This is a mistake, a really big mistake. I should keep my mouth shut.
I'm already pilloried in some quarters for advocating for the students of Cross Keys High School attendance area. A well understood secret is that some of the resentment coming my way is due to the fact that a percentage of these young people are either illegal immigrants, a.k.a. undocumented students, or have family members who are in this category.
The "immigration issue" has been heating to a boil for many years. It is boiling over now partly due to the economy slowing down, partly due to a spurt in xenophobia, and partly due to the very large population growth among undocumented immigrants (do you prefer "illegal aliens?" ... that's ok.) in our midst. I also believe it also is boiling over at this time because we are seeing 2nd and 3rd generation illegals and a minority group feeling empowered by the 2010 Census results.
Don't misunderstand me, I do think we have a really big problem on our hands with our borders and immigration policies. However, I don't think there are any easy solutions and I think too many want to ignore the real complications. Our current, ridiculous state is the result of decades of neglect by our leaders and the full weight of the serious issues involved is now bearing down on the shoulders our children.
In this writing, I'm narrowly addressing the issue of public education as it relates to these realities. The more large and ugly debate about immigration reform and illegals in our society is for another forum.
These are kids who are 100% American in their upbringing, interests, education, tastes, and dreams but who are also here undocumented, ok ... illegally. They have the same expectations and hopes as their more papered peers at our public schools. One thing they do have in perhaps greater measure than their peers is pride and courage.
I see this every day in the young people I have the privilege of meeting at Cross Keys, Sequoyah, and the five elementary schools feeding into them. In the elementary schools, I see in the young faces the same things I see in all children in our community - silliness, wonder, energy, excitement, hope, and sometimes sadness. Their older siblings at the middle and high school navigate through the same troubling and exhilarating processes of adolescence as every other kid in this most-blessed country.
But I have noticed a change in the older ones over the past two years or so. They are more discouraged, more despairing, and troubled about their future and the future for their younger brothers and sisters. Things that they may have taken for granted or glazed over at the ages of five, or eight, or twelve are now staring them square in the face - how will you complete your education? If you leave the country for education, will you be separated from your sisters forever and miss their quinceañera, their first date, or kiss or car?
Many of the undocumented students are Mexican by cultural heritage but make no mistake - this issue is not limited to our amigos hailing from Mexico, Central America and South America. We have families from every continent on the globe making their way into the USA without papers. So what do we do with their children? Year after year, and now generation after generation, our public schools have encouraged them to educate themselves and chase their own piece of the American Dream.
The have spent their entire lives elevating their minds and aspirations through education only to discover that they are no longer welcome in much of our country and now in Georgia unwelcome in many of our schools. Closing off avenues to public universities has slammed the door shut on many of these young people who want to finish their education in Georgia and become productive members of the community.
And then today, I saw this video. A group of graduates staged a protest on April 5th at Georgia State University by blocking the road. Seven of them were arrested. The first one arrested appeared to be wearing the bright yellow cap of a Cross Keys graduate. Her name, ironically, is Georgina. These types of demonstrations are increasing in frequency and in volume all over the country. My reaction was, "How tragic and how beautiful!"
These young people are disrupting traffic to demand access to higher education! What the hell? I wish all of our young people had this level of dedication to educating themselves or the courage and passion to fight for their siblings and their futures, too.
But then again, perhaps I'm just making a really, really big mistake ...