What if tomorrow you were to learn that something you had believed was true about your basic identity was false? How would it feel to learn that people closest to you had withheld this information to “protect” you? What is the emotional and psychological impact of waking up one day and realizing that many people you are no longer see you as just a person, but now would call you an “illegal.”
I recently found myself in the middle of such a scenario. A few weeks back a man came my office at the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network, on Lake and Bloomington. He was looking for information regarding “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” the new opportunity for immigrants who were brought to the USA as children and now are between 15 – 30 years of age. His son would qualify and he wanted to know details. As we talked about the documents needed and the projected costs, he turned to me and said, “The only problem is my son does not know yet that he is undocumented.”
His son is an honor student at a local private school that has a superior reputation. His son would like to study medicine and possibly become a surgeon. As a 15 year old American high school student he had many things to keep his mind occupied, and his legal status was never one of them. His father explained to me why, “We didn’t want him to be worried; we wanted him to enjoy life, and focus on school. So we waited to tell him, but now he needs to know. Would you be able to help us tell him?”
The next week he stopped by the office again, this time with his son. The father showed me the forms he had downloaded off the internet. We talked for a while, and then I asked, “So have the two of you talked much about this yet?” The dad replied, “No, that’s why we are here.” I quickly began to think how I would approach this challenge/opportunity.
We wound up going to get a cup of coffee, and I bought myself some time to think. Our discussion was not easy, but it was better than I had feared. His father explained why they had not talked to him about this earlier. He and his dad spent time reminiscing about their journey across the border when he was only 4 years old. We talked about the history of the Dream Act, and the sacrifices students have made to push for the opportunity he now has; the ability to apply for a 2 year work permit, and window of time during which he would not be deported for his status.
As I sat looking into his eyes, I tried to explain why he is “undocumented.” I was unable to find any sense of fairness in a world and a system that punishes a child for where he is born, and then for what was done to him before he could even pack his own luggage. I wish we could un-pack THAT luggage.
This young man has begun the process of filing for Deferred Action, it is not a long term solution, in reality it is only a two-year reprieve from a criminal sentence he does not deserve. I am thankful that Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network was there for this young man and his dad. I am glad that we are able to be present for other such families at this important time. I also hope we will be able to continue to be present working for real immigration reform.
Without further legislative action this act is in many ways a cruel joke. Citizens of the USA must awake from their apathy and insensitivity to the struggle facing our immigrant neighbors, legislators must realize fear should not keep them from supporting basic justice for hard working families in our country. Please consider a financial gift today to help MIFN continue in our presence for information, individual support, and social advocacy.
It is great for these youth to have a window of hope, but it is time to give them the key to the door.