By Jim Heffernan
My wife and I recently attended a Grandparents Day program in a Twin Cities suburb at the elementary school of our 10-year-old granddaughter.
The fourth-grade children put on a program – including a flag ceremony and a solemn, hand-over-the-heart, recital of the Pledge of Allegiance -- in the school gymnasium before moving, grandparents in tow, to classrooms to meet teachers and look over school projects prepared for the occasion.
As we joined our granddaughter following the program, she brought with her a classmate and asked if we would serve as the classmate’s grandparents for the day because the other girl’s grandparents couldn’t attend. Of course we were happy to be surrogate grandparents for the bright, cheerful, pretty little girl.
As the session in the classroom played out, the two girls showed us some of their school projects at their table, after which they had been told to escort grandparents around the room, viewing their small library, a computer in the corner and art projects festooning a wall.
Since my wife and I were there for both our own granddaughter and her friend, I joined the friend for the tour of the room and my wife went with our real granddaughter.
Chatting with the girl a bit as she showed me around, she told me her real grandparents couldn’t attend because they live in Mexico City. Responding, I asked the child about her own family and she proudly stated that her mother had “walked across the desert” to get to America. I didn’t pursue it, nor could I forget it.
I couldn’t help but think about that little girl when President Obama addressed the nation outlining his planned immigration overhaul. And I think of her, too, when I hear Republicans in Congress rail against Obama and his plans for protecting some 4 million undocumented people whose children are United States citizens because they were born in this country.
It made me wonder if my surrogate granddaughter for a day is a United States citizen because she was born here, and if her mother is not. It made personal for me just what the president has done to protect certain families from being broken apart.
What does a 10-year-old child know of political forces swirling around the president over whether he was overstepping his bounds in protecting some immigrants? But a child would clearly understand if her mother was arrested and deported. She’d likely have to leave this country too. As a result of Obama’s action, I feel confident that if this girl showing me around her classroom needs that kind of protection, she’ll now have it.
In her school program, she’ll have pledged allegiance to the flag of a country I am more proud of because of what the president did. Or, as Obama put it in his speech, deporting millions is “not who we are.”
Let’s hope not.