Last week, as millions of Americans toiled, Republican senators complained about having to work so close to Christmas. • "Disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians," Sen. Jon Kyl boomed. • "Sacrilegious," Sen. Jim DeMint thundered. • Two days later, these self-anointed champions of Christianity joined 53 other senators to defeat the Dream Act, which would have helped thousands of innocent children who were born in another country but raised here in America. In the Senate gallery, teenage immigrants wore graduation mortarboards and stricken faces.
Had the bill passed, an estimated 65,000 children — most of whom have no memory of the countries of their birth — could have earned citizenship after completing a rigorous round of requirements, including a minimum five-year residency and service in the military or two years of college.
Instead, their futures were gutted, and for one reason: Their parents are not American citizens.
What footnote to Jesus did I miss?
Here's what Jesus says in every copy of the Bible in our home: "Love one another, as I have loved you."
Nowhere can I find this asterisk: But only if they are born in America.
For months, I've sat on the story of an 11-year-old girl who could have benefited from the Dream Act.
I really wanted you to see the picture of her sitting in her bedroom full of bright colors, Barbies and books. I wanted you to see the tiny flower painted on her cheek for Easter Sunday, too, and the gentle smile on her pretty face. But I feared the consequences to her family if I identified her and them.
Now the movement to dehumanize children like this little girl has gained congressional endorsement — and in the holy season of Christmas. So in the spirit of Christ, I'll share her story and change the names.
Let's call her Emma, which is one of the most popular names for girls born this year in the United States. We'll call her parents Mary and Joe.
Emma's parents are Mexican. In 2002, they illegally crossed the U.S. border in search of a better life for their two daughters, 3-year-old Emma and her 9-year-old sister. They paid strangers $6,000 to ride in windowless vans from Arizona to northeast Ohio.
Mary and Joe found steady jobs, rented a house and had three more children. They lived fearful lives in a county that routinely rounded up people like them. But they were willing to risk arrest for the sake of their children, who were thriving.
One foggy evening early this year, Joe was driving home from work when police pulled him over for using high-beam headlights. By the time Mary got to the police station, Joe was already gone. He was deported a few days later.
The family struggled in Joe's absence. Mary went on medical leave but eventually returned to work. Emma, a stellar student and a daddy's girl, felt her world contract. She grew increasingly morose and combative.
In a phone call on the morning of April 17, Mary told her husband she was worried about Emma. "She needs her father," Mary said.
"Everything will change when I get back up there," he assured her. "Emma and I will watch baseball and soccer again. We'll play on the computer together. She'll be fine."
That afternoon, Mary left Emma with her younger siblings while she and her eldest daughter ran errands. Emma protested. Mary insisted.
It was the last time Mary saw Emma alive.
The coroner ruled Emma's death a suicide. She had wrapped a cord around her neck, tied it to a banister and slid down the stairs.
Police reported no signs of struggle but noted several scrapes on the backs of Emma's thighs and calves.
"It appears that (Emma) may have tried to release the tension on the rope by trying to push herself back up the stairs," their report reads. "The scrapes were comparable to a rug burn."
Her mother is inconsolable.
"She was a good girl," she said, sobbing. "She loved her family. She loved her friends. She loved her school. She was just sad. She was too sad because she missed her father."
For six months, Emma's grave was marked by a makeshift altar, until her mother could pay off the headstone.
Now Mary lives in constant fear that she and her eldest daughter will get deported. If that were to happen, she said, she might leave behind her three American children.
"Maybe they could be in foster care," she said. "Maybe they could still grow up in America."
Some dreams refuse to die.
Which brings us back to the meaning of Christmas.
© 2010 Creators Syndicate