Letters to the Editor: All must protect migrants’ rights
“About 12 years ago, I made a house call — really a farm call— on the newborn twins of the wife of an undocumented Mexican farmworker. I’d cared for them in our community hospital and connected them with public health nursing and breast-feeding assistance. This family also had an 8-year-old boy in the local school, who was performing beautifully and beloved by all. His father was a pious, hardworking laborer on the dairy farm. Had he been documented, he would be a “model citizen.”
But then INS agents — the Immigration and Naturalization Service — predecessors of ICE — swept up the father in a raid; he was to be deported. The whole family would leave with him — even the twins, who were U.S. citizens.
I called Gov. Douglas, pleading with him to intervene. He came to my office in Middlebury and met with us — the mother and her 8-year-old son, the farmer, and a migrant justice volunteer. The boy was drawing something with crayons. Gov. Douglas acknowledged that these good workers are essential for the health of Vermont’s dairy farms, but immigration was a federal mandate. His hands were tied; there was nothing he could do. He was very sorry.
As he was leaving, Gov. Douglas asked the boy what he was drawing, and the boy held up a drawing of the Statue of Liberty. My chest ached and I could barely restrain my tears.” — Jack Mayer, MD
Jews the world over have just concluded the Jewish holiday of Passover, commemorating the biblical story of their escape from slavery in Egypt. We hold “seders,” or ritual meals, retelling this story of the Exodus, with motifs — matzah as the bread of affliction, salt water as the tears of oppression, bitter herbs as the harshness of slavery — that continue to hold relevance for us all. Our seders often include non-Jews; together we recognize our shared experience, across many nationalities, cultures and ethnicities, of being the stranger, the immigrant, the refugee, the “other.” We shine a light on the continued oppression of so many, in this country and around the world, and we recommit ourselves to fighting for freedom for everyone.
In this spirit we — a pediatrician and a lawyer — submit this letter, to shine a light on the newly precarious circumstances of a hidden, but essential, segment of our Vermont community — Mexican migrant farmworkers.
An estimated 1,000 to 2,000 undocumented farmworkers keep our Vermont farms productive. And yet their status as undocumented migrants now presents an even greater threat than it did 12 years ago. As ICE agents increasingly seek to arrest Mexican migrant workers, too often they — and their Vermont farm-owner employers, and we, their neighbors — do not understand their legal rights or know how to help.
So, with permission, we have reprinted the English and Spanish versions of the ACLU’s “Know Your Rights” pamphlet. Please, download a copy at http://tinyurl.com/hejr7bo. Or cut out the reprints, make copies, and share them with everyone you know. Dairy farmers, share them with your Mexican workers. Be an ally. Shine your light on freedom.
–Jack Mayer, MD and Emily Joselson, JD, Middlebury
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