The little girl sat in a circle with her second grade classmates on the floor of the elementary school gymnasium, legs folded Indian-style. There were bright lights and cameras clicking today, following around the two glamorous ladies sitting in the folding chairs. The kids were supposed to ask them questions. The tall lady in the tea rose-colored dress called on the little girl, who spoke in the quick hush of an inquisitive child.
“Mymomsaidthat… I think that she, she says that, um, Barack Obama’s taking everybody away that doesn’t has papers.”
The tall lady, who just happens to be Barack Obama’s wife, tried to reply with something noncommittal, noncontroversial.
“Yeah, well that’s something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can–” (she barely pauses to split-second check herself) “be here, with the right kind of papers, right? That’s exac–”
“But my mom doesn’t have any papers,” the little girl says.
“Yee-ah, well, we have to work on that….”
Mrs. O said something else after that, but it wasn’t important. A second-grader in a Silver Spring, Maryland elementary school had just outed her mom as an illegal immigrant in front of the first ladies of the United States and Mexico, not to mention the continental media. There was no clear response Mrs. O could give at that moment. No politically safe word in the tongue-tied dictionary that the current administration communicates with.
The story of the little girl and Mrs. O shows how In Your Face illegal immigration is in America. And the adult’s inability to say anything viable shows how skittish those who sympathize with their plight have become.
Democrats have already decided that legislation dealing with immigration is congressionally comatose until after the November elections. And if the projections are accurate that illegal-hunting hardliner Republicans will pick up seats in the House and Senate, expect the only movement to be toward bigger fences, more arrests and a culture of suspicion and fear around all those who are brown. Even after signing an Apartheid-like I.D.-at-all-times law, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer demands that the skies over the Mexican border be filled with the kind of drones patrolling Afghanistan and Iraq.
This does not solve the problem. Neither does vague opposition to proposals from the right. Millions of people who consider America their home are to remain in the shadows long into the foreseeable future.
Let’s travel there for a moment—into the future, that is.
Imagine that the little girl never met Mrs. O and drew attention to her mother. Imagine that she just goes about her life, on to middle school, high school and upon graduation, decides to join the Army (a decision made easier when her status makes financing a college education a near-impossibility). Imagine that little girl goes through basic training, attains her citizenship and begins sponsoring her paperless mother in the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. Then imagine that little girl is sitting on her combat zone base one day when another soldier snaps and starts a shooting rampage. She dies on foreign soil. In uniform. Her body is flown into Dover Air Force Base and she is laid to rest, buried in the only hometown she ever knew.
Her mother is now bereft of a child, and more. The bureaucrats doing her paperwork see that her citizenship sponsor is deceased and begin the process of stopping her naturalization. She is to be sent “home.”
For one New Jersey family, this was not a dream, but the nightmare reality. Sgt. Christian E. Bueno-Galdos died while on his second tour in Iraq last year when a fellow soldier shot up a stress clinic. After his funeral with military honors, after his mother was handed a folded flag that she was told came on behalf of the President and Mrs. Obama, she was notified that she would be sent back to her native Peru, leaving her son’s brave body in the New Jersey ground. The country he died for would separate them once and for all.
Reports this winter were that New Jersey’s U.S. Senators would intervene on her behalf, though her current status could not be confirmed. Hopefully, her sacrifice will make her an exception of the system. But millions cannot be treated on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. Senators from Arizona might not be so helpful to such a family. Until broad legislation addresses the status of de facto American families, no one can say for sure what will happen if this little girl dies for her country.