Complicated Heroes

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The news has been discussing the case of Antonio Diaz Chacon of New Mexico. Mr. Chacon is hailed as Albuquerque’s hero for rescuing a six year old girl who was being abducted. The real twist in calling Mr. Chacon an American hero? He isn’t an American citizen. Mr. Chacon is here illegally.

While Arizona insists on increasing sanctions against those who are not here legally the rest of the country is trying to deal with this very complex issue. The extremists on both sides are the ones who are heard, but it’s those of us in the middle who are living with this issue day in and day out.

This is something I deal with frequently in my job. We have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it comes to students entering out education program, but other federal agencies are not as easy to work with. So it happens that the case of one of my former students has been in the local papers lately, and everything that is wrong with his life is as complicated as the issue of what to do with our neighbors, those who are here without paperwork giving them permission to be so.

Artemio (not his real name) came to my program as a very bright sixteen year old. He surprised us all with his curiosity and his laughter. He lived in poverty with a single mother and a large family. His father had been deported years before. Artemio came here as a child, so before anyone gets worked up about his choice to be here illegally, let’s remember a child cannot make choices. We tried to expose him to his possibilities, to all the doors we could show him that could lead to the American dream. But those doors were all closed to him. You cannot go to college if you are not here legally. You cannot receive scholarships. You cannot get a driver’s license. You cannot get a decent job. Artemio didn’t have many options available to him. And much to my disappointment-he chose the one way that was certain to lead to his downfall: drugs.

In the newspaper the Judge was conflicted about what to do with him. He was a first offender; he cooperated with police and helped them uncover the deeper problem in our community. The public defender and the prosecuting attorney spoke highly of this well spoken young man. They were recommending probation and not prison. They were recommending treatment for his issues. But none of the recommendations really mattered in the end. Artemio, at 18 years of age and with no real tools available to him to survive outside of this place where he has lived almost all of his life, is being deported. The Judge said that punishment wasn’t warranted in this case- rehabilitation was. But there cannot be any for him. I know many would say he is one more delinquent off our streets. I suppose that is how a lot of people will see him. But he is one of many of the kids I work with facing this kind of future. Some of them do not even speak Spanish any longer. And what do we do with them all? Send them back? Punish them? Refuse them any chance to be a productive, taxpaying neighbor?

 If nothing else, I hope people will realize this isn’t as simple as people want it to be. There are a lot more Artemio’s and Antonio Diaz Chacon's out there.

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