Immigration. Illegal immigration. Undocumented. Border security. Deportation. Over the past two years, these words have been daily reminders of what it means to live in America…or not. For those of us who live along the border, these words often have a more personal meaning, and political views and rhetoric quickly become irrelevant.
Over the weekend, I received a message from one of my former students. He is an adult now with a family of his own. When I think of him, so many words come to mind: kind, smart, respectful, grateful, humble, faithful--you get the idea. He and I have remained close over the years, and in his message, he asked if I would be willing to write him a reference letter for a job he is applying for in Mexico.
His message really caught me off guard. Mexico? While I always knew his family was from Mexico, I also know he loves the United States and is incredibly grateful for the opportunities this country has afforded him. He has never taken this for granted. I responded, telling him I would do whatever he needed and asking him why he had decided to return to Mexico. His response broke my heart.
This young man I love--as only a teacher can love--explained to me that he and his family are returning to Mexico because of their fear of deportation, especially with Texas SB4 now headed to the Senate after passing the House along party lines. Yes, he and his family—his mom and dad, a younger brother and a younger sister, his wife and six-month-old baby (born in the U.S.)—are “undocumented.” They are also law-abiding, humble, and kind.
For the record, I am a proponent of border security. I am also a proponent of a path to citizenship. I firmly believe we need to strengthen security along our borders to prevent terrorists and other criminals from entering our country. I am a person who understands how blessed I am to have been born and raised in the United States. My ancestors weren’t that lucky, but realizing the opportunities for religious and financial freedom in the U.S., they traveled from Ireland and from Norway to come to America. I don’t know about my ancestors from Ireland, but I know my great-great-great-great grandparents and their children who came from Norway did not speak English when they arrived. I cannot fathom the pain of leaving their homeland, the lengthy and often tumultuous journey, and the fear upon their arrival in this new country. But they did it anyway because it was their path to freedom.
Regardless of your political views about immigration, today I ask you to think about my former student. He arrived here at the age of 15. He graduated from high school in the Valley and started college but was unable to get the financial aid he needed because he does not qualify for DACA, so he had to quit. He loves his second home, and his gratitude for the opportunities here knows no bounds.
Again, regardless of your political views, he IS one of our kids. He has a name, though I am not using it for his protection. He has a face. He has a story. In my 29 years of teaching, he is one of my most memorable students. How can I turn my back on him because he does not have paperwork that declares him a U.S. citizen? How can I tell him his parents were wrong to have brought him to America when he was a teen, knowing I would have done the same?
I need your help for this young man I love and for his family. I need to find a legal means for them to stay home. Yes, home.
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.