Most of the students whom I have taught over the years were Hispanic. They have been delightful, hard working and determined to make the most of their lives. Many of them were the first in their families to graduate from high school and then they went on to earn degrees from colleges or become certified to perform certain trades. They epitomize the kind of individuals that we hope will take the reins of leadership in the future. I have been profoundly honored over the years to teach and serve them and their families.
Now and again I encountered a gang member or someone intent on causing trouble but those kinds of kids were the rare exception and I have grown to love the gentle and giving natures that my kids have brought from countries south of our border. I never bothered to find out who was here legally and who was not, but when I was the testing coordinator it became all too apparent who was not a citizen because they did not have Social Security numbers. So many of the students in that category were incredibly talented and hard working. I worried about their immigration status constantly. I watched some of my proteges crying and greatly distressed when they received acceptances and scholarships from prestigious universities because they feared that leaving the state of Texas might reveal their status and place them in danger of being deported, so they often stayed within the boundaries of home rather than taking risking travel.
The most heart crushing aspect of their situations was that the vast majority knew little or nothing about the countries from which they had come. They were brought here by their parents when they were far too young to remember the worlds of their births. They grew up in the United States of America speaking both English and Spanish, but they were bonafide Americans through and through. Being here is what they know, and while they were children they had little idea of the danger they were in. It was only as they grew older that they began to realize the uncertainty of their situation. It might be argued that they need to be sent back because their parents’ broke the law, but I would posit that it is ludicrous to punish them for something that they did not do. We were lax and lazy and unwilling to reform our immigration laws. We allowed time to elapse to the point where it really is too late to do anything other than make them all legal.
There were bipartisan attempts to pass laws that would have permanently reformed immigration, but they were defeated and resulted in some Congressmen like John McCain and Marco Rubio who sponsored the bill being treated like pariahs. The truth is that they were the true heroes along with the other six lawmakers who had the good sense to understand that we could not continue ignoring the problem.
I worried when President Obama created DACA for the Dreamers by executive action. He had to know as I did that all it would take to eliminate the safety net was to get someone in office whose political philosophies did not mesh with his. It was apparent that the plan might one day be rescinded because it was not a law. It was wrong to mislead so many and have them believe that they were finally safe. In fact I watched an episode of the program Nightline in which it was noted that President Obama actually jumped the gun with DACA because Congress was literally on the verge of passing a law that would have protected the Dreamers. When Obama grew fearful that it might not go through he issued his executive order and essentially killed the idea of actually passing a law. So in some ways everyone has a bit of guilt with regard to this issue and that includes those of us who vote because we became complacent.
I suspect that President Obama wrongly assumed that Hillary Clinton would follow him into the presidency and give the Dreamers more time and protection. Now the issue has come to a head, and it’s time for all lawmakers and voters to face the music and devise a bipartisan plan that is fair and just and that takes a good hard look at all of the issues. This will require political compromise, not rancor. It is time to settle this once and for all and admit that these young people did not break the law and that they are simply victims of legislative laziness and lack of foresight.
We the People must challenge both Republicans and Democrats to work this out. Reforming immigration laws to help the Dreamers should not be a political football. It must take into consideration of the needs of a group of young people who are presently terrified. All grandstanding has to be set aside, and that includes blistering commentaries from those who want to make political hay. Such harangues will not get things done the way they need to be approached. Instead all of us who understand the realities of the situation in which so many young people now find themselves must exert political pressure on all lawmakers to do whatever it takes to resolve the issues and produce a reform plan that is both realistic and sympathetic.
I have never believed in punishing young people for the sins of their fathers or grandfathers. If we were to adhere to such a way of operating few of us would be accepted by society. Instead we must consider what will happen to young men and women if they are suddenly ushered out of the country that has been their home for decades. Put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would feel if you were abruptly told that you were brought here illegally when you were still a child. Would you be happy about being sent to live in Slovakia or Italy or France or any foreign place from whence your parents might have come? Of course you would not. It would be a most disturbing prospect. We need to reassure the Dreamers that we have no intention of allowing such a thing to happen. It would be a travesty of the highest order.
I happened to watch a program about the division of India the other evening. Fourteen million people were displaced as a result of an order that suddenly created Pakistan and independent India. Those of Muslim descent who had lived for their entire lives in territory belonging to India felt the need to move and vice versa. Lives were totally wrecked and the death toll from the partioning was inexcusable. We have to use our common sense and not be tied to black and white arguments, but must take into account shades of grey. As both a parent and a teacher I found again and again that sometimes rules must be changed to make any sense whatsoever. This is one of those times, and this is the moment when we must make the protections ironclad by creating a law that forever eliminates the fear that has stalked these young people for far too long.
In the name of humanity this we must do. We here in Houston have learned the value of every single life in the last couple of weeks. One of our own was a Dreamer who actually died while attempting to rescue others. He was extraordinarily heroic, but he was also not so different from the other young people who were brought illegally into this country before they were old enough to even realize what was happening. They are good solid citizens, the kind of people who will always help in an emergency. We need them here. We want them here, so please members of Congress put the animosities aside and create the law that you should have passed long ago. End the pain now!