Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door. ~Emma Lazarus
The greatest nations are defined by how they treat their weakest inhabitants. ~Jorge Ramos
Remember high school?
It was probably a drag. (It’s always a drag.) You probably studied, and probably had a part-time job, and probably remember various social mistakes you made that still make you cringe.
For most of us, high school was just that. High school. A place to learn about trigonometry while learning about human nature. It’s a mosh pit of emotion, really.
That’s not the high school experience that undocumented minors get to have.
Consider Gaspar Mendoza, whose story was documented by the L.A. Times and has been viewed millions of times. (Trust me, it’s worth watching the full 8 minute video.) As an 18 year old sophomore, Gaspar attends high school full-time… and then goes to his full-time job washing dishes. At 2:00am he clocks out, gets some food, and goes “home” to room that he rents from a family. He gets three hours of sleep, if any at all.
The video is dramatic, inspiring and heart-wrenching.
But it leaves out a lot of Gaspar’s backstory. He’s an orphan. His parents died when he was just 5 years old. He was taken in by a neighbor, then kicked out at age 12. He shined shoes to earn enough to pay for his own tuition to the private school in town, where he learned to read, and write, and speak Spanish.
Work dried up in his little town. This young family-less boy who had never been to even a mid-sized city then took a chance and paid a coyote to get him across the border to a half-brother he’d never met in L.A. Then he was kidnapped; he had to negotiate down his own ransom. Then he was caught by border patrol. He had to appear in court. He now has a $10k smuggling debt to pay off on a dishwasher’s salary.
This kid has literally never gotten a break in his young life.
Meanwhile, his teachers encourage him – and beyond seeing his motivation, they think he’s very smart (he’s now trilingual, having first learned to speak an indigenous language called Chuj, then Spanish at the private school he paid for as a shoe-shine boy, and now English, which he learned in less than a year).
And this young man, who has literally every reason to throw in the towel, carries on – saying to his friends “We can’t fall back. This is the life that we were dealt. We have to overcome it, by any means possible.”
Were we all so resilient.
After the L.A. Times piece was published, a GoFundMe page was started in his name that’s now up to about $60k. Moved by the support he’d received from so many people he’d never met, he promised to give half of the GoFundMe proceeds to other undocumented minors.
There’s no question about it – Gaspar is an inspiring person.
But here’s the thing. He’s not the only undocumented minor who’s living the life that he’s living.
In his high school, nearly one in four students is an immigrant from Central America, and most came without their parents. Administrators created a makeshift food bank at the school to help the most hungry. Gaspar won’t eat from it, because he considers others to be needier than himself. His classmates leave a full day of school to go to a fully night of work sewing clothes, cooking food, painting houses – doing anything and everything they can to earn enough to get by while they take care of themselves, and each other.
They’re not looking for handouts. In fact, they’re working harder than most of us ever have – and they’re just teenagers.
The Statue of Liberty has a famous poem emblazoned on its side. We often hear about the tired huddled masses, yearning to be free. But the part that’s often left out is, I think, the most important: Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
There’s a golden door that lady liberty has always left open for these tempest-tossed children.
Right now there are a lot of people who want to close that door.
It’s up to us to make sure it stays open.
Let’s get to work.
Tuesday: Ask Your Legislators What They’re Doing to Stop The Trump Policy of Separating Families at the Border
We’ve discussed the new Trump policy of separating families at the border previously. It’s terrifying to think of. Ripping children away from their parents is horrific and inhumane. It’s contrary to who we are as a country, and who we should all strive to be as people. Frankly, refusing to speak out against it is not an option.
But do take a moment to separate this issue from the one that we discussed with Gaspar, above. Gaspar is an undocumented minor – he arrived in the United States without parents. His situation is tragic, but the administration did nothing to take him away from family. In past weeks, we’ve also discussed the horrifying reality that the administration has lost track of many kids in Gaspar’s situation. (Some note that the administration losing track of kids like Gaspar is not a bad thing – it’s better for some of those kids if ICE can’t find them.)
In contrast, the Trump policy is a tragedy of the administration’s own creation. Their policy has border patrol physically pulling two-year-olds from their mothers’ arms, and then not notifying those parents about where their child is for weeks, if not months. It’s unprecedented, and terrifying, and disgusting, and we need to speak out about it.
So please, go pick up your phone. (I’ll wait here.)
Okay, got it? Great! Let’s call your Senators.
Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m calling from ___. I’m horrified by the current administration’s new policy to separate kids from their parents at the border. (If the staffer says that this policy is only for children whose parents are trying to enter the boarder illegally, you can answer unequivocally that the policy has been implemented to separate a woman from her child even though she appeared at a proper checkpoint seeking asylum). This is not who we are as a country. What is the Senator doing to combat this policy?
Wednesday: Fund Organizations That Protect Kids Who Have Been Separated From Their Families
Act Blue has created a funding “Justice League” of sorts – a grouping of organizations, all of whom are committed to protecting kids separated at the border from their families. The groups are: the ACLU, Human Rights First, La Union Del Pueblo Entero, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, Kids in Need of Defense, We Belong Together, United We Dream Action, and the Women’s Refugee Commission.
When you contribute to the fund, your donation is allocated equally among all the groups, unless you choose otherwise. So check it out!
Thursday: Contact Your Local Refugee/Immigration Center to See How You Can Help Locally
There are organizations in every corner of the country working to protect immigrant communities and ensure they’re fully aware of their rights. But it’s often hard to find them – and to find one that’s near you.
Luckily, there are resources to help! Head over to the Informed Immigrant, where you can search for organizations in your own area that are helping immigrants and refugees.
Friday: Participate in the National Day of Action for Children
On Friday, members of the Action Network will be participating in a National Day of Action for children, specifically advocating against this family separation policy. If you’re on the east coast, there may be an event near you, so you should check their page here. If you would like to host an event, you can register your event on their page as well.
You can also sign the ACLU’s petition advocating against the family separation policy here.
But beyond that – even if you can’t attend an event, and you don’t like signing petitions, think of Friday as your day to speak out about this horrific policy in your own community. We’ve all got a platform – we’ve got friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. Protecting children is an easy ask. So let’s make sure we ask it of all our friends.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.
If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.
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