I teach at a school where the majority of students are first and second generation immigrants. The fear is palpable in the hallways, in the classrooms. But our kids still continue to work hard on their homework and classwork and tests because…what else can they do?
Our community along Buford Highway has seen family members and friends ripped away from them, and they are worried that perhaps they will be next.
Always, they are looking over their shoulder, petrified. Even a Valentine’s Day dinner wasn’t free from anxiety, as one girl told me. They feared going to a restaurant because of their documentation status.
Obviously this interferes with teenagers’ emotional and mental health, and some kids have even suffered such levels of fear that – in the middle of the lesson – a student will ask any one of the following questions:
“Ms. Morris, what’s going to happen to us if they take our parents?”
“Ms. Morris. I’m scared. My family is already talking about leaving. But I don’t want to.”
“My family hasn’t left the house in two weeks because they’re so scared.”
Every day, something new and terrible happens – deportation order are given, parents are detained. The sadness I see in the eyes of my kids kills me. Last Friday, I got home and just sat on my doorstep and cried. I was late to pick up my own kids.
Parent deported, child left behind
On Monday, I found out that a girl’s mom had been arrested and detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for driving without a license. The girl’s mom had been in a detention center in Irwin County for three months, and the student — a U.S. citizen — had been living with a temporary guardian.
On the day of the immigration hearing, the mother was told by the judge that he “didn’t care” about the situation with the daughter, even though she is a U.S. citizen and has numerous medical conditions. He told the mother that she would be deported in four days.
That was two days ago, and since then, many of us in the school and the community have anxiously been looking for answers. Several people offered for the girl to live with them, but ultimately, the family decided that it would be better for the daughter to move with the mother back to Mexico.
The government is only paying for the mother to fly to Mexico. The daughter has to find money to join her. Already people have stepped forward to assist this young lady in paying for her flight because the only other option is to have the girl stay under the care of DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services) until the mother can afford to fly her down.
The emotional cost of deportations
On Tuesday, a kid walked into my classroom and put his head down. I asked, “What’s wrong?” He didn’t say anything. I asked, half-jokingly, “Are you depressed?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Really? You’re really depressed?”
“What about?” No response. “Is it your family?”
“Yeah.” His voice was cracking.
“Yeah. They’re already making plans to leave.”
What does a teacher say to that? I just sat next to him for a second while the rest of the students filed into class. I just said, “I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
He just shook his head and put it back down.
Dealing with parent deportations
Another girl (also a U.S. citizen), whose story has been in the news, watched her step-father get arrested by ICE the other morning. Apparently the man was jaywalking across Buford Highway on his way to work. This gave ICE officers a reason to stop him. They threw him on the ground and arrested him, took him back to his apartment to return his possessions, and put him in the officers’ van.
The step-daughter and the man’s wife watched in confusion and horror. ICE officers gave no explanation and promised to return to check the immigration statuses of the rest of the members in the household. You can listen to Evelyn’s story on WABE or by watching this report from 11Alive.
Evelyn hasn’t been back to school since, and who can blame her? She doesn’t want to leave her home, knowing that perhaps she returns to find her mom or relatives have been arrested and detained.
The show must go on
All the while, our students are still trying to be teenagers. Almost 70% of our students at Cross Keys are U.S. citizens, so even if there are some who try to explain away students’ pain by saying that they are “illegal,” they can’t say that. These are legal residents – U.S. citizens – whose parents are being taken away from them. For people who value family as the fundamental building block of society, how can we support these types of initiatives?
Through these actions, our country is on the path to creating – potentially – millions of broken homes. Some students have told me that they will not be able to return with their parents because many parents will refuse to let their children return to the life they fled in their home countries.
A student without a country
One student said that her father told her that if he gets deported, she’s staying in the U.S. because “there’s nothing there” in the region they left.
Can you imagine not having a country?
I’m teaching students who are experiencing the cruel reality of not having a country. They are citizens of a country that does not want them, and they know nothing of the country from which their parents fled.
And what do I tell them?
“Open your books and read pages 100-120. You’ll have to write an essay due next Wednesday.”
Many students complete their work, hoping that one day soon, writing an essay will be their biggest worry. But is this really the best that our country can offer to its young immigrant citizens?
For everyone reading this, I want you to watch Les Miserables with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. If you’ve never seen it, watch it. Meditate on the movie’s themes for the next few days. And then, take action.
The aims, policies, and opinions of this organization [writer] are not endorsed or sponsored by Cross Keys High School or the DeKalb County School System.