Punishing children

7 Jun

It seems fitting to post this from jury duty (or the anteroom of jury duty) this morning. On the ride up to San Rafael, I heard a story on NPR about an aspiring medical student who is also an undocumented US American (http://www.kqed.org/news/story/2012/06/06/96569/undocumented_grad_chases_medical_dreams?category=education).

Inspired by his mother’s experience as a non-English speaking patient in the US medical system, New Latthi (no last name given, for understandable reasons) excelled in high school and then at Cal. He was then accepted for a summer internship at Weill Medical College at Cornell, a good sign of his prospects for medical school. But this latest hard-earned opportunity brought him face-to-face with the potential limitations of his citizenship status.

I encourage you to listen to or read the story for more. Here’s what resonated with me: when New told the truth about being undocumented, Cornell withdrew his internship offer. And then help arrived. The White Industrial Savior Complex I wrote about regarding the KONY2012 campaign sent a personal envoy, in the person of Jeff Hawkins, a Cornell alum, Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Long story made short: New will be interning. And that’s the thing about the WISC: while it’s problematic that the power is with individual or groups of white people who care to make a change, it’s also fortunate. At least in the immediate sense. New is one step closer to becoming a doctor, and, hopefully, someone who, like Hawkins, will have a voice that can make all the difference. And while New is the direct beneficiary of Hawkins’ actions, in a way, all of us are. Because Hawkins is asking us to think about what it means for whole generations of youth like New to lose an opportunity over their citizenship status.

Journalist Mina Kim notes, “Hawkins says some people have criticized his philanthropy, saying it’s unfair to struggling American students who are in the country legally. But to Hawkins, kids brought to the US illegally as minors have done nothing wrong.”

Hawkins himself explains, “We don’t punish our children for the crimes of parents or relatives, it’s not something we do, but in some sense that’s what we’re doing right now. And regardless of how you feel about immigration, these kids are innocent. And I don’t think most people are aware that we’re taking this tens of thousands of kids who are really, really bright, have gotten into the best schools, and we’re putting them in sort of banishment and limbo.”

And, I would add, their banishment doesn’t make our lives any better.

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