Monday, August 17, 2015

Kids Without a Country

Last night, I tweeted my opposition to Donald Trump's assertion that ALL undocumented immigrants must be deported, including their kids-- even if those kids had lived here most of their life.  He also expressed opposition to birthright citizenship, although it is in the Constitution.  (In fairness to Mr. Trump, he is not alone:  birthright citizenship is something that other Republican politicians would also like to see eliminated.)  Responses to my tweets were courteous, which I appreciated, but seemed to break down into two types:  all of the conservatives agreed with Mr. Trump, while those who were not self-identified as conservatives disagreed.  I realize I cannot change hearts and minds, especially those that are already made up.  But perhaps I can put a human face on the problem.

Let me tell you about a former student of mine named Chris.  He was an excellent student, articulate and hard-working, as well as a talented athlete with a bright future. Then, one day, he told me something he had only shared with a couple of other people:  when he was sixteen, he found out that he was undocumented. He truly didn't know before that.  He had grown up in Los Angeles, and was told that's where he was born (as it turns out, he was brought here by his parents when he was two).  He never suspected anything. He had a normal childhood, surrounded by a loving family: his parents were poor, but they worked long hours to provide for him and his brother.  He never questioned them because he didn't think there was anything wrong:  they never discussed how they had come to America, and he had no idea they were here illegally.  He grew up thinking he was an American and only when he tried to get a driver's license did he learn the truth.

Chris has never been to Latin America, as far as I know.  He has no idea where any of his relatives from "the old country" live, but he would have a hard time communicating with them, since English is his first language.  He follows American teams, he identifies with American culture-- in short, he thinks of himself as American.  But he's not.  And if Donald Trump and others like him have their way, he will be deported to a place he has never been, punished for something he never did, deprived of the one place he knows as home, through no fault of his own-- simply because his parents broke the law.

Mr. Trump is quite adamant, as are many of my conservative friends, that Chris should not be allowed to stay.  As they see it, every "illegal" should be deported as soon as possible.  Whether this is financially or logistically feasible is not the issue. It's a politically popular stance, and Mr. Trump is happy to assert it, to the cheers of many like-minded voters who see "illegals" as the big problem in America today. Even though statistics repeatedly show that undocumented immigrants do NOT commit a disproportionate amount of crime, even though statistics repeatedly show that undocumented immigrants are NOT "mostly rapists" nor gang-bangers, many voters believe the myths; they believe that "illegals" are the worst of the worst, and they applaud Donald Trump for saying he'll ship them all out. 

Mr. Trump seems fine about saying the kids, the innocent victims, should go too.  He says they have no right to stay, that they don't belong here.  Well, where then do they belong?  They never asked to be here, and yet here they are, trying to live honest and ethical lives, going to school, wanting to make a positive contribution-- some have even asked to join the US military, while others want to be doctors or teachers.  But that doesn't matter to those who are absolutists.  They have no compassion for these kids:  they don't care that one of them might be the next Einstein or the next JFK. They're all "illegals," they broke the law, and they must be deported.

I sort of understand-- we can't have everyone ignoring laws they don't like, and I know there are rules for becoming a citizen. But there's a dirty little secret about our current system:  it's heavily weighted in favor of people with money, and favors immigrants with certain skills.  And whether skilled or unskilled, it can be an expensive, lengthy and often arbitrary process. Among the costs and fees that legal immigrants must pay include applying for the appropriate visa (do you have a relative here, are you coming here for a job, do you have a specific skill, etc); applying for a work permit; paying for the medical exam and necessary vaccines; attorney fees (some cases are complex and require the guidance of someone experienced in immigration law); translation fees (if your documents are in a foreign language, they may need to be translated so that American officials can validate them); there is even a fingerprinting fee.  The total can run well over $2,000, a lot of money for someone from a poor country.  And even if you do everything right, it can sometimes take as long as ten to fifteen years to be approved, depending on where you are from:  according to CNN, people from Mexico, India, China and the Philippines face the longest wait times.

And yes, jumping the line is wrong.  But there are always some exceptions.  In some cases, the so-called "illegals" were escaping civil war or persecution or they feared for their life.  There have been news stories about women from third-world countries who fled with their children because a daughter was about to be forcibly married, or they wanted to escape having her endure female genital mutilation.  They didn't have ten years to wait.  Were they wrong to come here illegally? Probably.  But do I understand their desperation?  Absolutely.

And that gets me back to Chris, and all the other kids like him, conveniently ignored by the politicians pandering for votes, and the angry citizens who believe "illegals" are causing all the problems.  Chris caused no-one any problems.  He didn't even know he was undocumented. He just wants what every kids wants-- the right to a safe and secure life, and the right to be respected.  He doesn't want to be a bother to anyone.  And he definitely doesn't want to be a kid without a country.

Mr. Trump may find it easy to attack him, but the truth is our immigration system really is broken, and evicting innocent kids isn't going to fix it.  And while I have no magic answer, I hope that those who utter the harshest words and want no exceptions of any kind, will take a step back.  It wasn't long ago when the Senate, in a rare example of bipartisanship, passed a comprehensive immigration reform law.  It was tough but fair.  Yet the House wouldn't even vote on it.  And Donald Trump sounds like he would only consider deportation and nothing else, no matter who the person or what their circumstances.

At times like this, a Bible verse comes to mind-- Micah 6:8.  It tells us to do justice, but to also love mercy and to be willing to humble ourselves.  What I am hearing from Mr. Trump and others like him is heavy on the justice part (the law, and no exceptions); and heavy on the arrogance (I cannot picture him, or many of the other candidates who espouse the same harsh rhetoric, taking a moment to put themselves in someone else's place).  But I find Mr. Trump's total deportation proposal totally lacking in mercy.  It may get him votes, but is unbending absolutism, to the point of cruelty, what we want in a president?  Will America be a better place if we tell Chris and other kids like him that they have to leave immediately?  Surely we as a country can come up with better answers than that.  But at this point, I am not hearing any.  And I find that very disappointing.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully articulated. I am disgusted by all those who would punish children and young adults for decisions made by their parent(s) when the children had no say and no choice. Maybe your blog will change hearts and minds. If not, maybe it will make people think about what Trump and others of his ilk are really saying.