By Janet Dorgan

Currently, Congress is considering the issue of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. Allow me to put a human face on the dangerous, unintended consequences facing children who have been sent, or brought to, the U.S. illegally.

Twenty years ago, in Washington County, I was privileged to work with two fine 14-year-old Hispanic boys at the request of their English teacher. Names have been changed.

Jesus, a thoughtful, intelligent young man, took his studies and responsibilities seriously. Following his father’s murder in Mexico, he came to the U.S. to live with his uncle. Jesus had saved his own money to purchase the English dictionary that he carried with him everywhere.

We used the vocabulary quizzes in the Reader’s Digest to improve his knowledge of the English language. After one session, Jesus asked me how he could purchase Reader’s Digest. He didn’t want his uncle to know, because he was afraid that his uncle would insist on paying for the subscription himself. His uncle had already done so much for him. If any child could succeed in the land of opportunity, it was Jesus.

A few months later I learned that Jesus had joined a gang.

The following year I met Pedro. He was “all boy.” He and his brother had left their family behind to be smuggled across the border with a coyote. He told me how dangerous it had been for them. “A lot of bad people are coming into this country.”

The days I came to tutor Pedro, I often found him in the cafeteria where he went to cut English class and eat an early lunch. Like most boys, he was hungrier for lunch than English. I found him to be a funny, sweet, sincere boy, with an intuitive knowledge of computers that I certainly did not possess.

We were using the computer in the school library when an older Hispanic young man approached Pedro. As my student kept his head down in fear, the older student threatened him in fierce, intense Spanish. I asked the young man to let his friend finish the assignment so he could get credit for his work. His disdainful, disrespectful response was shocking. He had no fear of consequences. He was intent on coercing the younger boy to join a gang. Without protection, the 14-year-old was in danger.

A few weeks later, Pedro told me that he and his brother were returning to Mexico to help with their grandparents’ farm. He implied that, at some point, they would make another dangerous border crossing into the U.S.

Schools are unprepared to deal with gangs of any nationality. It is illegal for them to ask for documentation. Using fear and intimidation, gang members force children like Jesus and Pedro into violent and illegal activities. These gang members threaten other students into silence and submission.

I was told about a junior high girl whose family had to relocate to avoid the threats and violence visited on them by a gang of junior high girls.

After protecting a friend from a gang member, a baseball bat was swung at a student’s head while he was waiting for the school bus. When the principal asked him to help with the growing gang problem, he answered, “I can’t. I’d be killed.”

We want all children to have an opportunity to succeed. We value immigration and the contribution it has made to this country. We all know hard-working, good people who have recently immigrated here.

However, we must not allow our naivete to prevent our recognition of the inherent dangers of encouraging illegal immigration into our country. Conversations regarding amnesty have a history of opening the floodgates of illegal border crossings. We have an obligation to discourage sanctuary policies like DACA that put citizens as well as undocumented men, women and children at risk.

— Janet Dorgan lives in Redmond.

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