Like Massachusetts’ immigrant community, the students in this classroom at KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate High School are a mosaic of cultures, races, and religions. Caribbean. African. Arab. Central American. South American. They are Muslim and Christian. Some have relatives in the country illegally. Others say their parents or aunts and uncles struggled, waiting years – sometimes decades – to gain legal residency and/or citizenship.
At a time when the country’s immigration policies are being fiercely debated in an ever-changing and vitriolic atmosphere, they say they don’t want pity or handouts, only the opportunity to honor their families’ sacrifices. Many at the school traveled to the State House Thursday to urge legislators and the governor to bar police from inquiring about immigration status, ensure basic due process for immigrants, and forbid collaboration between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
The Children’s March, sponsored by the Essex County Community Organization and other community and immigrant rights groups, drew several hundred protesters from throughout the region.
Here is a taste of what the high school students in Lynn have to say, edited for clarity and space.
My family is immigrants who all came from the Dominican Republic. My grandfather brought my mother here at 17. She literally came to this country to start working.
It took her, like, 10 years to finally get her citizenship, and that’s when she was able to have me. She didn’t want to have children until she was able to get her citizenship for fear that she would be going through labor, and they’re like, ‘All right. You’re done. Time to go back.’
You get here from a different country, and you’re expecting to get citizenship, I’m not going to say immediately, but it shouldn’t take that long.
It’s our job, since we have our critical consciousness glasses on, to teach those who are still learning. It’s our job to open their eyes, so we can all make a change.
God forbid my parents have to leave and return to Colombia. Personally, I know I can take care of myself. I can figure stuff out.
My fear is my little sisters, who are 4 and 6, coming home and worrying if mommy’s there or not.
But the topic hasn’t really come up because we don’t really like talking about it.
My whole family is immigrants. They all came from Haiti. To see something that I’m connected to be mistreated, just makes me angry.
I see how it affects them every day. It grips them. It’s always in the back of their minds.
They can never be, like, too comfortable. They’re always very cautious of being in photos, of being on social media. Friends of my family fear ICE just bursting through their door.
If I had that kind of fear in me, I wouldn’t be sleeping. I wouldn’t be comfortable in life.
My dad said that was such a long process for him to come to America, and he was happy to do it legally from Jordan. But why is it so difficult to let people in? Why is there so much propaganda against immigrants in the United States? It gets me so mad.
But my mom always tells me to think about what I do and don’t have.
When I grow up, I have the opportunity to be a biochemist, which is what I want to become. But in other countries, like those affected by the travel ban for instance, people are denied that opportunity. You have kids whose dream isn’t coming true. Kids who are being put into labor to support themselves.
Still, growing up as a Muslim, I sort of found out the hard way that America isn’t always as welcoming or isn’t always the happy place that people say it is.
When people are being arrested and are then in police custody, they aren’t aware that they can say that they don’t want to talk to ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
That’s not part of the Miranda Rights. They should tell them that it’s possible to deny an interview with ICE.
Knowledge is power and that makes us free.
Currently, my mom is asking for my dad to come over here. He’s in the Dominican Republic right now.
My mom works as a bus driver, but she doesn’t drive a yellow bus. She drives one of the white vans, so she gets paid less than a regular bus driver.
His family, they don’t really help him, so she practically has to pay for the whole thing with her salary. And not only that, she has to take care of me and my brother.
I have a lot of family that has been trying to get their citizenship. My uncle, he just recently got here from DR, and they started that process 10 years ago. My aunt, it took, like, 20-something years to get her citizenship.
It was because she had to know English, and she never really studied it in DR.
Since she was older, it was much harder for her to learn English and pass the exam. When you’re a kid, it’s fresh on your brain.
If I had the opportunity to speak to the governor or something, I would ask them if they had kids? If they do, would do something that might not be helpful for [themselves] but helpful for their children?
Obviously, they would say yes if they were in the right frame of mind.
That’s what these immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are doing. They’re leaving their homes behind just to come to this country, where they thought it was going to be better than back home, [but are] seen as and treated as criminals.
Like me, for example, I used to live in the Dominican Republic. I came legally, but there are some parents that can’t do it legally.
They should have more rights instead of being seen as criminals for trying to give their children a better future.