With immigration reform at the forefront of debate on Capitol Hill, a former White House aide is opening up about his past as an undocumented immigrant.
The Senate is considering a bill that would toughen enforcement against illegal immigration in exchange for offering a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Luis Miranda, President Obama's former director of Hispanic media, said that gaining legal status was the first step on his road to success and that today's unauthorized immigrants should be offered the same opportunity he had.
In a USA Today op-ed published Wednesday, Miranda, 36, tells the story of how he struggled to come to terms with his undocumented status as a child growing up in South Florida. His grades suffered in school and he "felt certain goals were out of my reach."
But that changed when President Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which offered nearly three million undocumented immigrants permanent legal status and a path to citizenship.
"It wouldn't be hard to imagine my life if President Reagan hadn't had the courage to sign that bill," Miranda wrote. "A decade after I was sworn in as a U.S. citizen, I was sworn in to serve at the White House."
Miranda argued that offering legal status now could produce similar results for promising young people.
"Young people who grew up here, like I did, but who haven't been given the chance to earn their citizenship, face the prospect of ending up washing dishes rather than staffing our laboratories or joining our military," he wrote.
Miranda served at the White House from the beginning of the Obama administration until this March, when he stepped aside to become an independent communications consultant. Before that, he worked at the Democratic National Committee, John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign and Al Gore's 2000 campaign. During that time, he didn't hide his undocumented past but he seldom spoke publicly about it.
But now that immigration reform is gaining steam in Congress, Miranda is putting his story out there and prodding lawmakers -- especially Republicans -- to jump on board.
"Immigrants understand that citizenship won't be handed to them," he wrote. "They're standing up because they're ready to earn those responsibilities. They embody the conservative principle of self-reliance. President Reagan understood that. Let's give them a chance."