Did it matter to me?
As the director of a non-profit I had never intended to help with 'las papeles" as my friends in
the neighborhood call them. Living in a lower income predominantly Latino there are many things I
never thought I would become familiar with. Immigration is a case a point.
These two girls I worked with in the late 1980's got me hooked not only into the debate but the process. They were the great grandchildren of a bracero who had come in the early 1920's to help put in the railway in California. From a small rancho in Jalisco this gentleman was a single father who would also in time bring his only child a daughter along. "Lita" (not her real name) was then by all accounts a bracero as well working in fields and accompanying her father into "De Los Estados". Her children made their 'papers' off her papers and left to work in the slaughter plants of the Central Valley. But what about the children?
I came to know Lita and her family through our organization that provides educational and emotional assistance to all underserved families in our community. These services are offered without any checking of immigration status.
Raised on a farm with a father who hired his own crews to do orchard work I had a working understanding of the laws at the time. I also assumed every farmer treated their workers the way my family did. I was mistaken.
Lita brought two of her grandchildren across the border after being caught several times. She told me she prayed that they would be invisible. It worked. They walked right past the immigration officials. Reunited in Los Angeles they would eventually make their way as a family to our town and into the services we provide. But two of the children were undocumented.
The problem came when their father was swindled out of over a thousand dollars by a woman who claimed to fill out 'Family Fairness Act" paperwork. This act allowed a type of limited amnesty for those children whose parents had come to the U.S. to work and had official paperwork to work in the 'states'. A surprisingly large number of the children we worked with qualified. And as many were swindled.
So my mother and I took the girls to the Immigration and Naturalization offices in San Francisco. They brought their birth certificates, parents marriage certificate and their parents legal papers to work in the US. They were petrified. Stories had been told that you would get taken if you asked questions. But instead we met a sympathetic agent who took the time to teach us to fill out the forms. And we did. For many families. For free.
I will never forget the day one of the girls graduated from college. She had become a citizen and had big plans for her future.
I am happy to report that all of the youth we 'made' papers' for are functioning and succeeding in the U.S. But over the years I have worried and become saddened by the number of youth who have no hope to attend college and graduate. Their parents pay taxes. They are excellent students. People scream and yell and rant on social media and say "GO HOME" I ask where is home? Back to the Bracero's?
If we allow men and women to come and work in our country we must make a legal way for their children to follow. Not only follow but be given the freedom to be who they are created to be. We who see and know the truth of undocumented peoples in the U.S. must stand up and be counted and speak out minds. We know that these are children and youth who are desperate to be a part of the greatest country in the world.
DACA and the "Dreamers" are not programs. They are people who have been 'vetted' to progress toward citizenship. If it was done successfully in the 1980's it can be done today.
Is it perfect? "NO!", just as the "Family Fairness Act" and the "Bracero" program had flaws. But if we do not demand a conversation we will allow this administration and this Congress to relegate us to the back of the bus. Again.
There is a solution.
But do not throw the 'baby' out with the 'bathwater'.
And besitos to "Lita" for telling me her corrido de su vida. I love you abuela. You are truly the most
humble one of La Concia. Your truth has become my passion.
Si Se Puede!
Dr. Jolynn Di Grazia is the founder and director of Westside Ministries in Turlock, CA.