My child came to me the other morning while I slept. She was sniffling hard as she climbed into my bed. We snuggled in close to each other and through the darkness, as she pressed her face into me, I felt damp tears on her cheeks.
“Tell me about what woke you, my love?” That was all she needed, words and tears poured from her.
“They were taking undocumented immigrants away and we were helping the immigrants, so we were running, too. We were all camped in the woods with the pecan trees. But they found us and people were running and there was a field, so they ran to the field and the people chasing us were spraying a smoke that if you breathed it you would die.”
I held her closer, kissed the top of her head, still damp and sweet with childhood sleep, “You are with mama. We are in our house. It’s safe baby. You can finish if there’s more. Let out your story.”
She snuffled hard, took a breath, and continued, “There was also a hole in the ground and my teacher was trying to help people, but there were chains going into the hole. If you fell into the hole, you could only get out if you climbed the chains. But you had to sign a paper with one hand to say you belonged here while you climbed out with the other hand. And there were portapotties and I hid in one. Then, I woke up.”
In the weeks of 2016, during the time the media chose to release stories of a rash of our country’s Black men being killed by unjustified police hostility, my child dreamt I was taken away. In her dream, a cop wrongly accused me of speeding, took me to jail, and left her on the side of the highway. Now, as the fight on immigration boils, she dreams of being on the run because we stood up for those whose lives are being dismissed by our government.
Her dream was the week after ICE began openly detaining people and stories were aired for her to hear on the morning radio. It was after she heard me tell her dad how I had returned to the protests that occurred the Friday evening before, in the area where someone documented an ICE arrest. It was after she talked to her Hispanic school friends, who weren’t sure what all the documents meant, who were worried their families would be taken away.
She doesn’t know the legal definitions of alien, immigrant, documented, or undocumented. Frankly, until I looked them up after seeing so much misunderstanding I didn’t either. While the sound of “illegal alien” and “undocumented alien” makes me cringe, it is the legally correct definition. However, I will use “undocumented person,” but I prefer “future citizen” or “American in training.” From my perspective, I see no reason why these people who so desperately want to be part of this country should not be open members of our society. The reason they must hide in the shadows, or work openly, but with a secret fear of deportation, is because our government – the same government they so desperately want to be recognized by – has created a bureaucratic labyrinth that must be navigated in order for someone to be recognized as “belonging” in the United States. In many ways, they must climb out of the deep hole that existed in my child’s dream. These “undocumented persons’ must attempt to save themselves, while not overlooking any of the myriad of governmental nuances on the multi-year path to the coveted game piece labeled “United States Citizen.”
How difficult would it be to create an order that gives those who are here with work – or emotionally supporting families from home (ie., non-working mothers / fathers / grandparents) – a step into the process of citizenship? How difficult to say, “If you have paid taxes in the last two years, come forward, and we’ll start the green card process?” How difficult to create ESL tutoring so those with a Green Card can learn English and be able to pass the exam to become a Naturalized Citizen? For all the money we are spending to block / imprison / deport, why can’t that money be spent to build up communities that exist rather than tear them apart?
My daughter and I are white and privileged by the color of our skin – citizens of the United States by birth. Yet, her dreams hold fears created by the forces that “democratically” rule our country. I can’t bear to think what the monsters live in the night fears of minority children of children of our “undocumented persons” – not to say anything about the caution of their waking days. My child is eight years old. What pictures will our country’s actions paint when she is ten, fifteen, and on?