One community speaking out against unjust laws.
One of the stories that touched me the most was one by Sandra, a young woman from Honduras who spoke about her hope for education. Her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child. She was an average student who found her joy in school. But when senior year came, Sandra was scared of life after high school--without papers she didn’t qualify for federal aid and faced paying triple the tuition at in-state universities than other students had to pay. Dropping out of high school and getting a job was becoming an increasingly likely option. But with the passage of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Sandra was able to obtain a work permit and received a scholarship to attend college.
Although Sandra’s story was amazing, it was an exception. Sandra’s story reminded me of my high school classmates, many of which were brought to the US in their youth who were not eligible for DACA. Their situation remains unaddressed by the government, their needs and aspirations for a better life through education unmet. Being ineligible for federal aid made going to college a nearly impossible burden to bear for their families. It was enough to dissuade them to put their dreams on hold.
Current mainstream rhetoric puts the blame on the immigrant parents for bringing their children illegally to the states, but they refuse to acknowledge the external factors that force people to immigrate in the first place. They overlook the civil wars, the poverty, the corruption of their own governments that force families to migrate to the U.S. in hopes giving their children a better life. Although DACA is a step forward for our country, it’s scope is very limited. Our country is need of comprehensive immigration reform for all members of the family.
The second woman to speak was an undocumented mother who spoke of a broken system that made her life as a mother and as an immigrant impossible. She awoke one morning and realized that her toddler was sick. Scared, the mother realized could not drive her child to the doctor because she was did not have a license. If she drove to the hospital without a license, she risked being arrested and possibly deported. “Tenia un carro, pero no lo podia usar,” she said in Spanish. (I had a car but could not use it.) She had to rush to the bus stop, sick child in arms and two-year old baby in tow, to go to the hospital.
What if it had been a serious illness? What if she had not made it to the hospital in time all because of her immigration status did not allow her to drive? No parent should experience this helplessness in an emergency.
“ ¿Qué pasara con mis hijos si me fuera, si me deportaran?" the mother asked in Spanish. "What would happen to my children if I left?” Her question was haunting. This rally brought to light many questions that are not addressed in mainstream discourse on immigration legislation. The silence on this issue is astounding. According to a ColorLines news report from 2011, 46,000 immigrant parents were deported under the Obama administration from January to June 2011.
We have created a system that is quick to overlook the contradictions of enforcing harsh anti-immigrant legislation all the while depending on an underground economy and the exploitation of undocumented labor.
Despite being a lawful member of society, despite contributing to the economy, as an immigrant one always runs the risk of being deported. One always lived in fear. Fear of asking for help, fear of challenging authority who violated basic rights. The fear of knowing everything they worked so hard to build in this new country could all be lost with single phone call, left in the dust behind a white ICE van. Fear. Destabilizing, debilitating fear they face everyday, a fear that must be overcome to continue living, to continue dreaming.
What was most inspiring for me was that these women and their families were essentially fearless. They stood before a supportive community, before organization-heads, before pesky and clueless reporters and cameras who could never understand their experiences, to tell their stories. They were unafraid.
The Keeping Families Together tour showed that immigration is multifaceted. Immigration is not the face of only one individual. It isn’t a student, it isn’t a mother, it isn’t a child or a farm worker. It is a community and when they speak we must listen, legislators and communities alike.
-Gloria "Jack" Mejia-Cuellar
East Coast Chicano Student Forum Representative, MEChA de Yale
Photos by Kim Mejia-Cuellar