“I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1996. Growing up in Brazil, I never thought I would live anywhere else. But that all changed when my father sat my older sister and I down on the couch and told us that there was the possibility of us moving to Texas. I was only 11 years old at the time. I had only left Brazil once before when we went to Disney World. Besides that, the only image that I had of the United States was what I had seen in movies. Texas, in my mind, was just a desert full of cowboys, horses, and tumbleweed.

“Little did I know that Houston was not like that at all.

“In 2008, we came to the United States. It was initially only supposed to be for a month to see how we would like it here and to see if my father would actually receive the job offer. A month later, my father applied to change his visa status from a tourist/business one to an O-1A visa for individuals with extraordinary ability and achievement.

“Prior to this, my father went to school to become a lawyer. But after graduating, he realized that it was not something that he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He decided to follow his passion and pursue a career as a martial artist. While that was an extremely difficult and risky decision for him to make in the mid-1990s—with two young children—he was successful. He proceeded to compete and win some of the most prestigious Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments in the world. He went on to become the four-time Pan American Champion, two-time Brazilian National Champion, and two-time Silver Medalist at the World Championships.

“His biggest success, however, came in coaching. He opened his own martial arts studio in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. From there, he went on to train some of the top fighters in the country and people from all over the world would come to learn from him.

“He began to get the attention of the fighting community, not only in Brazil but internationally. People from every corner of the planet were interested in bringing him to their country to spread his jiu-jitsu knowledge with them. While my father had achieved professional success in Brazil, and was in a decent financial situation, he wanted something more for our family. Brazil was, and still is, a very dangerous place, and the economic prospects there, while improving, were still not on par with the global north-specially not with the United States.

“My father always admired America. As a history buff, he devoured books on WWII. He revered the principles that America stood for and the sacrifices Americans made.”

“So naturally, when someone approached him about coming to the United States to open a martial arts school, he was intrigued.

“Fast forward a couple years later. My father obtained his O-1A visa and began to teach at a small jiu-jitsu school in South Houston. In the beginning, there was not enough money to hire a staff, so all the teaching, selling, maintenance and cleaning was done by us as a family. Workdays were 12 hours and more, and everyone pitched in.

“Still, we found time to help the community around us as much as we could. My father would go teach HPD police officers, and I would help him host free self-defense seminars for women and anti-bullying programs for kids.

“Fast forward 10 more years. We are now American citizens. My parents now own and operate two martial arts schools in the Houston area that have over 1000 students combined. My older sister has just graduated from law school and is going to practice law in NYC. And I have recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and I now work at the Texas Public Policy Foundation as a Legislative Fellow for Right on Immigration.

“All of these accomplishments would not have been possible if we had stayed in Brazil. Actually, I am certain that they would not have been possible anywhere else in the world. When people tell me that the American Dream is dead, I can’t help but laugh because I have experienced firsthand.

“But I also know that this opportunity is a privilege. And like any privilege, there are responsibilities that come with it. America is the most generous nation in the history of the world. It has opened its arms to people from all over, including my family. However, like any nation, it has to look for the interest of its people first. The United States has an obligation to take care of its citizens, and to do that, it needs to know who resides in its borders.

“Coming into the country illegally—either by crossing the border, overstaying a visa, or taking advantage of the loopholes in the American immigration laws—compromises the sovereignty of the United States. Going through the legal avenues of immigration shows respect to the country that one seeks to be a part of. That is what my family did, and that is what I will continue to advocate for.”