Immigration Reform: Is This How You See Me Through Legislation?

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(This article was published in Black Girl Dangerous: http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2013/11/see-eyes-legislation/)

More than 40 children are in D.C. this week for events organized by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement. The movement fights for immigrant rights at the local and state level. On its agenda are the needs of children and youth who grieve, or fear, the loss of parents getting deported outside of the United States.

The children who are now in DC are just one of the many faces of immigration reform. Having full or partial citizenship status, having lost parents through deportation, haunted by thoughts of losing their loved ones,  with an uncertain future of educational and career options, remaining invisible, sustaining their working class backgrounds while asking for respect by public arenas who dehumanize them, they navigate their young lives haunted by private and public fears and are categorized: illegal aliens.

This June, Colorlines published an article about the physical and mental threats caused by deportation’s effects on children:

A new report released yesterday by the Oakland-based health advocacy group Human Impact Partners finds that the congressional failure to pass immigration reform, coupled with the Obama administration’s historic levels of deportation, has punishing effects on the mental and physical health of the nearly 5 million American kids whose undocumented parents are threatened with deportation. 

Although each case is specific, to me, these children shouldn’t be ignored. They are the next generation of Americans who, along with their families, are actively seeking for new laws that will take them out of the alien sphere and into the human one. Jose Vasconcelos, philosopher and educator, wrote in 1925 about how people in Ibero America, with its ancient civilizations and richness in traditions,  represented a cosmic race. Who would have known some would take this idea so literally.

Wednesday, while House speaker John Boehner was eating at his regular breakfast joint, two teenagers (Carmen Lima 13, and Jennifer Martinez 16) who where in DC for the event, went up to the congressional leader, interrupted him from his trivial pursuits, and made sure he heard their family stories of immigration, hardship, and loss. Human loss.

In the video they filmed, Boehner did not look at them in the eye, but at least pretended to listen (although later that day he expressed having no intention of ever going to conference on the senate bill.)

“So, you are a father, how would you feel if you have to tell your kids at the age of ten that you are never coming home?” asked one of the teenagers, sharing her personal experience with a half empathetic man, and then added “that happened to me.”

Boehner’s response was as vague: “Well, I’m trying to find some way to get this thing done”

The teenager asked, “So we can count on your vote for immigration reform?”

But Boehner, vague again, replied “I will try to find a way to get this thing forward.”

Oh well. At least they tried to speak to him.

Luz Aguirre, director of Mano a Mano, NYC’s community organization for Mexican culture, expressed to me, via e-mail, how the term “illegal” and “alien” is already limiting people’s identity and humanity:

 Sometimes when I write I don’t even want to use the term immigrant. I am part of a leadership program and many young community leaders talk a lot about illegal immigrants and how to help them. They don’t realize that the problem is that society has told them they don’t deserve anything and that, until that part of their lives changes, there is not much to do for them.

The illegal alien label is highly used in media and public plataforms to speak against these groups. The video of these two amazing Latina teenagers was posted on YouTube, and got many offensive comments (sort of like immigrant bullying) about the status of the girls and the status of undocumented immigrants in the Unites States. In such case, the act of dehumanizing others due to their status, seems to work as a perverse, practical tactic to avoid feeling empathy or apprehending the relevance of the other’s needs. Such being the case, the logic against those marginalized guarantees that, as long as they are (or remain) aliens, their loss is not our loss.

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Although You Tube seems to be a general platform for immature and hateful comments, this is not the first time I’ve seen or heard these sorts of remarks. Labels based on legal status turn the lives of immigrants into disposable ones, while overgeneralized opinions such as “their parents chose to come here illegally, they should go home” etc. are not new to any of these children (or any undocumented immigrants) who bear the marks of loss and stigma.

The free rage of dehumanizing opinions about how these “aliens” are invading somebody’s territory, and how they should just come back to the United states through a ten year legal process while their children grow up like lost kids without their parents, or how they should just leave, is ignoring the reality of capitalism, and the level of poverty and violence that causes groups to migrate in the first place. The over encompassing “illegal alienization” of immigration reform advocates and undocumented people is a sign that there is a lot of work to be done.

But I remain hopeful, honoring the journalists, activists, artists, writers etc. who want to share their stories daily, getting them out of the alien sphere and into the human one.

Also, here is the video of these amazing Latina teenagers getting in John Boehner’s face about Immigration Reform law.

Source: Teen Immigration Activists Crash John Boehner’s Breakfast [abc news ]

Images by NYC based Mexican artist Chris Alfaro “this is how you see me through legislation”

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