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The Hill blog: The cost of freedom

Emaciated children and beggars, a street full of noise, the cacophony of humans and machines, a vendor hurriedly moving his cart full of produce across a busy road.

By Saba Nafees
My country tis of thee,

sweet land of liberty,

of thee I sing,

I sing and speak of a ‘my’ country,

land where my fathers died,

land of the pilgrim’s pride,

from every mountainside…

O America, listen to this plea,

O mother country [Pakistan], forgive me for this loyalty,

of both I sing.

But, which is ‘my’ country?

I am amidst two homes,

both equal, both beloved.

For I owe my birth to one,

but my art to another,

my seeds to one,

but my nurture to the other.

Land of the pilgrim’s pride,

But, America, you are this pilgrim’s pride,

if only you remain my guide,

And if only you embrace my side,

I shall sing,

Let freedom ring! -S. Nafees, 12 November, 2012

Emaciated children and beggars, a street full of noise, the cacophony of humans and machines, a vendor hurriedly moving his cart full of produce across a busy road.


This is the scene I witnessed every morning as I was driven to school, riding along with Pakistani children whose parents could afford to send them to obtain a first class education. Growing up in a city of 13 million people in the midst of what seemed to be chaotic poverty, I wondered why I am fortunate enough to gain an education and thus armor against the poverty that plagued the poor of Pakistan. Why was I the one who was on the other side of their horizons?
Ever since I gained my first memories, I knew I’d get to come to this fantastical land. My grandparents moved to America in the early 1990’s. I knew then that I’d get to go to this enchanted land, awaiting this dream to come true everyday with an anticipation that only exploded every passing year. The moment finally came, at 11 years of age, when my family and I immigrated to America in 2004.

We came legally and knew that since my grandparents had sponsored us for our green cards, we would be able to stay. I hoped to utilize the opportunity of moving into the New World to work hard, continue to pursue my obsessive love for mathematics and science, and gain the tools to help the poverty-stricken. Fueled by the love I received from my American educators, who helped me explore other forms of expression such as music, poetry, tennis, and mathematical proofs, I went on to pursue higher education at a university, Texas Tech, which welcomed me with open arms and gave me the platform to reach whichever infinity I defined for myself.

This journey continues to test my inner strength and faith in this land of justice. My grandparents passed away while we were moving to America and within a few years we fell out of status. My parents questioned whether we should go back and face the terroristic turmoil that is pervading their native land and risk the future of their children.

So we went on to live a life in the shadows. But we did not commit a crime. If you define crime to be seeking educational opportunity for your children, then yes, we are criminals. If you define crime to be victims of fate, then we are criminals. If you define crime to be falling in love with the country that has become another home to you, then we are criminals.

We lived on, in a state of tempestuous anticipation, waiting impatiently for a sound immigration system. Relief came when President Obama passed an executive order, DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which would allow young people like me to remain without fear of being deported.

The momentum continued to build as I met a phenomenal leader and mentor, Jose Antonio Vargas. He urged young thinkers to join the movement. He showed us that it is possible to be unafraid and undocumented. His story of being torn apart from his family is similar to that of millions. The thought of being separated from my parents still haunts me as they continue to suffer due to removal proceedings.

Soon after, I found myself on the TEDx stage, humbled to proclaim to the world my love for this country, darkened by immigration roadblocks. Since then, my life has changed drastically. I received words of encouragement from around the world. As my story continued to burgeon, America gave me yet another amazing opportunity. This past year I had the honor to serve as an E3! Ambassador for WHIAAPI and share my story through forums such as the White House Summit on AAPI’s and the Jose Diaz-Balart show on MSNBC.

Despite recent momentum, the struggle continues with evermore fervor, leading to the movement generated through the Dream Riders. We are traveling from D.C. to Texas in an effort to engage communities in realizing the connection between racial injustice and immigrant rights.

Fellow Americans, we have laid out to you our personal struggle of being in a country which we love and to which we contribute to every day, yet it is one in which we have no political rights. I urge you to join us on this tour, whether in person or in spirit.

The cost of freedom is a movement. Not through these small moments and stories, but through the movement that these stories make can we achieve change for our nation.

Nafees is a participant in the Dream Riders Across America Bus Tour organized by the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), the SEIU and other organizations, which began Monday in Washington and will conclude in Texas on Aug. 7.