Why the immigrant parent/child separation campaign should infuriate any doting parent

Puerto Rico is a United States border.

The Dominican Republic lies 80 miles (160 km) West of Puerto Rico. The largest immigrant population that lives in Puerto Rico is from the Dominican Republic.

Throughout decades, hundreds of thousands of Dominicans boarded a ‘yola’ — Spanish for a small fishing boat — in the middle of the night to make a 24-hour perilous sea voyage through the treacherous and shark-infested waters of the Mona Passage in the hopes of reaching Puerto Rico. Unscrupulous fishermen from the coast of Samaná would squeeze 76 people in a boat made for 30. The passengers had to take turns standing for hours. Many boats could not withstand the everyday 12-foot waves. The vessel would only have 2 life-preservers on board — for the captain and his crewman.

Photo: Primera Hora

Many hopeful Dominicans perished on that expedition. Some would make it on their first voyage. Others had to make many attempts before succeeding in their goal of staying on American soil. Most that tried never made it to the other side.

Famed Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra honored their courage in the all-time favorite song “Visa Para un Sueño” (Visa for a Dream). While the song has a happy merengue beat, it tells of the tragic reality of our Dominican brothers and sisters that risked it all getting onto those boats in the hopes of a better life.

Some of the song’s moving verses roughly translate as follows:

It was five in the morning,

Santo Domingo January eight, ….

…And one by one to the slaughterhouse

Because each one has a price

Searching for a visa for a dream.

…Looking for a visa for a dream

Searching for a visa, the reason of being…

Searching for a visa, to never come back, …

Looking for a visa, for capsizing,

Looking for a visa, food of the sea

Searching for a visa, to never come back, …

Fortunately, the improved economic situation in the Dominican Republic today has substantially reduced the amount of people that embark in the yola for Puerto Rico.

Having lived all my adult life in Puerto Rico, I have come into contact with hundreds of Dominican nationals. They work at or own all sorts of businesses.

The Dominican workforce has been an indispensable component of the economic development of Puerto Rico.

Without their labor, it would have been implausible for people like me to attain professional and personal goals.

During the course of the past 25 years, I also have had the need to hire Dominican employees.

My first real contact with Dominican workers was when I purchased a money pit of a property in Old San Juan.

The difficulties associated with construction work in the old city have always made it hard to find any locals to do the demolition and restoration work it demands. The unwavering determination and skill of the Dominican construction workers I hired for the job made it possible for me to rebuild the house I would eventually call my home.

Among the crew of workers, one stood out for his intelligence, sense of humor, expertise and loyalty. I can always rely on him to watch over the house when I am away.

Jonás held my son Kike when he was just 2 weeks old. Nineteen years later, Jonás was unclogging the drains on the roof of my home in the middle of Hurricane Maria, preventing it from flooding.

Every time I run into him, he invariably asks me how is Kike doing.

To this day, I consider him to be a genuine friend.

The next opportunity I had to work closely with Dominican employees came about after the birth of my son.

Once my home had taken shape, Kike was born. During the course of the first 10 years of life, three Dominican women helped me raise him. Had it not been for those nannies that took over my motherly role during my long workdays, I would not have been able to pursue my career as a solo legal practitioner.

Hiring foreing nationals as nannies for my son was not happenstance. Non-professional level Puerto Rican women interested in such positions do not exist.

During the years that I hired live-in caretakers to look after Kike, I never went on vacation. I did not have a fancy car. The only ‘luxury’ I worked hard to pay for was the full-time nanny that would meticulously care for my son at home. That way, I did not have to worry about leaving him for hours on end in a childcare facility because of my demanding career.

My son’s nannies were part of my family. I showered them with attentions and displayed towards them utmost respect. As the surrogate mothers they were to Kike, I honored the crucial role they played in his life.

They were superb experts at their craft, zealously watching over Kike’s every step. Not once did my son get diaper rash. Even though he enjoyed racing on his Razor scooter or skateboards down the hills of Old San Juan; climbing trees without any any concept of fear, never did he sustain a broken bone.

They loved and treated him as their own child.

I am grateful to them for being so loving, patient, wise and caring to my son for so many years. They helped me raise a compassionate, humble young man.

I am deeply indebted to them for helping me as well instill in him values that are better learned through experience.

I taught Kike the importance of equality, diversity, and justice. They set the example for him to comprehend.

As an attorney admitted to the PR and federal bars, I had to hire green card-carrying workers. It did not cross my mind to violate federal law by hiring an undocumented worker. I could not financially or professionally afford to be accused, fined or convicted for doing otherwise.

However, all the employees I had, had reached the Puerto Rican shores in a yola. Paying and average of $6,000.00, they traveled to Puerto Rico in the hopes of eventually becoming American citizens.

All the employees I hired had worked relentlessly to become a “naturalized citizen” within the United States.

They were not shy about sharing their poignant stories of courage and determination that led them to achieve their goals. In fact, they proudly recited them as a badge of honor. Some of them inevitably brought me to the brink of tears.

Their anecdotes all had a common denominator.

While many almost died in the journey to Puerto Rico, they all agreed that not a single yola brought any child as a passenger. The adults invariably left their offspring safely back home under the care of a grandmother or a relative, while they risked it all to get to the United States.

Their modus operandi was to reach America, work hard, “make their papers” (as they referred to obtaining a working permit or green card), and eventually obtain the legal permit to bring their children to live with them.

It never crossed their minds to jeopardize the lives of those they loved the most; those for whom they were sacrificing so much.

They would not risk the lives of those whose childhoods they would selflessly miss out on in order to provide for them a better future.

The past 25 years have exposed me to the true tales of dozens of people that attempt to enter the US illegally and their motivations for doing so.

In fact, I am certain that had I not been born in Puerto Rico, I too would have embarked in a yola as many times as it had been necessary to make it to the US.

I witnessed how much my employees missed their sons and daughters that stayed behind while they could legally bring them to the US. I watched their weekly ritual of purchasing telephone cards (way back then) to talk to their kids over the phone for an hour. I saw how they held more than one job, sometimes working seven days a week, to gather enough money to pay the attorney to submit “the papers” needed to obtain the necessary permits to bring their children to live with them.

I am certain that not a single person among the compassionate, hard-working Dominican immigrants that have touched my life — and even those that I am not fond of — would have ever chosen to jeopardize his or her child’s safety by bringing them along the hazardous trip to penetrate the US border.

During the past weeks, I have asked some of my Dominican acquaintances and friends that came in a yola to Puerto Rico if they would have ever considered to bring along their child in the dangerous journey.

All of them consistently opened their eyes in the same gesture, emphatically moving their head left and right to reinforce their verbal reply of: NEVER! Enough said.

As a mother, I would not knowlingly place my son in a dangerous situation where he could be hurt, kidnapped, killed or taken away from my side.

As an attorney, I cannot condone any parent that removes his or her child from their home to embark on such long, hazardous and uncertain travesty to illegally enter the US. Everything about it to me evokes child abuse.

My objection to the parents’ conduct has nothing to do with the enforcement of immigration law.

Rather, it is about the parents’ lack of judgment to make such detrimental decisions on behalf of their children that put their lives at stake. In fact, the real danger lies not in their separation from their parents once they reach the US. Instead, I believe the biggest threat to those minors lies in the abuse, kidnapping, or even death that the children could be victims of at the hands of the unscrupulous human traffickers.

I cannot be empathic toward a parent that recklessly pulls an innocent, helpless child from the safety of his or her bed to embark on an unpredictable and tortuous path from which the child may never come out alive.

From the legal “ but/for” perspective, if anything were to happen to the child, it is the reckless parent that put the child in that perilous situation the main culprit of his or her misfortune. In our legal system, the parent could be prosecuted for child abuse or neglect.

It is thus selfishly abusive of an adult to bring along a child to a travesty plagued with inordinate amounts of dangers. The nonchalance with which people dismiss the endangerment that children endure in their plight only serves to foster their parents’ conduct to the detriment of the unfortunate children.

As adults, parents are free to risk their lives as they please. However, when it comes to the innocent lives of children, they should show some restraint. They should not be allowed to indiscriminately subject their children to the same risks they are willing to undertake.

As much as the government must be held accountable for the intolerable situation regarding the separation of immigrant children from their families, so do the parents of those children need to be made responsible for their atrocious parenting decisions to subject their offspring to such atrocious expeditions that imperil their physical and mental well-being.

Puerto Rican warrior & survivor; fighting for equal environmental rights, one pipe at a time”. “Mi nada, a nadie se lo debo.” Julia de Burgos.