When I came into the clinic yesterday morning, Manuel was looking at his phone. That is not what he would normally be doing. He’s a great employee – when I see him first thing in the morning, he’s invariably getting patients ready with a joyful spirit that never leaves him.
“How are you today?”
He looked up with hesitation and anxiety. “Today is the day.”
He was referring to President Trump’s announcement about his decision to rescind the Obama-era DACA program – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Manuel came to America from Mexico when he was four years old. He has no memories of Mexico. America has always been his home. He loves this country. He speaks Spanish as a second language. He is now 24, married, well-educated and well-trained. He is a great employee, and in a few weeks, his work visa under DACA expires.
I have done everything I know how to do to make it possible for him to keep working with us. There is nothing we can do legally. It breaks my heart.
Later in the afternoon, he came to see me with tears in his eyes. He was not crying for himself but for his parents. “They risked everything to bring me here.” I felt the tears myself. “Now my mother has said to me, ‘I don’t think I can take it anymore. We will go back to Mexico.’”
“Dr. Morris, I don’t want to be here alone without my family.”
It was then that I realized for the first time that it’s not just about the Dreamers. It’s also about those who came here to create the dream. They crossed a desert at night for the sole purpose of giving their children a better opportunity at life. They pursued the American Dream.
Since coming to Memphis 20 years ago, Manuel’s mother has been a housekeeper. As he grew up, he knew he was illegal. He felt the ominous possibility of something happening every day. Then in 2012, DACA was born and he felt hope. He got a driver’s license and did everything he was supposed to do. He became a medical assistant and came to work with Church Health.
He is now one of us. One of our children.
I have never met his mother, but I want to reach out to her and hold her and comfort her, but I am not sure what I would say. I too feel powerless. I just refuse to believe that America would do this to people we have come to love. I too love our country.
I tried to reassure Manuel by saying, “For now it is mostly words. You are still here. No one is sending your parents back to Mexico. Make sure your mother knows that we love you and will stand by you.”
But I know there are forces beyond me at play. I understand the need for rational immigration laws. But Manuel is an American, maybe not by birth but by everything else that matters. Today, I don’t worry so much about him, but I am so sad for his mother and his father. Words do indeed hurt. I don’t want her to feel she must return to Mexico. Memphis has been her home for 20 years, and her son is a part of our ministry, a ministry that cares for those who are most overlooked. I pray that she will feel the love of God in the midst of this pain.
I asked Manuel to assure his mother that I and the people he works with love him and his family. He seemed relieved. We embraced and he went back to work.
Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes via Flickr