Why I Am Not Silent on Immigration

Juan’s mom shows up, make-up smeared, holding his younger brother. My Spanish isn’t great, but I can understand the message. We’re going to Mexico. And if they don’t want us there, it’s back to El Salvador. His dad works construction while his son constructs sentences and equations and whatever else it takes to build a dream.

Juan is a gifted mathematician. (Would it make it any less tragic if he couldn’t do long division?) And today, he is running into his first inequality that he cannot solve.

As his class walks to P.E., I deliver the news and watch him crumple up like an old paper bag. He weeps. Big tears. Huge convulsions. And I wrap my arm around his hoodie, in an awkward camp counselor side hug. I’m weeping, too. It has been only eight months, but I care about this boy. 

It doesn’t matter that he calls this place home after living here for two years. It doesn’t matter that he has learned English and speaks it better than many native-born speakers. It doesn’t matter that he is working harder than I ever worked in a land that was taken from his people by conquest. It doesn’t matter that he is an amazing math student who is learning English at a breakneck pace, because his village was hit-up by drug violence fueled by a deeply American demand for narcotics.

He is, in the public’s eye, an “illegal.” And this is why I cannot treat immigration in a theoretical way. This is why I cannot treat it as if it is merely a political issue. This is why I refuse to stay quiet about this issue, as tabboo as it may be in our state. 

 I am convinced we have lost touch of the deeply human need for survival that drives a family to uproot their lives in a search for esperanza.

And this is why I will never be neutral on the issue of immigration. Because, ultimately, I believe in hope. I believe in my students. I believe that they are the future of our nation. We lost someone special when we deported Juan. 


John Spencer

John Spencer

Phoenix, Arizona

In my sophomore year of college, I began tutoring a fifth-grader in a Title One, inner city Phoenix school. What began as a weekly endeavor of teaching fractions and editing essays grew into an awareness of the power of education to transform lives. My involvement in a non-profit propelled a passion for learning as an act of empowerment.

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