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Jill Garvey's picture

The strength of motherhood has struck me whenever I’ve encountered the stories of young people being threatened with deportation to countries they no longer know - their mothers and the mothers in their communities are among the most powerful advocates in keeping families together.

Several years ago I worked at a public elementary school assisting the principal with three early-childhood programs. Our pre-k and kindergarten classes were bursting with over 350 students. Many of them were first generation Americans whose parents hailed from Bulgaria, Mexico, Poland, and even Iraq.

As those who work with children can attest, the often hectic days of herding kids down hallways still allowed for bonding. Eating lunch with the kids and sending them off with hugs each day were highlights of my job. So I was crushed to learn one day that a five-year-old student was being forced to leave the country - his mother was being deported 20 years after she came to the U.S. seeking asylum.

The community rallied for the family; every appeal was made to no avail. The little boy left with his mother shortly after the school year ended, leaving behind both a devastated father to run the family business and a badly shaken community.

Over the years I watched the family struggle to reunite and my admiration for the little boy’s mother grew. Her sacrifices and courage surely minimized the trauma her son experienced.

Similarly, the story of Bernard Pastor, the 19-year-old all-American kid who was detained after a routine traffic stop, was so heart-wrenching that it galvanized his entire community, even its most unlikely members, into action. During the months he spent in a detention facility awaiting deportation, they worked tirelessly to petition for his release. The mothers in the community played an especially important role.

Bernard's Story from Bernard's Story on Vimeo.

This interview with Linette Kiefer illustrates what a vital part mothers played in bringing Bernard home to his family:

Extra: Linette Kiefer on Community Response to Bernard's Detention from Bernard's Story on Vimeo.

Bernard’s story is inspiring; he is a dynamic and courageous young man. But his story would not have gained national recognition without women like Linette who recognized that what was being done to Bernard was harmful to their children and thusly felt compelled to stick up for their neighbors’ children as they would for their own.

As a mom who is expecting in a matter of weeks, thoughts about the kind of person my child will develop into are frequent. I can only hope to instill the same values on my child that Linette’s son displayed, and that all of Bernard’s friends seem to share: an understanding of human dignity and the conviction to stand up for it.

It’s time that mothers became more prominent voices in the immigration debate. We know what’s best for our children, we have the desire to protect our communities, and quite often we are the ones who support the families of our neighbors when they become fragmented by harsh immigration policies.

We can learn a lot from the women in Bernard’s Story. And we can have the same impact in our own communities.

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