he returned to Barranquilla. Soon after, my sister and I were born, spending our early childhoods in the city. In 2002, when I was seven years old, my dad was hired by Transammonia Inc., a leading international trading and merchandising company, in their Tampa, Florida office. They sponsored him for an H-1B visa and filed the petition on his behalf, and it was then picked in the 2002 H-1B lottery. My father then successfully received his H-1B visa, and my mom, sister, and I were able to receive our H-4 dependent visas through him. I began second grade in Florida, and as I grew up, we extended our H status, began the PERM process, received Green Cards, and eventually became US citizens. We were lucky during this process, as we had immigration lawyers that outlined every step required and eased our worries when needed.
Finally, when I was seventeen years old, we received our American citizenship, and I was lucky enough to attend my father’s naturalization ceremony. (My sister and I were not officially recognized in the ceremony, as we were minors, and my mother’s ceremony was in a courthouse at a later date as she underwent a name-change at the same time she became a citizen.) This was a moment I will never forget. In Tampa’s Convention Center, a judge swore in the approximately 400 people as official American citizens. During the ceremony, the judge listed the original nationalities of people naturalizing, calling out diverse countries including Brazil, Mexico, China, the Dominican Republic, Russia, India, and, of course, Colombia. Later, once my father received his naturalization certificate, we all posed in front of the American flag, taking pictures and commemorating the moment. I can definitively say that this was one of the times I have seen my dad the happiest. I can only imagine the thoughts going through his head, as it had taken many years of worries, stress, and hope to get to this moment.
My family’s long history of immigration, spanning several generations and countries, has determined where and who I am today. Every opportunity I have been given has only been possible thanks to my US education and the possibilities opened up to me by virtue of being a US citizen. Working now in the field of immigration law—preparing the very same type of visa petitions that allowed my family and I to come to the country—has been incredibly rewarding, and has opened my eyes to the complexities of the process that I did not understand when I was young. This has awakened my interest in continuing to work in the field of immigration law in the future, as—despite the political atmosphere which we now find ourselves in—I still believe that immigration is good for the country overall, and that immigrants work extremely hard to achieve better opportunities for their families. The sacrifices my family has made has gotten me to where I am today, and I hope that, in some way, I can give back by helping those who might be in the same position that we were in the past.