Martin Luther King Jr Day Celebration
Microsoft Headquarters, Redmond, Washington
January 16, 2012
Hello. My name is Norma. I am 17 years old and I am from Central America. I am very thankful to Microsoft for inviting me here to spend this special day with you all.
I can’t believe I am standing before you – and I can say that I am a little nervous. I have never spoken before a group of people, and you are a very big group.
There are many things I have not yet done in my life. Not long ago I did not have much hope for my future or that any good things would happen to me. I suffered a lot in my home country and survived many bad things. Adults in my life hurt me in ways that no child should ever be hurt. And I had no one to help or protect me. I am told that in the United States, people who do the bad things they did to me would go to jail. But this is not true in my country. No one would do anything. My only escape was to come to the United States where I could be far away from the people who were hurting me and where I thought I would be safe.
When I made the decision to leave my country, I had no idea how far the United States was or how dangerous the trip would be. It was very, very hard. I ran out of food. And then I was kidnapped in Mexico, where bad people held me in a dark room with many others where they beat us and did not give us much food.
But I was finally able to get here. Immigration officials found me soon after I arrived in the United States. When they found me, they started my deportation process. They told me that I would have to go to court to tell the judge why they should let me stay in the United States. I didn’t know what “court” was. I have never seen one in my own country.
They put me in a detention center while I was waiting for my court date. I was very scared. I didn’t know what was going on or what would happen to me. I was so scared that they were going to send me back to my home where I would continue to be badly hurt. I could not even imagine that. My life would be over.
I didn’t know how I was going to tell my story the judge. I didn’t know how to say it. I have a hard time telling it.
But, I am here today because I finally was able to tell my story to the judge. I am here today because of one person who cared about young people like me and made it possible for me to tell my story. His name is Mr. Brad Smith. I think you know him. He co-founded Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) which helps children who come to the United States alone, like me, find free lawyers to help us explain our case to the immigration judge.
I met Mr. Smith about two years ago in Los Angeles during the beginning of my case. I could tell he was concerned about me and my situation. I am very glad to be standing near him now with a happy ending to tell him.
Thanks to Mr. Smith and KIND, I was able to explain to the judge why I was so afraid to go back to my home country. KIND found me my wonderful lawyers at Alston and Bird, Joann Wakana – who is here today – and Christine Roberts. They worked very, very hard for me. I will always be thankful to them and keep them close in my heart.
Mr. Smith – your work has helped give me a future that I never even dreamed of. I have never in my life had so much hope. I am looking forward to many good things in life – like riding in more airplanes – I was in my first one on my trip here. I loved it! And I hope that one day I can help people like you have helped me and the thousands of other children like me in the United States. Thank you, Mr. Smith and Microsoft for giving us a chance for new and happy life.