Friends Like Maria; The Fight for Basic Human Rights

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BY SARA GUTIERREZ

 

I knew a girl in high school and we will call her Maria. I met her in my freshman year English class. She was shy but incredibly intelligent. I remember asking her for help with certain assignments because I loved the way she would articulate her thoughts in her papers. I had always striven to be as confident and well-spoken as she was. She was also beautiful. She had olive skin and thick black hair that was always pulled back in a loose braid. Our day-to-day interactions in English class gradually grew into an effortless friendship. For the next three years of high school, we would motivate one another not only as classmates, but also as young women. We would support one another in our different interest and passions. She was a national Hispanic scholar who wanted to get into Northwestern, and I was an actress who wanted to get out of Texas.  Many people would say that Maria and I were very similar. Both driven, both passionate, and above all, we both had dreams. But there was one thing that divided us. And that was a social security number.

    Maria was always very private about her home life. I learned to never really ask questions about her family, because most of the time she wouldn’t answer them. The only information she shared with me was that she lived with her mother in a neighborhood down the street from my high school, and worked two jobs. One at Forever 21 and another as a tutor at the middle school a block away. I never questioned why Maria was so private about her personal life, even though all I ever did was complain about mine. I just assumed that it was her shyness that led to her lack of communication. But little did I know, it was so much more than that.

            Maria found out that she was an undocumented citizen while she was applying for college. She asked her mother for her social security number, and learned that she didn’t have one. Her mother began to tell her that she came to the United States when she was six months old, and that her father was detained in the process of crossing the border. She never knew anything about her father, let alone that she wasn’t born in the country she grew up in.  All I could do was listen and motivate her to keep going. Maria got into Northwestern with the help of the DREAM Act. This act gave undocumented students the opportunity to remain in the United States, and to pursue an education.  She thrived her first two years in college and continued to speak on behalf of the thousands of undocumented students who dream of receiving a degree and a chance at life.

     Last year, Maria’s mother was deported back to Mexico when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) showed up at her mother’s full time job. And on September 5th, 2017 the Trump administration rescinded the DREAM Act; therefore future generations of undocumented dreamers would not be given the opportunity to better themselves and further their education. My friend Maria is being torn from her family, and torn from this country. And now, thousands of children, some as young as four months old are being physically torn away from their families and being thrown in what government officials are calling “Tender Age Shelters.” Trump’s “zero- tolerance policy” has created an inhumane divide that leads to life -long trauma for children of all ages who are being held in these prison -like warehouses in South Texas. According to the Department of Homeland Security, over 2,000 immigrant children were separated from their parents within a six-week period during April and May. These numbers will keep growing. So what can we do?

            I often find myself awake at night due to anxiety and fear. I feel helpless, sad and unsure of what steps to take in order to create change during these terrible times. But then I think of my friend Maria, and the many other undocumented friends I’ve met over the years. If they aren’t giving up, I know that there is no reason why I should stop fighting too. For those of us who grew up with home cooked meals, family vacations, and 8 A.M. classes, we owe it to the thousands of individuals just like us who are struggling to keep hold of their basic human rights and a chance to live a happy life. Everybody has dreams, and everybody deserves the chance to make them a reality. Call your senators, and take the steps to change the evil that surrounds us every day. We owe it to ourselves, to our country, and friends like Maria.

            Although as of earlier this evening, Trump has agreed to end family separation, thousands of children are still living in these inhumane conditions, and the fight is still not over. Use your voice.

 

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SB3036 “KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER ACT”