They turn to us, and we turn them away.
He was just starting to appreciate figures of speech. This was advanced for an 11-year-old who had been speaking English only since first grade.
Each time he heard a clever metaphor, he would smile and let loose a joyful laugh that delighted everyone in class. That is the kind of infectiously joyful boy Brian was, the kind of student teachers love to have -- a young man with integrity and work ethic, committed to a better future for his family.
A young man with dreams.
One recent Tuesday afternoon, I was knocked over by an e-mail informing me that Brian would be deported. By Wednesday he was gone.
All too often I hear on the news that "illegal immigrants" are "destroying our country." I hear that they are "stealing American jobs" and "costing taxpayers billions of dollars." I hear that they sell drugs and cause all sorts of mayhem.
That is what I hear.
What I see is entirely different.
I see Brian, a boy who won the Model Student Award for excellence in character and academics. I see his mom holding a camera with tears streaming down her face as he received the award. I see his dad working three thankless jobs.
Nobody else I know would choose such work, but he does it with humble dignity, knowing that he is doing a father's duty and is taking care of his family as best as he can. I see a family.
What qualities does the average person prize as "American"? Hard work? Family values? Valuing education? Faith?
Is it, perhaps, still what it was for my forefathers and mothers -- the drive to make a better life? Which of these characteristics does Brian's family not exemplify?
I am called to teach kids, and part of this duty is protecting every student who walks through my door. If a student is being bullied, I can address the bully. If I find that a student is being abused at home, I can call Child Welfare.
But now I find that many of my students and families are being bullied and abused and it is the "sweet land of liberty" that is the offender, and there is nothing I can do about it.
So I write. I write so I can tell the story of those with no voice. I write so I can offer a counterpoint to the rhetoric. I write so I can beg other Americans to see what I see.
My students are tired. My students are poor. My students come to this land in huddled masses yearning for freedom.
Why is the lamp of liberty not lifted for them? Why must they live a fear that no child should live?
Where is the public outrage?
A few months ago, a lesson I was teaching was sidetracked when my students let down their guard and the conversation spun around to immigration. After a few moments of discussion, one of my students raised her hand and asked me a question that left me without words (a rare experience for a teacher).
"Mr. Tiarks, why don't they like us?"
I am weary of watching my students be treated as "less than." So I cry out for change.
I call on Congress to pass the Dream Act for students like mine. I call for an end to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement "Secure Communities" program causing great harm to loving families.
I call on President Obama to press for enactment of comprehensive immigration reform.
Stop sending model citizens back to hopeless circumstances.
Stop making the promise of this country null and void.
Stop deporting my students.
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Justin Tiarks teaches at St. Paul City School.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.