Over a month ago, the receptionist called up to my office. “Hey, I have a walk-in application for sponsorship custody down here,” she said. “Can you take that or are you busy?”
“Nah,” I said, getting up from my desk to walk downstairs. “I’ll take them.”
In the lobby, there were several people, including two teenage boys, a couple young mothers with children, and a group of older women. I noticed a nervous man clutching a folder of papers. I walked up to him and held out my hand. “Hola, me llamo Ann y soy la asistente del programa de jóvenes aquí a La Esperanza,” I said, introducing myself. “En cómo puedo ayudarle?” How can I help you?
He shook my hand and held out the packet of papers. “Necesito ayuda en llenar estos formularios,” he explained. I need help filling out these forms. “Son para mi hija.” They’re for my daughter.
We went back to my office and I looked over the packet of papers. It was a typical application for sponsorship of a minor from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, for his daughter. I had done these a thousand times.
“Puedo ver su identificación?” I asked. Can I see your identification? He pulled a work permit card out of his wallet and handed it to me. I copied down his name, address, and other information while he explained the situation. His 13-year-old daughter had recently lost her mother in an accident had and decided to come to the United States to be with her father. She crossed the border in Arizona and, like many unaccompanied minors, had been picked up by Border Patrol and been taken to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The ORR, as it is known, works to help refugees in the United States. In March 2003, the government passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Section 462, which created the Unaccompanied Alien Children program, transferring the responsibilities of these children from the Department of Homeland Security (specifically Border Control) to the ORR. Once a minor has been transferred to the ORR, the child receives a physical evaluation, medical tests to determine illness or disorders, and a caseworker, who begins to contact any family or friends that the child may have in the United States. Once they have contacted someone who is willing to sponsor that child, the caseworker sends them a packet of forms to complete, which includes detailed information about everyone living in the house, financial information, and consent to a background check. These forms, while usually in the sponsor’s native language, can be intimidating to those who have not had to deal with such forms before. In addition to this, many of our clients, who are from rural Guatemala, speak Spanish as a second language. Their first language, Mam, is a Mayan dialect spoken primarily in Guatemala. They learn Spanish through school, but are all at varying education levels.
For this reason, the man in front of me had sought help at the Latino community outreach center at which I work. He explained that though he was functionally fluent in Spanish, he couldn’t read it very well, and thought it would be better to seek help in completing the form. I nodded. I filled in the information needed, and showed him where to sign. I notarized several pages, organized the paperwork, and handed it back. Was that everything? I asked.
“Sí,” he responded, looking extremely relieved. He informed me he would send these papers to the caseworker straight away. He thanked me, shaking my hand. “Muchísimas gracias, muy amable. Que Dios le bendiga, que tenga buen día.” I smiled. I always loved the stream of compliments and blessings I received from my clients as goodbyes. They were always so sincere and genuine.
The current president of the United States went off on another one of his unhinged rants. “We have people coming into the country…a lot of them,” he said during a White House meeting. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, they’re animals.”
At this point in the presidency, we should no longer be shocked. We should no longer be asking “How can he say this?” or “How can he get away with this?” The answer doesn’t matter how. It only matter that he does say this, he can get away with this, and he will continue to do so because nothing and no one fazes him. I know all these things, I know that he has, does, and will continue to say awful things about innocent people and I should no longer be fazed. But something about this one hit me. He well and truly has no idea what he’s talking about. We knew this. We know this. But it was so fundamentally clear with that statement.
He doesn’t know those coming over. I doubt he’s ever talked to anyone in that situation. He doesn’t know the stories, the emotions, the friends and families of those who come, seeking a better life in the so-called “land of the free.” He doesn’t know the struggles, the fears, the desperation and joy immigrants face, the full and prosperous lives they lead. But I do. I have heard their stories, I have seen their emotions, I have met their families and friends. I have helped with the struggles, listened to the fears, been aware of the desperation and have had the honor of partaking in the joy. My beliefs are not colored by my parent’s liberal leanings or the democratic influence of the place in which I grew up, nor the “fake news” or the beliefs of my friends. They are grown from the people I have met, I have helped, and who in turn have helped me.
I won’t stand in front of you and pretend that everyone crossing the border is like the people I know and admire. Yes, there are drugs crossing the border. Yes, there is gang violence. But even so, who is Donald J. Trump to deny even criminals their humanity? Who are any of us to dictate that because some people were born on the other side of an imaginary line in the desert, these people do not deserve the same resources, opportunities, dreams that United States citizens take for granted every day? And how, how on earth, can anyone, even someone as willfully ignorant as our current president, group individuals, minors, families coming over the border, pursuing a better life, together with those who seek to bring drugs and violence?
Last week, the receptionist called up again. “School registration,” she said. “Can you take them now or should I make an appointment?”
“Don’t worry, I can take them now,” I said. Since I am the youth program assistant, I take any and all clients looking for help registering their children for school. I go back down to the lobby and see a man standing with a girl, who appears to be his daughter. The man looks familiar, but I can’t exactly place him. I introduce myself and we head up to my office. I take the papers and look over them. Some are filled in, with the father’s name and name of the daughter. The daughter’s name sounds familiar as well, but I definitely haven’t seen her before.
“Le he ayudado anteriormente?” I asked. Have I helped you before? He nods, smiling, and before he can open his mouth to answer, I remember. It was the same man who had come in almost a month previously. “Me recuerdo!” I remember! I exclaimed. “Esta es su hija? Que estaba en Arizona?” This is your daughter? Who was in Arizona? He nodded excitedly. He explained that almost immediately after he had sent the caseworker the forms I had helped fill out, his sponsorship was approved and his daughter arrived here in Delaware. As per immigration regulations, she had to enroll in school. I smiled at her. “Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos!” Welcome to the United States. She smiled shyly and thanked me.
I helped them fill out the school application. I explained to them the different paperwork they needed, proof of housing, physical examination, record of vaccines, etc. I then handed the daughter a bag. This bag, I explained, was a welcome gift. It had some school supplies, information about our organization, and resources, both social and legal, she could use to get started with her new life here. She and her father both thanked me. We walked to the door and the father shook my hand again. “Muchísimas gracias, señorita. Que Dios le bendiga, que tenga buen día. Adios.”
The kids of our youth program @ La Esperanza, Georgetown, DE, USA
Written by Ann Weisgerber