President Trump has been holding kids hostage, using thoses who benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as collateral in pursuit of his border wall and other immigration changes. But this week, the Supreme Court gave the Dreamers and their supporters an important (albeit temporary) win, declining the administration’s request for the justices to intervene prior to an appeals court.
This means the Dreamers can dream a bit beyond Trump’s March 5 deadline. And yet, it also means the uncertainty facing these adolescents becomes even more layered and lingering. Until their fate is ultimately decided, I encourage lawmakers to take advantage of this gift of time. Spend some of it with an unlikely source of empathy: yourself.
More specifically, your story. Your family’s story. How did you end up an American in the first place?
I’ll go first. My eighth great grandfather, John Olin, was arrested on the coast of Wales in 1678 and forced aboard a British man-of-war bound for Boston. A 14-year-old Welsh boy brought to this continent against his will, he would become the first Olin in a land that would ultimately become the United States of America.
Like any good origin story, ours is infused with some good old-fashioned drama and adventure. See, as soon as John landed in Boston Harbor, the boy flat-out bolted – running headlong into the wilderness and somehow making his way 70 miles south into present-day Rhode Island. There he would start a new life, marrying Susanna Spencer in 1708 and raising their children on some waterfront land in East Greenwich.
When John’s land was identified, my wife indulged my enthusiasm by accompanying me on my own little adventure to seek it out. I wanted to step onto the dirt. I was curious what I would feel.
Armed with 17th Century hand-drawn property maps overlaid atop modern day Google Maps, we navigated our way to the banks of Greenwich Cove. John’s land was pretty easy to pinpoint.
As Sarah and I crossed the property line, I felt something.
For a moment, I became my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. I felt his mix of emotions as a teenage boy on the lam, a stranger in a strange land, fearing his recapture while moving courageously into his own dream of a new life. I felt excitement in the knotty ground beneath my feet. I felt gratitude in the sunlight shimmering off the seawater.
And then, I felt myself transform into a Dreamer of today. I felt their anxiety, confusion and hope. From my Dreamer POV, I arrived here against my own volition, but this has become my home. My excitement for the future is tempered by my fear of deportation. I’m a pawn in a polarized political game.
My fellow Americans: unless we are Native American, our roots come from somewhere other than here. The circumstances of our ancestors’ arrivals vary widely – some legal, some illegal, some moral, some immoral. And now, here we are, each of us an ingredient in this hot mess of a melting pot. It is, indeed, home.
If you haven’t traced your family roots and learned the story of how you got to the here-and-now, please do. It should be required homework for presidents and politicians looking to trade innocent children for closed borders.
Slip into the skin of your ancestors and feel what they felt. For some, it’ll be an exercise in empathy – and we owe an abundance of that to our Dreamers.