How Can We Help Immigrant Families Help Themselves?

Amidst the anxiety produced by President Trump’s deportation frenzy, primarily surrounding undocumented Mexican immigrants, families and children are scared, confused and angry about the possibility of leaving this country. The public has been informed of a revision of this policy that supposedly clarifies the people for whom the policy applies. It is to target only those ‘hardened’ criminals-drug dealers, rapists, murderers, gang members- but the reality is that hard-working honest and law-abiding immigrants are being swept up in the frenzy and are detained by ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and prepared for eventual deportation.

Children are separated from mothers, husbands from wives, and innocent family units are experiencing life-affecting disruption. For myself, I somehow see an eerie connection to the fears surrounding the ‘browning’ of America. There is also similarity between this current policy and the way enslaved black people were subjected to family separation and disruption for economic gains and as punishment for being too ‘uppity’ by seeking freedom-the same freedoms that immigrants seek today. Labeled ‘criminal’, for a variety of socio-economic and political reasons, these practices, reframed and subtly embedded in policies, continue to impact lives today. They manifest in ways known as mass imprisonment, death by implicit bias, and the strategically engineered ‘pipelines to prison’.

Moving forward… When Mexican immigrants come to America, wehether formally or informally, it is the hope and promise of a better life and the pursuit of the widely popularized ‘American Dream’. Since I am not well-versed in legal complexities or immigration law, my intent here is to offer some strategies to help families make sense of the political climate as it impacts their lives.

#1: Begin to take inventory of your financial ties to this country. If a busines owner, prepare paperwork to protect your finances from seizure or misappropriation. See an attorney, and designate a partner, co-owner, or someone legally tied to this country who may help you avoid bankrupsy or forfeiture due to immigration status. Again, consult with an attorney.

#2: Protect your family. Should you face deportation, and are a parent of minors, prepare paperwork to assign or appoint a relative, or trustworthy and dependable legal citizen to assume guardianship , if you are separated from one another. Better to have some peace of mind in the knowledge that your child is in good hands, not a ward of the state, foster care system and leaving a child feeling abandoned, unloved or that they’ve done something so bad that they no longer deserve love. That, in and of itself, is sufficient cause to act in the best interest of your children…just in case.

#3: Learn a few key words in English, if you have limited proficiency. The purpose is that should someone attempt to enter your home and detain you or your family members, you will be knowledgeable and aware of your rights to refuse entrance without proper authorization, i.e., a warrant. Learn to:

*Ask to examine any paperwork that is presented to ensure that there is a judge’s signature with a date that authorizes anyone to legally enter your home and/or detain you.

* If someone comes and knocks on your door, do not open it . Clearly and politely say to them,”I do not permit OR consent to your entrance into the premises.” That is enough to send them away or ensure they follow legal protocol. You do have rights!

*If this phrase is too difficult to speak in English, or if you forget what to say, there is still another strategy to employ. On a plain sheet of paper, write down those words, and when someone appears at your door, you can display the sign in your window. It is important to remember to tell children that they should not place this sign in the window today or tomorrow. Put it on your refrigerator and at such time that someone visits your home, then you display the sign.

* Talk to your children and open up the lines of communication by conveying a message that enables them to feel safe, supported and with sincere honesty, helps them to openly discuss and explore their emotions, express their thoughts, ask questions and understand how this may affect their lives.

* Arm your children with the tools to protect themselves when away from home. Help them to manage any fear or anxiety by knowing what to do if approached by an ‘official’. Schools are not required to collect information regarding immigration status of students and families. In most states, this information is not considered as a determinant of enrollment decisions. Children can and should continue to attend school. Education is a valuable possession, and English proficiency is valuable to the entire family.

* There are scammers- citizens who may tell you that they are immigration officials, but they are not associated with the agency, nor do they have legal authorization to confront you or your family regarding immigration status. Ask to see badges and shields, not just rely on the authenticity of a jacket displaying agency letters. Valid agency ID should have a picture on it, as well. It must match the person[s] standing before you.

* If possible, visit an immigration attorney, offering bilingual services, for individuals with limited English proficiency. Seek an agency that offers free to low cost legal consultative services to outline all available options regarding citizenship status and to provide pertinent information that may find you eligible of pursuing a non-traditional or little-known pathway to citizenship for immigrants who lack appropriate documentation.

We can all help families become proactively instrumental in determination of the fate of their individual and collective citizenship before any situation arises. We can act as part of the solution rather than standing by, shaking our heads in disagreement with policy mandates. Individuals, organizations, schools, churches can help ease the anxiety for immigrant families and work towards preventing our country from indiscriminately rejecting or deporting good people. We are all humans no matter the country, race or religion from which we are identified.

This list is not exhaustive of all concerns, but it will give families a starting place to turn abstract fear and anxiety into concrete, actionable planning. Families are scared, and their children are likely to feel both scared and confused. Some children even feel ashamed, are being bullied and harassed at school and that is not fair. We are living in a nation founded by ‘illegal’ immigrants who, at one time, believed that keeping human beings in bondage was legally and morally just, and yet welcomed citizenship to all people seeking a better life, and promises of achieving the “American Dream”. They could not have been more wrong then than we are today. So, keep the faith that we adopt a more specific, reasonable and fair policy that is more productive and positive than it is discriminatory and disruptive.

Finally, no matter the outcome, tell children to never give up their dreams, stay positive and hopeful, and never believe that any of this political mess is their fault. It belongs in the hands of political ideologues who are fearful of being outnumbered, outperformed, and are fearful of the political power and influence built upon a collective coalition of black and brown people who demand equal justice, academic and economic opportunity and equal access to the democratic process in America.

Address the fears, and remember that, as long as immigrants, with or without documentation, are in this country, they still have rights, too. Help arm families with the knowledge and awareness of their power to invoke their rights, and collaborate in unison to support the repeal of this absurd policy of the United States of America. Besides, this new policy should apply to those attempting to enter the country, and there should be a well-designed mechanism to ensure there is a legal pathway for everyone who wishes to become a U.S. citizen, especially families with young children. We shouldn’t be afraid of difference or diversity! This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, right?



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