Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY?
When I was sixteen, my high school boyfriend and I decided to drive up to Canada with another couple to go to Parc Safari. I was so excited! For a group of teenagers this was a pretty big deal, a long road trip without our parents — and into another country, no less.
The drive from Fair Haven into the furthest reaches of Vermont and the United States was fun; silly conversations and jokes and personal jabs fueled by soda, Twinkies and teenage goofiness made the long ride seem minimal.
Then we came to the border.
“Where are you going?” “Where are coming from?” “Are you all citizens?”
I could have lied, but I was (and am) a terrible liar, and I didn’t think I had any reason not to tell the truth anyway.
“No, sir. I’m not.”
What happened over the next 1,230 hours (OK, it was probably one hour, but it felt like an eternity) was horrible. I was told to get out of the car and to come into the building. There, in a stark office, I was basically interrogated. I had no idea what was going on. I was crying so hard I could barely give the Canadian Border Officer my parents’ phone number. His words were petrifying: “I could have just let you through. I’m being the nice guy here. But the Americans wouldn’t be so accommodating when you were coming back. You would be deported straight from here.”
I was sixteen. Do you think this would have been any less frightening had I been 26, 36, 46?
I was twelve when we settled here, a child brought here through no choice of my own so that my father might pursue a life and career he wasn’t finding in his home country for the good of his family. This means I have lived over three-quarters of my life here. The majority of my education was attained here, I learned to drive here, I have only ever been part of an American workforce, paying taxes to only this country. This is where my family is, my home is, my life is. I cannot even begin to imagine having my family, home and life ripped away from me, forced to learn how to live and work in a place I only knew as a child.
Now consider that the average age of a “Dreamer” — an undocumented child brought to this country by their parents — at the time of arrival in the U.S. is six, and many are now in their twenties. This means America is probably the only home the majority of these 800,000 young people remember, the only place they have been educated, the only place they have worked. Some may not even speak the language of their parents’ homeland, let alone know the everyday details of surviving in an essentially foreign land.
I’m not even going to mention the economic argument for allowing these people to stay here. For me, it comes down to compassion, to recognize that we are all human and just struggling to do and be our best. These “Dreamers” are Real People — like you and me. People with stories, with lives, hopes, dreams, fears, pain, joys. People getting educated, getting jobs, loving their family and friends, being loved by their family and friends. And as has been highlighted during Hurricane Harvey, they are also First Responders saving lives.
These members of our society were brought here by parents hoping to give them a better life. Why should those young people now be punished for their parents’ — in many cases, desperate — act of love? They did not come looking for handouts or take our jobs; they came to work, and to work hard, at jobs many Americans don’t want, drawn by the glowing façade of a broken promise called The American Dream.
I was brought here legally, but I could just as easily have not been. Mistakes like not getting the right visa could have turned my family’s story in a very different direction. But that is really of no consequence in the scheme of things. I am here, a contributing member of a community, just as these “Dreamers” are. Are they any less worthy than I of continuing to live the only way of life they’ve known?
Here in Vermont, it is possible that your co-worker, your child’s school friend’s mother or father, the barista who makes your favorite cup of coffee, the student in your college class, came here as a child, a baby even. Would you see them forced from this place, this life, to start again away from everything they have ever known?
I have experienced the threat of deportation. And while it was likely that Canadian officer was pulling nothing more than a power-trip on me, it was terrifying. Now imagine knowing that threat is real. I would not wish it on anyone. Shame on anyone who would.