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They’re Not Political Issues – They’re People!

By Stuart Adelberg

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to spend a day with a small group of young people. These children were all between ten and twelve years old. The only trait that they had in common was that they were all relatively recent arrivals to the United States. “Recent” for some meant a few months, for others it might be as long as a year.

I was a little apprehensive about the day, as I was not privy to the circumstances that brought each of these children here. I did not know anything about their immigration status or where they came from, nor did I have any inkling about the extent of their English language skills. I enjoy spending time with children regardless of their personal circumstances, but my own foreign language skills are very limited at this point, despite spending considerable time, a lifetime ago, attending school and traveling through Europe. Nevertheless, I began the day with a welcoming smile, determined to communicate as well as I could and give these children the best experience possible.

My apprehensions were all quickly proven to be unnecessary. While I still have only limited knowledge of most of their personal circumstances, these children were polite, inquisitive, eager to learn and very happy to be here. They also had far better foreign language skills, in their case meaning English, than I ever acquired in any number of languages during my time abroad.

Though the fact that they were recent arrivals was not germane to the day, I asked each of the children to identify the country of their birth. There were thirteen children, and if my memory is accurate, there was representation from Ukraine, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, and Guatemala. I ended the discussion about immigration there, though one of the girls chose to tell me that she would probably never see her former home, friends, or country again because there is too much violence. We agreed that it would be wonderful if the danger subsided, and she was able to return for a visit someday.

When I came home, I turned on the news and was confronted with a story about immigration, the situation at the US border, and our elected officials continued inability to agree on meaningful legislation. As I listened to the news, I heard words like undocumented, deportation, border patrols, detention, visas, restrictions, sanctuary cities, and fences. It is obvious that there are strong opinions and significant disagreements on all sides of the political spectrum regarding this issue. Nothing important is ever easy and I certainly don’t presume to have the answer.

I was struck, however, no doubt influenced by the way I had spent my day, by some of the most important words that were absent from many of the comments offered by the pundits and politicians. The speakers all seemed to forget that these are not political issues – they are people. While the news was rife with talk of refugees, illegals, asylum seekers, green card holders, etc., I saw a group of children that could easily have been yours or mine.

Though I won’t diminish the difficulty policy makers confront when addressing this and many other persistent challenges, it can be too easy to stake out positions without considering the real-life consequences, not on politics or public relations, but on people. It is time to use words like children, parents, husbands and wives, grandparents, families, and communities. They’re the ultimate reason we need solutions.

Stuart Adelberg has a long history of active involvement and leadership in the nonprofit human services and arts communities. He appreciates the opportunity afforded by Greenwich Sentinel to share his occasional thoughts and observations on issues of the day.

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