Children Express A Powerful Wish for the Holidays: Allow All Families to Stay Together
“I think that no one should live in fear of being deported and separated from their families. I believe that the way we are in our families, taking care of each other, is how we should live in the world. My family is partly immigrants, but we have the privilege of having citizenship. I want to use my privilege so that deportations don’t ever happen to another immigrant family.”
- Gabriel, 11 years old, Portland, Oregon
Listening to 11-year-old Gabriel talking about why he’s concerned about the impact of immigration enforcement policies on families—even through his own family has U.S. citizenship—I knew we were on to something. As an organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, over the past two months I’ve had the honor and privilege of being part of a team that has collected thousands of letters from young people around the country, all demanding one thing: an end to deportations so that all of our families and communities can stay together.
Our A Wish for the Holidays campaign has highlighted two important, yet often overlooked, truths. First of all, children are deeply impacted by immigration enforcement policies. In the first six months of 2011 alone, 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were deported. There are over 5.5 million children in the U.S. with one or more undocumented parents. Both the fear and the reality of family separation take a toll on all aspects of children’s wellbeing. The second, and perhaps more important, truth is that children are guided by a profound sense of justice, and are able to tell stories in a way that cuts through rhetoric and the minutiae of policy debate. Children are able to see our shared humanity, and to speak out boldly. These are voices that need to be heard.
A Wish for the Holidays was a short-term campaign of a larger initiative called We Belong Together, a collaboration of immigrant rights groups and women’s organizations dedicated to highlighting the negative impacts of immigration enforcement on women and children. On November 1st, we issued a call for children and youth to write letters about how deportations are affecting them and their communities. We asked teachers, youth facilitators and parents to get involved, and we created materials that could spark dialogue between children and adults in schools, churches, community centers, homes, and beyond. Over 35 groups, including MomsRising, signed on as campaign co-sponsors, and helped get the word out far and wide.
In one month, we received more than 5,200 pledges of letters from 28 states. And then the letters themselves started pouring in. By December 8th, we had collected thousands of handwritten letters and drawings. The letters range from heartfelt pleas for the return of deported parents, to expressions of the profound anxiety of growing up with the knowledge that family could be torn apart at any moment. We also received letters like Gabriel’s, expressing deep solidarity among youth, across the artificial divides of geography and immigration status.
On December 8th and 9th, we formed local delegations of children and adults in Washington DC to deliver the letters to 54 members of Congress and to a representative of the Obama Administration, who promised to deliver them to the President. Before our letter delivery delegations fanned out through the Congressional office buildings, we held a moving press conference, at which young people read their own letters and those sent in by other children from around the country. The act of reading each other’s letters, and physically carrying the words of youth into the halls of power was transformative. This short video tells the story of our delegations.
After our second letter delivery action on December 9th, I sat for a minute with Janelle, an 11-year-old from Maryland. She had just read the letter sent in by Brenda, a 13-year-old girl in Florida who wrote about the pain and desperation of losing her mother to deportation. Janelle herself has felt the trauma of immigration enforcement within her own family, but that wasn’t what she wanted to talk about in that moment. She wanted to know more about the girl who had written the letter she read, and wanted to make sure that Brenda knows she’s not alone.
These are the kinds of connections that are built through this work. And these are the connections that will help use realize our collective power to demand an end to the immigration policies that tear us apart.
We Belong Together will continue to collect children’s “Wishes for All Families,” so that all of our families and communities can stay together. Please join us!