There’s no such thing as ‘reasonable suspicion’ of immigrants

By Ana Christina DaSilva Iddings
July 1, 2014

Unaccompanied minors ride atop the wagon of a freight train, known as La Bestia (The Beast) in Ixtepec

My path to the United States, 20 years ago, was far less traumatic than that of the 52,000 unaccompanied children from Central America who have arrived at the southern U.S. border since October. Since many of these children don’t qualify for asylum, immigration officials move them to detention centers — after which they eventually face deportation proceedings.

Yet in my son — and in these unaccompanied migrants — I see an entire generation of children who will grow up viewing the United States as a country that discriminates against non-natives.

Our current immigration policies have an impact on all children — not just those who are undocumented or in mixed-status families. I am a green card-carrying resident alien who was born in Brazil. I’ve lived in the United States for over two decades. Yet I’m still held in airports or scrutinized by police because of anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 in Arizona, which requires authorities to detain immigrants if there’s “reasonable suspicion” that they are not living in the U.S. legally.

The last time that happened, I was catching a flight out of the Tucson airport en route to an academic conference, accompanied by my teenage son. Ironically, I was due to give a talk about how immigration reform, deportation policies, and anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070 can negatively affect the education of young immigrant children.

I arrived late at the airport and was rushing through security when a Border Patrol officer asked my fellow travelers and me whether we were citizens of the United States. After I explained that I was a resident alien, the officer asked to see my green card, which I had accidentally left at home. Although I had an Arizona driver’s license, birth certificate, marriage license and passport, the officer detained me for not carrying my green card.

She lined me up against a wall with about 20 other travelers — mostly brown-skinned people who were not carrying the required documents. She paced in front of me and yelled that I was breaking the law for not having the right documentation, and that I would suffer the consequences of my actions.

I asked the officer to use my driver’s license information to verify my legal status. She said that although she could have done so quickly, through a phone call, she wanted to make an example out of me. And so she stood there, smirking. She released me several hours later; I missed my flight and my talk.

My experience was painful, but it could have been far worse. Unlike the 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States who currently risk detention or deportation, I don’t have to worry about being separated from my family. Yet my teenage son was terrified by the way the Border Patrol agent treated me and others. He lost some of his respect for institutional authority, an unfortunate outcome for a child who is becoming a voting citizen of this country.

While my son — as a United States citizen, born to an academic — has a dramatically different life than the unaccompanied children heading to America, I’m concerned that they’re all part of a generation that will grow up resentful of the United States and its treatment of immigrants.

A migrant child chooses clothing at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church temporary migrant shelter in McAllen, TexasAs an educator in border towns across southern Arizona, I meet many children from migrant families, the majority of whom have parents or caretakers who risk deportation. Unlike their peers, these children don’t get to play outdoors, for fear of being identified by immigration officials. Instead, they hide inside. If they make any noise, Immigration Services may use it as an excuse to investigate their house; the children’s parents, grandparents or other relatives could be taken away at a moment’s notice. If their parents and other relatives are deported, the children may suffer severe emotional and psychological trauma.

Through their experiences, all of these children are developing a belief — perpetuated by our immigration policies — that they’re not welcome in America, and that the inclusiveness on which this country was founded does not apply to them.

It’s time that we, as a nation, improve our treatment of all immigrants. The world is watching how we handle the droves of Central American children arriving at the southern U.S. borders. We can’t wait for Congress to enact real immigration reform and not making any real provisions for them. We must stop U.S. Border Patrol use of excessive force. We must repeal anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070, and ensure that those who are detained or deported are treated humanely. Children, especially, should receive honorable treatment.

PHOTOS: Unaccompanied minors ride atop the wagon of a freight train, known as La Bestia (The Beast) in Ixtepec, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca June 18, 2014. USA-IMMIGRATION/MEXICO REUTERS/Jose de Jesus Cortes 

A migrant child chooses clothing at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church temporary migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas June 27, 2014.  Picture taken June 27, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

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