Like most literates these days I’m watching the political battle unfold over the future status of children who ended up in the United States because their parents decided to come here illegally. These kids, many of whom are now adults, are known as DREAMers, as much for their dream of being real Americans as for the failed legislation, known as the DREAM Act, that would have made their dream a reality. Dueling Executive orders and a recalcitrant Congress have left them in legal limbo, sitting on a ticking deportation bomb set to blow up their lives in less than six months. Many Americans seem indifferent to this outcome and many more seem eager for it.
As children we all had dreams. Let me tell you about one of mine.
I have almost no memories of the first couple of years of my existence, only a few fleeting images that family members helped me pin down to year two or three. What I do remember is how terribly dependent I was on my mother. My dad left us shortly after I was born, and I doubt that I have to elaborate on the emotional effects of that. I don’t doubt that some of those effects manifested themselves in this particular nocturnal excursion that appeared when I was four or five.
In this dream I am alone on a dark, empty street, watching my mother walking resolutely away from me. I could see her slender form, dimly lit by a fading streetlight, her heels clicking on the pavement. It was graphic and frightening, one of only two nightmares I can recall from my childhood (the other one involved being treed by elephants in my backyard – a subject for another post). I couldn’t understand why she would leave me, and I was terrified. My most overwhelming impulse was to follow her, wherever she was going. It wasn’t a choice, it was an imperative.
I still remember that dream clearly, 67 years later, and I can’t avoid thinking of it whenever I hear about the DREAMers and their quandary. Based on my experience as a very dependent child, I have to ask: What else could these kids do? Let mother or dad walk away? Stand alone and watch them disappear into the night?
The answer coming from far-too-large a fraction of the American public makes me wonder what sort of superhuman childhood they must have had. Were they totally independent by age four? Did they have the maturity and presence of mind to recognize and correct their parents’ legal missteps, piping up a reprimand from the back seat whenever daddy edged past the speed limit or mamma forgot to put on her seat belt? Were they all, as pre-adolescents, fluent in US immigration law? How else to explain their apparent belief that these immigrant children possessed the wherewithal to persuade their parents not to enter the United States illegally or, failing that, to say, “Fine, mom and dad, hit the road. I’ll be just fine staying right here.”
How these budding Einsteins all grew up to become so hard-headed, unempathic and ultra-susceptable to every bogus anti-immigrant bloviation on the web is beyond my ken. How wonderful to have been so precocious. And how unfortunate to have regressed so completely to the mean.
These supposed savants are focusing their ire on a group of young people who, by and large, represent exactly the type of immigrant that most countries are pining for; smart, well-educated, well-behaved, articulate (most of them probably speak better English than I do) and either primed to contribute to or already contributing to the society in which they were raised. Many have graduated college with honors in spite of the extra burdens placed on them by their status. Criminals? A much lower percentage of DREAMers has had brushes with the law (discounting ICE) than has the general populace.
Our universities and corporations go to great lengths, and considerable expense, to recruit high-quality foreign students and workers. How does it make sense to toss out the ones we have already educated and assimilated on what surely has to be the most shameful of legal technicalities? Were they remiss in not coming forward and applying for citizenship? In reality, all that action would have done is sentence them to 13-odd years in the meat grinder of this country’s capricious and incomprehensible immigration system. Almost as scary as being treed by elephants.
Anti-immigrant emotions run high and hot these days, threatening to incinerate any attempt at setting a firm, fair policy for dealing with our DREAMers. But if we let our lesser selves deny these victims the chance to stay in, and contribute to, the only country they have ever known, we deserve to have our sleep disrupted by marauding pachyderms – or worse.