Sunday, May 07, 2006

This is the part of 'illegal' I understand...

We are sitting in a public school classroom, the mother, the translator and I, at an empty desk, at seven-thirty in the morning. They are here because I requested a conference about the daughter, whose English is not progressing like that of her classmates.

The mother is worried. She tells her daughter all the time that she needs to study. It's hard. She has a job, taking care of a house for some people who live three hours away. She only has Sundays off. During the week, her daughter is being taken care of by her oldest child. The older girl is nineteen, a new mother, and works as a housecleaner too--she and her mother have a small business, complete with cards. The older girl, I am told, is not so shy, and she speaks very good English. She is enrolling in classes at the community college.

She will call every night, she tells me, to remind her daughter to study. They have a family friend who has been in the country for years, and speaks excellent English--he will come and tutor her daughter if she asks. I can write him notes in English, and I can call her older daughter any time. They will help, any way they can.

My student has been telling her classmates that she wants to go back to Mexico and attend high school there. Is that an option? I ask. Maybe it would be easier to learn English in a Spanish-language school, and try again when she is older. Are there relatives she could stay with?

I know I'm treading on delicate ground here, but the mother shakes her head and explains to my translator. No, there's no way. The daughter talked to her about this, too, but it's too dangerous. Where they came from, a young girl can't walk the street safely any more. The drug dealers rule the streets. Relatives don't want to take her daughter in, they want help to get out. She sends all the money she can spare to her own mother. She cries because it isn't more.

We shake hands. She tells me I am a good teacher. I thank her for coming in. She tells me to call her oldest daughter any time.

We don't talk about the fact that she doesn't have papers, but everyone working at the school knows. There's nothing to say, really.

This is a widow in her forties.

Nothing will happen to the people who hired her if this comes to the attention of INS, only to her.

Her daughter is taking care of a baby and a younger sister, working, and trying to go to school.

The younger child, my student, may have a learning disability, but they don't diagnose those at the emergency rooms that are choked with illegal immigrants getting their hangnails checked.

You cannot apply for refugee status to prevent your daughter from being kidnapped off the street and raped in a rough neighborhood.

Immigration issues are complicated. I don't think many of the people trying to make it simple by stereotyping illegal immigrants as freeloaders have sat across a table from people like my student's mother.

1 comment:

Nephtuli said...

You cannot apply for refugee status to prevent your daughter from being kidnapped off the street and raped in a rough neighborhood.

She can apply for asylum, but I'd guess she won't have much luck getting it.