In case you didn’t realize it, I am a black female. I am pro-black with an afro….and as American as American, with a naturalization certificate. You read it right, I wasn’t born in the states, I was born a citizen of our northern enemy- Canada. I won’t go into details (you can buy me a drink if you want to hear the story), but my mom who is currently a green-card holder, drove up from Yuma, Arizona to snatch me across the Canadian border and bring me back to Arizona. It was then my life of living as an undocumented immigrant began- I was a few months old. While I lived in the US undocumented I had no fear my lack of citizenship would cause me to be deported, I honestly do not know how I would have handled that fear. In 1986, my life didn’t change but my documentation did. In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act that would give amnesty to applicants who entered the United States before 1982 and “…proved they lived and maintained a continuous physical presence in the U.S. since January 1st, 1982, possess a clean criminal record, and provide proof of registration within the Selective Service.” This bill that gave me and 3 millions other undocumented citizens our path to citizenship. This allowed people to step out of the shadows, and apply for citizenship. This amnesty law allowed millions to gain their citizenship and lose the fear of being found out or deported as well as lose some of the heath issues related to being undocumented. More importantly, it helped stop many of the issues those who were undocumented faced like lower wages, abuse by employers, health issues, and fear.
Getting the green-card was not easy. We had to go to Calexico, CA, run around the city and immigration office to get the needed paperwork or pictures that were all of a sudden required. Some people took the bus to Calexico and now had to find ways to get around the city without a vehicle. It was also trying to comprehend some of the questions that could have easily cut you out of the process due to one wrong answer. It was the expense of consulting a lawyer to help when situations weren’t understandable or seeing how you could get more family members their citizenship under this new amnesty law. Having an english speaking parent helped tremendously as there were pitfalls that affected you if you didn’t have a grasp of the English language. I am very aware of the privilege my mom had in not only finding out about the program as well as knowing how to navigate the immigration documents and office. That privilege allowed the process to go smoother than other people. Once that process was done I received the card in the mail and was officially a legal resident of the US. After being a green-card holder for almost 20 years I decided to become a citizen and the process was simple. I had tremendous privilege throughout the whole process that I recognize, and I hold that privilege with me all the time which is why I not only stand up for immigration and DACA, but stand loud and proud. I need to be a voice for those who have to stay in shadows.
The reason I tell my story is because an undocumented immigrant looks like me. An undocumented middle school, high school, or college athlete could look like me. It looks like a white person from Eastern Europe with no accent or a black person from Nigeria. It can be your Asian doctor who has been trying to become a citizen. It can be your athlete that did not realize she was undocumented until a situation came up in which her citizenship was needed, and the story was finally told to her. It can look like people you know, love, and coach. It isn’t just a Latinx person who an accent who is consistently assumed to be undocumented. We come in every race, ethnicity, gender and so on. We each have a different story to tell, all of which are very important. Some have come to this country seeking asylum to get away from violence, oppressive dictators, gangs, domestic abuse, rape and more. Some just want to come to give themselves and/or their children a better life.
As a coach, you might not know it, but at some point in your coaching career you may have had an undocumented immigrant on your team or one of your athlete’s have a relative that was undocumented. I don’t care where you live, where you coach, or what level you coach. Someone you have coached possibly have relations with an undocumented person. While I was growing up being undocumented meant nothing. It did not change how I was treated, what school I went to, or anything else. Today it is very different and very scary. Undocumented immigrants suffer immense health issues caused by their status, “Experts say the toll for avoiding the health care system is far-reaching. Poorer Latinos, in particular, suffer from high rates of obesity, diabetes, liver disease and high blood pressure. “Patients who are already sick will have a much harder time getting better,” Dr. Page said. Those who don’t get care for infectious diseases, she said, “are much more likely to transmit infections to others.” The burden of being undocumented can cause those to not seek help for fear of ICE being called. They do not pick up needed prescriptions. They do not go to the hospital until the have no other choice because the pain is unbearable.
“Except for absolute necessities, Rodolfo, an itinerant construction worker who entered the United States illegally from Puebla six years ago, does not leave his house these days. But for a month now, his 8-year-old daughter, Leslie, has been doubling over in pain after meals. So, uneasily, on buses and on foot, Rodolfo took her to the community health clinic in Carrboro, a liberal, well-heeled town just west of Chapel Hill. In the exam room, the child shrank into herself, stiff and uncomfortable. Lisanna Gonzalez, a family nurse practitioner, could find no physical cause for her discomfort. Eventually Leslie admitted she was terrified that she would come home from school one day and find her parents gone. Kids were always talking about it, she said, even teasing her. Her brother, 13, kept showing her social media updates about raids.Fear is making people sick, said Dr. Evan Ashkin, a professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina who directs a residency program for doctors who work with poor patients.”
I know many of you wonder what this has to do with coaching, as you “treat everyone the same” and the “players know you love them”. But what you do not realize is that they do know your opinion on this topic. This is only of many topics that have have caused a divide within the country and many cannot keep their opinions of this subject off the court, just has those who are living with being undocumented or having undocumented relatives cannot keep the pain of what they are going through off the court. As a coach, you can have the opinion you want, but also understand that when that opinion is published on social media outlets that your players can see they will find out about it and they will talk about it. It potentially can affect the relationship you have with them- especially if they are worried that you would call ICE once you found out the undocumented status. I know, I know. You would never call ICE on them, but how do they know? How do they know you wouldn’t call it on their family members. They see you might have zero empathy about what is occurring now, about the separation of families at the border, about how ICE is just doing their job.
As I like to say, shit has gotten real. We are seeing more people retreating to the shadows, deathly afraid to go outside. Buses are being illegally searched for undocumented immigrants outside of the 100-miles radius, a pizza delivery man was arrested delivering pizzas to a base, and on and on. Families are being separated at the border, with kids being essentially put in cages. We are seeing Betsy DeVos illegally telling schools to call ICE on their students, a place that should be a sanctuary for those children carrying the weight of those types of issues. This is a reality some of your players potentially have to worry about and the stressors they carry with them that you might not even realize they hold. Imagine the stress of constantly worrying if your parents will be home when you get out of practice, or the stress that YOU will be taken by ICE when you leave the gym. Those are heavy burdens to carry for adults, much less children and teenagers. Now imagine you have read some of the comments, retweeted memes, or stories shared by your coach. Would you want to do your best or play for that coach? Probably not.
Many immigrants risk everything to come to the US to get away from violence or to make a better for themselves and their families. As many parents have said, they will do anything for their children, so there should be an understanding of why parents would risk everything to come across the border undocumented, even though they know it is illegal. I am asking you to have empathy. I am asking you to research more of the citizenship process and know that it isn’t that families do not want to be citizens, it is that they don’t have the money, the power, or the knowledge of how to do it. Many of them want to go through the process but hearing stories of people being detained at greencard hearings like Jose Ivan Nuñez or Xiu Qing You who were arrested and will potentially be deported can scare them into not starting. If you have been living in the US for years undocumented, finally got the money to apply, and then you heard those stories would you want to try to start greencard proceedings? I know I could be scared out of my mind, especially if my kids were citizens and being deported meant being torn from them.
The process for applying for citizenships is expensive- $725 and time consuming, with some nationalities taking 20-25 years for a visa. This doesn’t add in the thousands of dollars for an immigration attorney if one is needed. It isn’t as easy as many people think. You don’t just send in an application or go to an office and immediately. It isn’t like during the times of Ellis when people could get through immigration and become a citizen in a matter of a few hours (so kindly remind people who say their family immigrated the right way, that immigration was a process that took hours- not months or years).
I tell you all this, the story of my citizenship and what others are going through and feeling not as a play on your emotions. I am telling you this because if you are a coach, you have to understand how your views on immigration can affect those you coach. Unconscious bias is real, and the faster you accept it, the faster you can work to limit it. If a player doesn’t know she has a bad armswing, tackles wrong, has a bad jumpshot, or kicks incorrectly how will she know to change it? The same goes with unconscious bias. If you don’t know about it how can you fix it. I know your next question is what can you do? You do not want your athletes to feel uncomfortable or afraid around you, but you have a right to your opinion. Yes, I agree you have a right to your opinion, but make sure that opinion is based in fact. What does that mean? It means that if you want to have the view that undocumented immigrants who are in the US without documentation are in the wrong, regardless of any details, then read up on a few things at least to educate yourself. Things to read up on are:
1. Read up on how to become a citizen, the cost and time commitment
2. Read up on what the cost of an immigration lawyer is, if needed.
3. Read up on what government services undocumented immigrants get- which is nothing.
4. Read up on asylum and refugee law.
5. Read up on those who have done it the right away and still can’t get a visa.
6. H-1B Visas which, “.. allows US companies to employ graduate level workers in speciality occupations that require technical expertise such as finance, IT or architecture, and is used by many international graduates of STEM degrees to work in the US after their studies” are being suspended.
7. Understand the process of temporary seasonal work visas.
8. Understand the backlog on temporary seasonal workers trying to do it the legal way and get a visa.
9. Learn the different types of visas to understand that even if you get an immigrant visa or student visa it does not mean you get a fast track to citizenship and once done with school or work you have to go back to your home country unless sponsored by a company.
Lastly, as someone who was undocumented, I ask you to have empathy and understand that no one wants to live in the shadows or be treated less than human especially by what they are called. Undocumented immigrants is what they should be called. Some want to call them illegal aliens, anchor babies, and so on. But know that those words are being used as dog whistles to dehumanize them. I know that those on social media who call them illegal aliens and such would never say that to my face. It is easy to use those words about people you don’t know and dehumanize them to look at them as things not humans who are trying to make better lives for themselves. I hope you as a coach, would never call them illegal aliens to their face, regardless of what your opinion on the topic is.
Just remember, if you are willing to do whatever it takes for your kids to succeed, even if it means putting a second mortgage on your house, driving them hours each way for school or a sport’s team, working a second job so they can have extra things, or quitting the career you worked decades to achieve then you should have some understanding of parents risking it all to give their kids a chance at a better life. This is nothing different, you just had the privilege of your family having an easy route through immigration unlike undocumented immigrants today.
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