There has been much talk recently of our immigration policy and the possibility of comprehensive immigration reform, but too often these discussions, especially in the halls of Congress, lack a human and family dimension. In the first half of 2011, 46,000 undocumented immigrants were deported from the United States. Depending on which new outlet reports that fact, we may hear a variety of terms used to describe those people, ranging from “illegal aliens,” or “illegal immigrants,” to “undocumented immigrants,” or simply “immigrants.” Rarely do we hear: “46,000 parents were torn away from their children and deported to another country in the first half of 2011.” A Wish for the Holidays campaign wants to change that.
On Wednesday, around 40 young people between the ages of 7 and 22 from all over the United States, took their personal stories of loss, fear and outrage to Capitol Hill. In the hopes of breaking the silence around families being torn from each other, the young activists met with the offices of 50 Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and House put a human face on the deportation crisis.
Nineteen-year-old Eliza Morales from Los Angeles was part of the delegation years ago, Eliza’s mother was detained at an immigration checkpoint on the way to pick her from school. Her mother never showed up.
There were no phone calls, no text messages, no emails—nothing. Her mother just didn’t show up. For the next 48 hours, Morales knew nothing about her mother’s condition or whereabouts. Finally, after two days of complete silence, her mother was able to call her only daughter from Tijuana, Mexico, where she had been deported.
At the press conference held shortly before the Congressional meetings, Morales compared how she felt upon learning what had happened to her mother to the way one feels after the loss of a loved one.
“I felt totally empty and alone,” she added.
The only child of a single mother, Eliza was forced to relocate to Northern California to live with her godmother. Four years later, her mother is still in Tijuana.
“This is a really big problem that many people aren’t aware of: the separation of families because of deportation,” Morales said after her first visit to Congress, and the East Coast. “I want people to be aware of the situation many children go through, many younger than me.”
Morales was able to share her story with national elected officials as part of We Belong Together’s campaign A Wish for the Holidays. We Belong Together is an initiative of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and others “to bring attention to the ways in which unjust immigration laws affect women, children and families."
The campaign collected 10,000 hand-drawn pictures and hand-written letters from young people across the country, some of whom delivered them in person to the 50 members of Congress Wednesday. Together with the letters, they handed each congressional office a copy of their “Children’s Declaration on Immigrant Rights and Family Unity,” which in part reads:
We are devastated at losing our parents. We are angry about this injustice in a country that says it values families. We are disappointed to learn that we, the children, are expected to keep our promises, play fair, and clean up our messes, yet the U.S. government hasn’t yet shown that it can do the same. We love our families, we love our home and we are hopeful that, in this country, change is possible.
Most elected officials were receptive to the message, said Lisa Moore, a NDWA organizer who helped coordinate the delegations.
“It’s hard to hear a 10-year-old cry over his mom’s deportation and not be in some way moved by the experience,” she said after the delegations.
Yet there were some officials who received the young visitors with some reserve. Still, Moore finds room for hope in such cases.
“Time spent forcing them to see things from another perspective is time well spent,” she said.
According to We Belong Together, our lack of a common sense immigration process forces 5.5 million American children to live in constant fear that a parent could be deported anytime, anywhere. Lawmakers must be made aware of this crisis and immediately work to pass fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship for these families.
At the heart of the A Wish for the Holidays national campaign is a simple message that is too seldom heard: Families belong together and our current immigration system makes it impossible for millions of families to stay together in the country they call home.
Simply put, to quote Morales, “It’s a problem that needs to be solved.”
If you agree, here’s what you can do: Tell Congress put aside ideology and partisanship for a moment and listen to the stories of the thousands of young people whose families have been dismantled by our current broken immigration process.