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Immigrant Voices: Young, Ambitious, Proud of the Nation and Illegal

Israel silhoutte Gabriela silhouette

Immigration is an explosive topic in this nation. It has deep implications for the economy and the social and cultural landscape of the country. It has and will continue to have a huge impact on politics, especially for the presidential election.

We know all that, of course. Anyone who follows the news the least bit, knows that. What a lot of people don’t know too much about, however, is the impact growing anti-immigration sentiment and the passage of severe, some would say, draconian anti-immigration laws have on families, especially their children.

News outlets have told these stories before, gotten below the surface of the debates, to show the struggle of good, law-abiding, hard-working families faced with deportation and an end to a life they have know for many years.

Today, JJIE goes a step further by giving you the voices of three Georgia college students who, though they have lived in the country many years and are ambitious, stellar students, have a hint of a Georgia twang, root for the Georgia Bulldogs, or the Atlanta Falcons, are subject to deportation because they entered this country illegally, as children.

In the interviews that follow you will hear from Jessica Colotl, a recent graduate who was arrested and sent to a detention center for more than a month to await deportation. The other interviews are with two students, Israel and Gabriela, who asked that only their first names be used. They are still in college but since they are illegal, they fear arrest and deportation.

The nation needs a reasonable debate over immigration policy; that much should be clear, even to the casual observer. But it is also clear that voices such as these should be included in that discourse.

Show Me Your Papers, It’s Not Kids Play, It’s UnAmerican

Martin Castro, chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, while giving a talk recently in Lawrenceville, Ga., made a little joke. He said one in six Americans is a Latino -- he paused and then added that the other five out of six Americans soon will be related to that one. He is correct. Your neighbors and co-workers today will likely become your in-laws tomorrow. Hence, I, and lots of others folks, would argue that any political group that angers the Latino community does so at its own peril.

Castro also told a story about his 10-year-old son. The story has the power of a Biblical parable illustrating the intrinsic dangers of state laws passed to hunt down illegal Latino immigrants in states such as Georgia, Alabama and Arizona. His son just started middle school when a group of kids came up to him and demanded to know if he was a legal or illegal alien. When he refused to answer that question, they wanted to know his national origin. When he refused to answer that question, they asked him to put his arms up against the wall because they were going to frisk him. That act, Castro reminds us, “Happens to individuals every day.”

Cops and robbers has always been among the games kids play. With the expanded power of our police to check your papers, that too becomes part of the game.

The United States of America I grew up in not long after World War II, shunned any attempt at having us show our papers because our young men and women had just ended fighting and dying to rid the world of needing to carry papers. Needing to show your papers was tantamount to being subjugated to a police state that preyed on minorities and dissidents. If you are Latino in the United States today, legal or not, the possibility of a nation where first the police, then your employers, then your neighbors, then the kids in the school yard, want proof you are as American as they are, is very real -- and very dangerous because it never stops with just one group of people.

If we really want to demonstrate how American we are, let’s do so by demanding that the show-me-your papers laws in Georgia, Alabama and Arizona and everywhere else are rescinded, ripped up and thrown into the legislative trash barrel, where they belong.

Watch JJIE's interview with Martin Castro below.

Part One

Part Two