We should not forget the strangers in need

Each summer at schools across Iowa, a new batch of kindergartners heads in the front door for the first time. Not surprisingly, there are occasional tears.

Some flow from the new students who are apprehensive about what may await them inside. Some come from the parents who are emotional about this milestone in their young children’s lives.

When the 2016-2017 academic year was concluding last spring, there were more tears, this time from an unexpected source – a 23-year-old man.

The scene that occurred at Hilton Coliseum in Ames in May carries a special message that should remind us all of the significance of the decision Congress is expected to make in the coming weeks.

That decision-to-be will determine the future of nearly 790,000 “Dreamers” – the immigrant children who came to the United States with their parents or other relatives without government authorization before the kids were age 16.

President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program through executive action in August 2012. The DACA program allows those unauthorized immigrants to remain in the United States to study or work if they do not have a serious criminal conviction.

In September, the Trump administration said it would end DACA if Congress does not act within six months to formalize the program into law. If Congress declines to act by March, the government can begin sending Dreamers back to their country of origin.

Yes, the Dreamers’ relatives broke the law bringing them into the United States without permission. But should we punish those innocent Dreamers? We don’t punish kids who are riding with Mom or Dad when the parent is ticketed for speeding.

One of those Dreamers, a newly minted graduate of Iowa State University, was the source of the flowing tears during the commencement ceremonies at Hilton Coliseum.

Hugo Bolanos has lived in the United States since he arrived as a 6-year-old with an aunt and his sister in May 2000 from Michoacan, Mexico. He was reunited in Iowa with his parents, who were already living and working here.

“I remember my dad, when we first arrived here, he would always bring up, ‘Oh, you gotta appreciate what you have here in the America. You gotta appreciate every little thing, down to the food, the clothes, to just enjoy another beautify day in air-conditioning.’ ”

Bolanos added, “I think my parents made a great decision coming here because we live so much better. To me, I think we are wealthy even though we don’t have the most money.”

Seventeen years after arriving as a little boy, Hugo Bolanos was seated in a sea of graduates on the floor of Hilton Coliseum waiting to receive his degree in journalism and international studies.

But the anxiety over what Congress will do has replaced the euphoria from that day in May.

“From now until March is just kind of a waiting game, so every day I’m terrified,” Bolanos told the Iowa State Daily recently. “Every night I pray and thank God for giving me another day here, and hopefully the next day can also be in the States.”

He added: “It just hurts because you never know when your last day’s going to come. You want to show people that you’re not a bad person. You want them to understand what you’re going through, because there’s no reason for DACA to be gone. It has helped so many people, and those people have really done nothing but good for this country.”

Before DACA, there would have been no college for him, Bolanos said. His only option would have been to work as a laborer. But now, his Iowa State University degree has opened the door to possibilities he never imagined were possible.

That was what triggered the tears there in Hilton Coliseum.

“I started crying as soon as I walked up to the stage,” he told the Daily. “I realized that what I came here for was because my parents wanted a better future for me.

“I have so much going for me here in the States. I have the possibility of achieving my dreams here, and that’s why I want to stay here, just because I have so much that I can give, not only to the country but to myself and my family.”

All of that depends on what Congress and the president do in the coming weeks, however.

“Honestly, I don’t think I would be able to live in Mexico because I’ve been here 17 years of my life,” Bolanos said. “It would be extremely difficult.”

Pope Francis has some thoughts Americans need to remember.

“Often, migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution,” the pope said in 2014. “In such cases, suspicion and prejudice conflict with the biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.”


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Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and retired opinion editor at the Des Moines Register. He is a native of Bloomfield, Iowa, and now lives in Des Moines. He can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

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