Neil Gouveia was born in Guyana and immigrated to America with his family when he was just 7 years old.
But his mother had to make a Sophie's choice-like decision before they came — she had to leave one of her children behind.
In a wonderful piece in the New York Post, Gouveia writes about the devastating choice his mother had to make. When she picked up the visas for the family, an immigration official told her she couldn't take her sick child.
“Mrs. Gouveia, we can’t give you the visas,” he told my mom. “You have a sick child. If you brought her to the United States, it would be a huge government expense. And you can’t abandon her.”
Gouveia's sister, Vera, who was 9 years old, suffered from cerebral palsy. She couldn't walk or talk. So his mother lied, saying a family member could take care of her as the rest of the family went to America (in reality, a family friend would step in).
It tore my mother apart, but she had to make a decision to leave Vera behind — or start the application process all over again. She had to sacrifice Vera to save the American dream for the rest of us — me and five kids from her previous marriage along with my father.
Gouveia said when the family arrived in the U.S., they lived in a basement apartment in the Bronx. His mother cleaned houses and his father became a janitor to provide for the children.
And his mother, with the help of a kindly woman she met, eventually got Vera into America. She died just months later.
Gouveia then recounts how his parents took the naturalization test to become U.S. citizens — and what that meant to him.
"Dad passed easily, but mom barely made it. At the official ceremony, I stood with my parents, bursting with pride, as they took the citizenship oath and pledged allegiance to the US flag. At that moment, I, too, became an American citizen. If under age 18, the children of a naturalized parent are automatically granted the same status," he writes.
But then he explains why he doesn't approve of people sneaking into the country illegally.
Today, if someone hops the US border and gives birth to a child, that child gets the exact same benefit that took my parents eight years to achieve. They waited their turn, but babies born to illegal immigrants in the US automatically become citizens. That’s a huge flaw in our immigration system.
What President Trump is pitching is already practiced in Australia and Canada. They’re very selective about who they admit. I also think it’s legitimate to separate children, initially, to verify whom they really belong to. If these people don’t have documents to prove the children belong to them, border agents have to act in their best interest. Human and child trafficking is a huge problem.
Before the 2016 presidential campaign, I didn’t fully understand how the left and right operated. I was always fed the narrative that since I was a person of color — my mother of Indian descent, my father Portuguese — an immigrant and gay that I had to follow a script: Support the Democratic Party and liberal values; conservatives were the boogeyman.
After Trump won the election, my friends instantly wanted him to fail as a leader. I would explain that if he failed, we failed. This point of view was met with heavy backlash and a barrage of insults. Anyone who showed any type of support toward Trump was deemed the enemy.
People accused me of turning my back on minorities and their struggle. I remained defiant because my parents’ journey here was not easy, and I could not betray the country that has done so much for me.
Then Gouveia closes with this powerful paragraph:
"I’m fortunate to be a US citizen because I’m able to live a quality life and enjoy the benefits this country has to offer. I find it disheartening when people gripe about being oppressed in America, especially other immigrants. I firmly believe that living in America is a privilege. This country is truly the land of opportunities," he writes.