A Wish for the Holidays
As an immigrant rights advocate working on the A Wish for the Holidays campaign to highlight the impact of deportations and family separation on children, I've been spending a lot of time recently reaching out to children and youth around the country, encouraging them to share their thoughts with members of Congress about the importance of family. All families are important, all families have stories, and mine is no exception.
Recently, while on a road trip from New York City back to Virginia, my eight-year-old daughter and I accidently got into a conversation I imagined would happen during a cozy and planned (carefully selected explanations) conversation, while she would be sitting near me. Not while I was driving and she strapped in her car seat in the back of the car. It started with this question: "Mom, can you tell me about grandpa again? Why did he die?"
It hit me like a ton of bricks – bam! The question I've managed to gloss over thus far with the simple answer of: "Honey, it's complicated. You're too young to understand right now, but when you are a little older...." Only this time, she was older and would not fall for the "next time" excuse. I started feeling tense and a surge of mixed emotions came over me. I blurted: "Well, he was killed. He was arrested, and then killed because the people who were in charge of the country, thought your grandpa did not have the right to change rules and laws of the country.” I went on and gave her a short version of Afghanistan’s last 30-year history which includes ongoing devastations –imagine a country hit by a hurricane for 30 years, daily and consistently -- ongoing wars; civil wars, foreign military and government invasions, occupations, poverty, lack of basic human rights, extreme gender oppression; you get the picture. She did, too.
I started to choke up. Over 20 years ago, my family was forced into separation. In order to save her children and her life, my mother had to live through the nightmare of having to do the unthinkable – intentionally separating our family. Due to the country's political turmoil my mother needed to devise a plan otherwise she too would be killed, leaving three of her children orphaned. She "parceled" off my two brothers, 15 and 19, to Eastern Europe on a scholarship or else they faced mandatory enlistment to join the soviet-occupied Afghan army. She then sent me off with my grandmother to India where I waited, not knowing if I was going to see her again. Eventually, she herself escaped from her home, her country, leaving behind everything, not knowing what her immediate future held. Her only goal: to reunite with us.
I quickly snapped myself out of the emotions and stopped sharing the details, when I felt the sadness in my daughter’s voice. I changed my tone and started illustrating to her how lucky she and I were living in the U.S., having all the freedoms people in other countries dream of. But I reminded her that there are thousands of children who live with the same fear of family separation, right now, right here in the U.S.!
There are 5.5 million children who have one or more parent who is undocumented, who live with the fear of family separation every day. In the first six months of 2011 alone, 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported. The pain that I felt as a child is being felt by so many children in the U.S. right now.
Isn’t it ironic that current U.S. immigration laws are breaking up families, just like the laws in Afghanistan tore our family apart 20 years ago? How could this be possible, my eight-year old sounded heartbroken and confused -- her immediate reaction: "Mom, we have to do something about that!" So I told her about our A Wish for the Holidays campaign. Children around the country are writing letters to members of Congress to tell them to stop deportations and keep families together. When she heard about the campaign, my daughter was beaming and said “I will write a letter to all the people who make laws in America. I will tell them to stop making unfair laws.”
As hard as the conversation seemed at first, I was amazed at how change begins its course. If we don’t bring more attention to the devastating impact deportation laws have on women and children, we are going to see the damages for generations to come. Will the children in your community join me and my eight-year-old in this simple, yet critical call for action? Visit our website for more information.