You need to know Yanelly Garcia, not because she is one of the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers whose status in this country has been under threat since President Donald Trump announced plans to end the deferred action plan implemented by President Barack Obama.
You need to know her because, despite the heated rhetoric, she belongs here and makes the United States a little more perfect. The 31-year-old lives in the Davidson area and works at a grocery store while bravely providing a public voice to remind the country about its ideals, the kind of examples necessary to push us closer to a day of equality.
“I’m a human being,” she said when I asked what she wanted people to know about her.
That’s the crux of the immigration debate, about whether we will treat fellow human beings as human beings, whether we understand that human beings can’t be illegal, no matter if they crossed a border without authorization or overstayed a visa.
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We can spar over studies showing why immigrants – those with the proper documentation, and those without – are important contributors to the U.S. economy or might have a slight downward drag on the wages of the least educated among us, or allow politicians to scare us over an immigrant crime rate that is actually lower than that of U.S.-born residents.
We can debate about people supposedly “cutting line” in front of people trying to emigrate to the U.S. through the proper channels – without acknowledging that the “line” is a jumbled mess because we haven’t summoned the kind of political courage and clarity needed to make that massive repair.
Garcia is a human being who crossed our border with Mexico when she was a 15-year-old single-mother, a child with a child.
She’s a human being who believes Mexico is beautiful but left because the country is overrun by violence. Tens of thousands of Mexicans have disappeared during a brutal drug war.
She’s a human being who learned how to speak English and has been dedicating herself to formal education and being a good mother to her three sons, two of whom are American citizens, one of whom needs constant medical care because of three tumors on his brain.
“If I lose my [driver’s] license, who will take my son to the hospital?” she asked.
She wants to be a chef or a nurse; one of her sons wants to eventually join the U.S. Army, maybe work for Google.
That’s why she cried the night Trump decided to end the deferred action program begun under Obama to shield undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children from deportation. That’s why she would love to see the Dream Act become law or would settle for the kind of legislation Sen. Thom Tillis has proposed.
That’s why it was a shame that then-House Speaker John Boehner in 2013 refused to bring to the floor a bipartisan Senate immigration bill. It would have penalized – rather than demonize – the undocumented and increased what was already a historic security presence on the U.S.-Mexico border while allowing people like Garcia to continue contributing to the well-being of the U.S. without having to live in the shadows where they are too often prey for the unscrupulous.
“I’m a human being.” It should be obvious but too often gets lost in our rhetoric-filled debate.
She’s a human being who made the kinds of decisions any of us might have.
Let’s stop punishing her for it.