A huge thanks to James Kipper, one of the students on our most recent Immigrants’ Journey Learning Lab, for writing and sharing this with us…

Just two days ago I parked in a handicapped spot. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea but I just had to. I’d just pulled into a third completely full parking lot in downtown Seattle and the soccer game I was going to was starting in 15 minutes. I looked around, found an empty handicap spot, figured the parking enforcement wouldn’t notice and without weighing the consequences squeezed my way into it. I spent the next two hours totally engrossed in the game, gorging on overpriced clam chowder and garlic fries; not once did the state of my car cross my mind. Had parking enforcement seen my car what’s the worst thing that would’ve happened to me? I could’ve been fined anywhere between $25 and $100 and maybe my car would have been towed. Inconvenient? Yes. Life-altering? No.

Now picture this. I’m a 39 year old undocumented migrant. I grew up in Central America and spent my entire childhood fighting to avoid the gang life. I’ve lived in the U.S. for 21 years, married to a U.S. citizen who I met after migrating and have an 18 year old son. Suddenly this minor inconvenience has turned into a life-changing obstacle. This is the story of Oscar, a man I met and shared dinner with at Casa del Migrante. One day he parked in a handicapped spot and as a result of the ticket, was deported. He’s content with his life in Tijuana but it’s missing one thing: his son Jose. Oscar said he’d do anything to see Jose again. Oscar’s eligible for a visa, however, he isn’t too optimistic that he’ll ever receive one. As a result, Jose has promised to move to Tijuana to live with Oscar once Jose makes a little more money.

It hurt to meet such a great person just to turn around and leave him behind a day later. My heart was broken by the stories I heard from him and his fellow residents at Casa. However, I felt revitalized by the peacemakers I met and those I shared the experience with. It was extremely motivating to hear him talk about helping everyone that is less fortunate than he. As he said, “maybe one day you help someone, and the next day they’ll help you.”

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