My Mother’s Story and Why I’m Going to GeorgiaPosted September 27th, 2011 by Wendy Cervantes
This week I’m going to Georgia, and I’m excited and hopeful. I’m honored to be joining several other women from around the country as part of the We Belong Together delegation. We’re tasked with documenting the impact of Georgia’s new anti-immigrant law on children and families. Their suffering is very real, yet their voices are often not heard.
When I think of their stories, I’m reminded of my mother. Because of the extreme poverty in her hometown, she was forced to drop out of school at the age of thirteen in order to work and help my widowed grandmother support the family. She vowed that her own children would have the opportunity to finish their education. She eventually moved to Indiana from Mexico in her late teens as a nanny, and after my parents were married they decided to make the U.S. their permanent home and raise their family here. My mother continues to be a domestic worker today, and she is by far the smartest, strongest, and most determined woman I know. Thanks to the many sacrifices she and my father made, my sister and I both grew up believing we could be whatever we wanted to be, and we both obtained college degrees. It’s also because of their sacrifices that I’ve become the passionate advocate I am today for immigrant families. Just like my parents, today’s immigrants simply want a better life for their children.
Thus, it has been very difficult for me to see the tide of anti-immigrant laws that has rippled across the country. What is most troubling about these laws is that the policymakers who pass them seem to completely disregard the harm these laws have on the most vulnerable members of our society—our children. Like Arizona’s SB 1070, Georgia’s HB 87 threatens to tear families apart, puts children’s health and safety in jeopardy, and prevents women from protecting themselves and their families from domestic violence and other dangerous situations.
While things like “immigration enforcement” may sound like they have nothing to do with children, the fact is that over 5 million children in America have at least one undocumented parent, and the vast majority are U.S.-born citizens. When a single mother is detained by immigration authorities without the opportunity to make care arrangements for her child, that child may be turned over to the foster care system without any idea of what happened to his mother. When an undocumented mother is scared to call the police when her husband abuses her, she is left powerless in defending her child’s safety as well. And when critical safety net programs impose additional barriers to deter immigrant families from accessing basic services that their children are entitled to, those children go without things like food, housing, and healthcare.
In states like Alabama, the serious implications for children and families in the state’s recently passed anti-immigrant bill are even more obvious. Alabama’s HB 56, if fully implemented, would force schools to act as immigration agents by requiring them to document the immigration status of students and parents and by authorizing school officials to report families to federal immigration agents. In addition to violating a Supreme Court decision which has for decades protected the right of every child to access a K-12 education, this new law sends a heartbreaking message to children of immigrants. Rather than tell these students to strive for academic success, the message is that they are simply not welcome here.
The bottom line is that as a country we need all our children to thrive. Yet, 22 percent of America’s children are now living in poverty, a child poverty rate that is shared by states like Georgia. Rather than passing anti-immigrant laws that weaken safety net programs designed to protect children in the greatest need, federal and state policymakers should focus on strategies to improve the economic well-being of our nation’s children. And that includes children of immigrants.
Thus, I’m going to Georgia because the stories of the parents and children who have been impacted by HB 87 are my story too. I want to make sure that their stories are heard around the country, not just by policymakers but by all Americans who believe that every single child deserves the opportunity to achieve her full potential. That is why I’m excited and hopeful. Because we all have a story to tell, and those stories have the power to impact change.