Blog: Immigration reform as viewed from a classroom
OUR country’s immigration policies are reflected in the lives of my students. Some kids are taught from early ages to protect the people they love or those people will be sent away, never to be seen again. Some are made to lie, forced to cheat, and threatened with unnamed horrors so their undocumented family members can remain in the shadows.
One clue comes with simple questions. How many brothers and sisters do you have? Do your mother and father speak English? How long have you lived in Colorado? When the answers keep changing, you learn to stop asking.
I’ve held young children who were left, sobbing, after their parents were deported. In one case, kids were taken in by a distant aunt who likely had secrets of her own. All any of them knew was that their parents had to go away to work for a while. For children especially, there’s trauma in living below the law and fearing to articulate even the most basic facts about their family’s identities.
I once taught a child of an undocumented family that came for a vacation and stayed to care for an aging relative. They were afraid if they returned to the Middle East they’d be targeted as spies and subject to torture or even death. They didn’t care how many people lived in their apartment or how little food they could afford. Once they felt the presence of peace, they chose to risk everything to stay here, in Colorado, where they can live without fear.
One of my students had an undocumented mom with children who were born in this country. She wanted to tell the truth on the last census report about her lack of papers, knowing that being counted would bring more resources to her children’s school. But a few minutes on the Internet taught her about how our government had used census reports to find Japanese Americans and move them to internment camps during World War II. Even though she was promised that things have changed and that telling the truth wouldn’t lead to deportation, she understandably decided against filling out the paperwork.
It’s always a matter of trust when families relay their non-citizenship status to me, their child’s teacher. They want to know if I think a doctor would turn them in if their kid gets sick. Or if the court will figure out the truth when they pay a speeding ticket. Or if it’s safe to volunteer at a food bank. Or how likely it is for the police to knock on their doors in the middle of the night. Should they move, they ask, again?
They look to me for answers. But I have none, especially when our governor recently said many immigrants don’t care about becoming citizens. I can offer no assurances, no comfort to parents who want to know what’ll happen when President Obama’s executive order pledging deportation relief to undocumented parents expires.
Teachers are supposed to have answers. But in the face of families who would do anything to keep their kids at school and in my class, I’m humbled by what I wish I could tell them but can’t because, truth is, I don’t know.
[ Photo via Flickr. ]
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