Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mom Never Came Home...

Mariela is 18 years old with dreams of becoming a nurse. She wants to help the elderly and contribute to society. She had all the hopes and dreams of most 18 year old kids. Now, her dream is in danger. At an age when kids should be planning for college and summer activities her world has been ripped apart. Suddenly, she is the primary caretaker of her young sisters who are aged 3 - 7. Her mother is gone and she says there is nothing she can do.

"God tells us to help others." She says. You wonder who will be there to help her.

Her mother went to work but didn't come back. The mom felt like she needed overtime pay to help take care of her extended family. Now, instead of receiving that paycheck mom faces an uncertain future with possible jail time and deportation.

The mother's crime? Being an illegal immigrant in the United States.

It is a double standard that the Latino community is all too familiar with. Parents are expected to provide for their families. When they don't they can go to jail. Society expects moms and dads to want better for their children than they had themselves. Parents are expected to meet the needs of medical care, feeding, clothing, sheltering and nurturing their children until at least the age of 18. If it takes two jobs, burning the candle at both ends, begging for food from food pantries or signing up for Medicaid parents are expected to do it to care for their children. And, parents are expected to do it cheerfully.

Parents who fail those expectations are given the label of bad parents. Child Protection Service workers open case files. Parents are sent to classes to learn how to parent and they are shunned by society.

Unless you are Hispanic.

In that case, you are labeled a bad parent for wanting a better life. Doors of opportunity that open for others aren't open for you. You can't get a job because you aren't legal. You can't drive a car to work because you may not be able to get a driver's license. The system is against you because you don't know the language, customs or traditions.

Still, the dream of a better life beckons and people reach for that dream daily. They pack into trucks or vans as they sneak to the US. Some swim the river and others walk through the dessert. They do it because of a promise of hope for a better life.

Some, never make it. Their nameless bodies litter dessert fields. Others, like some of our clients, are raped or beaten in the process. They make it to the US and take work that others won't. Some, like the victim of human trafficking that we helped, are brought to the US by family members. They are promised a job, shelter and the chance to become a citizen and are then misused in unspeakable ways when they arrive.

Always, everyday, they must live with being illegal. They are not treated as equals. When something goes wrong there may be little to no protection under the law.

And as Mariela found out, sometimes they go to work and never come back home.

The children of these immigrants are often US citizens who grow up to live, work and contribute to US society. Their parents wanted a better life for them than they had themselves so they took a chance and reached for the dream.

Would we do any less for our children?

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