How to stand up for immigrant rights with your kids
Last week I gave you a bunch of resources for introducing the tough topic of immigration to your children. If you did any of those learning activities, I have a feeling you – and your kids – want to do more.
I’m guessing you want to know how you can stand up for immigrant rights, so that families know they’re not alone.
How can your heart not break when you hear stories like 5 year old Iker Velasquez’s? This sweet little boy – the same age as my own son – may be deported even though his family is seeking asylum. They fled Honduras because their peace activism there put their entire family at risk.
“In Honduras, there are spiders and bad people. That’s why I don’t want to go back there,” Iker told a reporter.
His 5 year old way of understanding the situation might be amusing if it weren’t so heartbreaking – if the danger h’s in wasn’t so real. Maybe these stories are breaking your heart too.
Here’s the thing, friend. Though your heart is broken, you’re not helpless.
You can use your voice, your heart, your time to declare that families belong together.
So, this week, I’m encouraging you to speak up for immigrant rights. I’m especially asking you to consider doing this with your children.
Are kids too young to take part in immigrant rights activism?
As parents we walk a fine line. I don’t want to overwhelm our son with stories he’s not emotionally mature enough to handle. I’ve got to use my own discretion about what information to share, and how to share it.
At the same time, I recognize that as middle class, white citizens of this country, our family has enormous privilege. There are parents all across this country who don’t get to choose whether to talk about things like deportations with their kids. Because they know it could happen to someone in their family any day.
I believe that children do need to know about injustice, though the way we share about that will change as they grow older.
You know what else I believe? Kids, just like adults, want to do something when they know there’s a problem. They want to show love to others. Charity is one way to do that, but justice is another way.
Am I suggesting you force your children to take part in activism, even if they don’t want to? Heck no! This should be an invitation. Here’s a few ideas of how your family can stand up for immigrant rights together.
Write letters (real letters) to your elected officials
If you’ve read this far, chances are you’ve signed a few (or a ton) of online petitions to Congress this year. Those are well and good, but if you want to have a bigger impact, pick up a pen and piece of paper. Elected officials pay far more attention to real letters (and phone calls) than they do to email.
Another great thing about writing real letters? Younger kids can be part of this in a way they can’t with email.
I’ve designed this Keep Families Together card that kids can color and write in. Young kids might just color the picture on the outside, and tell you one sentence to write inside. Older kids can craft their own letters with more detail.
The template includes exact instructions about where to find who represents you in Congress. You’ll also find ideas of what to say if you or your kids are not sure where to start.
One really important note. If you have friends who are undocumented immigrants, and you want to share their stories in your letter, use extreme caution. Do NOT use their names, where they attend school, or any identifying information.
Find a local immigrant rights group to get involved in
Your family can have an even bigger impact at the local and state level than you can nationally. We’re all tight on time, but many of those groups will have email lists that can alert you to when a quick phone call or message is especially needed.
Attending a vigil or rally with your children is a fantastic way to make this issue more concrete for them. Plus, every immigrant rights event I’m taken part in has always included a lot of children. So if they’re young, they’ll likely have someone to play with while you listen to speakers.
Find out what kind of volunteer needs the group has that you could take part in together as a family. Don’t let the need to start with something small stop you from getting involved at all.
Not sure which groups are active in your area? Try googling the name of your state or city + “immigrant and refugee rights.”
Involve other families in speaking up
There are lots of different ways to spread your impact beyond your own family:
- Host a “Keep Families Together” letter writing party. Print out extra copies of my card to write in or color, and supply pencils, envelopes, and stamps. Make sure everyone knows the event is kid-friendly! You can make the issue more tangible for kids by offering a storytime using one the immigration books I highlighted last week.
- Are you part of an organization that has immigrant members, or serves immigrants in some way? Talk to your group’s leadership about offering a Know Your Rights training, where people can get answers about what to do if they’re approached by police or immigration officials. Ask a local immigrant rights organization for help, or get materials from the ACLU (available in multiple languages.)
- Organize a “We Belong Together” unity circle at your child’s school, a local playground, or your house of worship. The idea behind these circles is to have a child or youth led event that shows we are committed to creating safe spaces for each other. This is one of the actions that Women’s March organizers are encouraging people to take right now. They have a fantastic Organizer Toolkit with lots of resources.
What’s one thing that you can do with your kids to speak up for the rights of immigrant children and families? Share what you plan to do in the comments.