Last week, I had the distinct honor of attending a dramatic reading, poetry slam and awards ceremony for the Marel Brown Creative Writing Program, an arts and cultural enrichment program administered by the Boys and Girls Club of metro Atlanta. I gave a speech meant to inspire young writers, but I was the one who walked away with the gift; these children, with their poems and their puppet shows and their dances and their readings, moved me in ways that reminded me why I fell in love with writing, and especially why I adore children.
But it was one club in particular that moved me to tears. The group of about 10 girls did a dramatic reading of a play about the children of illegal immigrants; in it, each child took turns relaying what it feels like to have high hopes for integrating into our culture and grabbing hold of the American dream, but live in constant fear that their already fragile home lives would be unravelled by their parents' illegal status. In one scene, one little girl tried to comfort her sister by helping her practice English while they lay in bed, waiting for their mother to arrive home from work. Even as they spoke of their hopes of learning the language, they were worried sick that their mother's tardiness was a sign that she'd been "taken away just like Papi." There was real fear in their voices—and sadness. So much sadness. These children, no more than 10 or 11, brought home for me just how tenuous are the lives of children who, through no fault of their own, can never, ever get comfortable here in a country (of immigrants) that has displayed, under no uncertain terms, that they don't give a flying fig about immigrants (of color).
It is this that I was channelling when I read THIS STORY about Arizona enacting a law meant to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. According to The New York Times:
(the law) requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials, unless doing so would hinder an investigation or emergency medical treatment.
It also makes it a state crime — a misdemeanor — to not carry immigration papers. In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.
Any reasonable person can see where this is going, and I'm going to raise my voice in calling it what it is: Racial profiling. You can not tell me that police will be stopping blonde-haired, blue-eyed Arizonans and checking their wallets for immigration documents, or that their "reasonable" suspicions of who is an illegal won't focus on our Latino and Mexican brothers and sisters. Hell, I got a couple people in my family that could pass for Latino; if they find themselves in Arizona, they better keep their drivers' licenses handy, lest they find themselves on a flight headed South of the border.
Here's what's got my goat: Whenever there are any threats from government enforcement of immigration laws, or changes in them, the place where you see the impact the quickest and most severely is in schools. A lot of these families have a precarious enough lifestyle as it is, which sometimes makes it difficult for their kids to stay in school for an entire year. But when they fear that the school may become a place where a family will be targeted, they'll keep their kids home—thus keeping the family trapped in poverty for another generation.
The beautiful thing about America has always been the way immigrants could use education to lift themselves—the ranks of millionaires and billionaires in this country are filled with people who came here with nothing, got an education, and created a product or business that improved the lifestyles of us all. In fact, there have been many complaints by the science and computer departments in our universities that our tougher immigration laws are keeping brilliant, creative minds out of the United States, and those people are taking their talents elsewhere. Imagine if the immigration laws of today were the same 20 years ago: There would be no Google.
Now, I'm all for making folks caught trying to sneak across our borders turn it back around until they can find a legitimate way to get up in here. What I'm categorically against is harassing the ones who are here already, and certainly dragging legal American citizens through the mud to get at the illegals, many of whom, at the end of the night, just want to make it home from a hard day's work to their children—children who might be sitting next to your kids in class, or kicking around with them on the soccer fields every Saturday, or taking turns with them on the swings at your local park, or just living their lives, trying to be something bigger and better than their mothers and fathers could have ever imagined. These children may be your children's friends. Their mothers may be passing out cupcakes at the end-of-the-school-year party. Or a fellow member of your PTA.
You never know.
Lest we forget, we moms of color and moms of children of color know exactly what racial profiling is and how devastating it can be to be targeted by law enforcement simply because of the color of our skin. Racial profiling is real and humiliating and infuriating—and leaves everyone on the opposite end of the nightstick feeling so very powerless. I say we stand up in solidarity with our fellow people of color and boycott Arizona (it wouldn't be the first time; we gave a collective middle finger to that state years ago when John McCain refused to support the bill that eventually made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a federal holiday): don't go to or hold any conventions there, don't vacation there, and don't support any businesses based there. And while you're at it, sign THIS PETITION calling on your fellow Americans to do the same.
If for no other reason, do it for the children.