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Bringing a Human Focus to the Immigration Debate

July 22, 2010 ·

What's missed in discussing immigration reform is the impact current laws have on lives and families.

The July 15th “National Women and Children’s Advocacy Day” brought the essential human focus that is unfortunately missing from the national immigration debate that revolves around figures and dollars. When politics becomes so far removed from human interest, an environment exists that allows laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 to be created. To confront the issues discussed in Tiffany Williams’ post, “Organizing Against Arizona’s Immigration Law,” priorities on Capitol Hill and around the country need to be refocused toward an agenda of human rights.

I witnessed the power of testimony when children were brought to Capitol Hill from Arizona, as well as other parts of the country, to share their heartbreaking stories with representatives.

Two young victims of a broken system testified at an ad-hoc congressional hearing. Heidi’s story especially resonated with the crowd. When she was only 10 years old, her mother was arrested and detained by Sheriff Arpaio, poster boy for the harm caused by 287(g). Heidi was left to take care of her sister and two little brothers. Her youngest brother was only three months old and still being breastfed. She got up early to take her siblings to school and learned to cook for the family. When this poor young girl was testifying in Congress, she spoke as if she were two or three times her age because she has already been through more trauma than most see in a lifetime. When multiple teary-eyed representatives reached out to thank the children for sharing their stories of fear and heartache, the impact was obvious.

Earlier in the day, I met with two staffers who were quick to point out their representative’s main priority was security. Although they recognized the harm caused by 287(g) and agreed the federal government needed to take back control of immigration enforcement, they were hesitant to declare this publicly due to the certain anger it would provoke in their constituents.

I found the problem faced by Rep. Melissa Bean, who represents a suburban area of Illinois, particularly striking. Despite the reality (that illegal immigration is basically a nonissue in this community), anger over illegal immigration never fails to come up in town hall meetings.

How did it get to this point? The answer to that is probably a whole other blog post, if not a dissertation, but what is most important to realize is that Americans are angry at the wrong people. There should be more of an effort to make people see this.

Returning to the issue of security, the focus on borders rather than the security of the children who are the future of this nation is frighteningly problematic. Sharing children’s personal stories served the important purpose of highlighting the unconsidered consequences of these policies on the youth of our country, most of whom are United States citizens. Policymakers and law enforcement should be less concerned with tearing apart families and more concerned with what is being done to the future of our nation.

We need to make our concern for human rights clear by standing in solidarity with the people of Arizona on July 29th.