Messages and Collateral Damage

Photo credit: Reform Immigration for America

Five months ago tomorrow (I know, who else remembers where they were?), the U.S. Senate proved themselves real Grinches, as they defeated, by a five-vote margin, the DREAM Act, which had passed the U.S. House the week before.

And, in the intervening months, as we struggle for any traction around immigrant rights in the midst of an increasingly hostile climate, I find myself mourning most, not for the students whose dreams were so coldly turned back, but for their parents. And that has me thinking about messaging, and how we sometimes don’t do ourselves any favors, and also about parenting, and about how powerless we are, as parents, to protect our kids from the cruelty of the world.

Around the same time that DREAM was defeated, I sat in a conference room in our local school district and heard an administrator actually say that “parents in our district expect more for their children than those elsewhere.”

I know. Disgusting.

Because I know a lot of immigrant parents who expected so much for their children that they WALKED ACROSS THE DESERT to give them a chance at a better life. Or RODE IN THE TRUNK OF A CAR for eight hours.

If that’s not complete dedication to the well-being of one’s kids, well, you can imagine how I reacted to that bigoted statement.

But even some of our greatest DREAM Act allies: immigrant rights organizations, champion Senators, and members of the Administration, have unfairly villified immigrant parents over the past several months, in an effort to win sympathy for DREAM-eligible youth. You’ve heard the claims, I’m sure: “children shouldn’t have to pay for the sins of their parents”.

As if wanting more for your children, and being willing to risk your own life to get it, is a sin.

And, so, as I’ve thought about what could have been, and what should have been, if the DREAM Act had won the support of just FIVE more Senators, I’ve thought about how those parents must feel.

They’ve watched their children become all they had ever hoped and more: bright, accomplished, committed, brave, articulate, ambitious. And they’ve watched powerful people in their adopted country deny their children the most basic opportunities to build on those assets in pursuit of a better future. And then they’ve watched those who are supposed to be their friends throw them under the bus, in a desperate attempt to win what should by rights be theirs in the first place.

And they can’t do anything to stem the tears or salve the disappointments.

I’ve said it before, but I’m more convinced than ever: we need messages that work for the long-term, and across multiple issues. We can’t sacrifice principles for expediency. Because we often lose anyway, and, along the way, we’ve hurt people who are hurting enough already.

Moms and Dads, I talk with your kids a lot. And, without fail, they credit you for who and where they are today. You instilled these values in them, and you inspire them every day.

They know that they’re not atoning for your crimes; they’re living up to your legacy.

Muy bien hecho, mamás y papás. Muy bien hecho.

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