We Hope for an American Future (The Torch)

We hope for an American future

FEBRUARY 12, 2018

When an Ethiopian boy effectively arrived on our rural central Maryland doorstep as a one-year-old, my wife and I chose to do the right thing.

Prior to our first meeting, our Ethiopian boy was brought to America for emergency surgery by a missionary sponsored by our church. He received excellent care from the kind folks at the University of Maryland and Ronald McDonald House, both of which provided their services free of charge. His ventricular septal defect was corrected, and he has not had a single problem with his heart since.

“So began our journey of learning the bumpy road of immigration in America.”
Photo courtesy of Tim Sell

It was after he recovered from the surgery that we learned of the boy’s mother’s desire that he stay in America. She wanted a better life for him. Our church solicited volunteers for a sponsor family. My wife eagerly volunteered, and I somewhat hesitantly agreed. We were both naive.

So began our journey of learning the bumpy road of immigration in America.

My wife and I were able legally to adopt the five-year-old Ethiopian boy in Maryland. It seemed odd to us that it was legally possible to adopt him, despite it being legally impossible for him to obtain U.S. citizenship — but adoption was at least a step in the right direction.

The legal adoption status served us well in terms of his education, as it allowed our son to attend grade school in Maryland. We could forget about the “immigration problem” for a few years. “Surely the politicians will be able to come up with a reasonable solution by the time he grows up,” we thought.

As our son became a teenager, we realized that simple things that other teenagers take for granted, such as getting his driver’s license or a part-time job, were going to be impossible for him.

Here’s a phrase we’ve heard from an immigration attorney more than once: “He can’t be here.”

But we can pay for the paperwork, we’re willing to navigate through any bureaucracy you throw at us, he’s our legally adopted son, he doesn’t even remember any other country besides America, and doesn’t want any more than what any other American boy wants….

“He can’t be here. He can’t be here.

In 2014, we learned about DACA from an immigration attorney. DACA seemed to be what we had been waiting for for 16 years. The politicians seemed to be “figuring it out”! Thanks to DACA, later that year, at 17, our son received a Social Security number and an employment authorization card.

It saddened me, though, to learn that he was ashamed/afraid to reveal his immigration status to his friends in high school. He said it was common for him to hear kids talking harshly about “illegals” and about how they needed to be sent “home.” I tried to calmly explain to him that revealing his situation to them might provide them with a more educated and moral view of the situation. But I understood his rationale in keeping quiet. I still remember being 17 — I just wanted to “fit in.” Our son was no different.

At 17, our son wanted to become an American soldier. Due to his immigration status, he was turned away. It turned out that not even DACA could help him with that dream.

At 18, thanks to the privileges provided by DACA, our son was able to get part-time jobs working construction and at restaurants. Like any American teenager with a part-time job, he paid his taxes, with Dad’s help filling out the forms.

At 19 — fear. Will DACA end tomorrow? Will ICE agents be knocking our door down? Our own American government wouldn’t forcibly send a law-abiding citizen to a strange country … would it?

At 20, our son wants to study health fitness and physical education at college. He dreams of becoming a fitness instructor or phys. ed. teacher. DACA makes that dream possible. We can even hope for something better. We hope for an American future where one day he may even be a “legal United States citizen.”

Tim Sell is an American dad from central Maryland.

The decision by the Trump administration to abruptly end DACA without having any permanent solution in place for the young people who have benefited or would benefit from the program is hurting families, such as the Sell family, all over the United States. A recent poll shows that a majority of American voters feels that families are at the core of the United States as a nation and are more likely to support an immigration deal if it is based in keeping families together. 

Learn more about what you can do to help immigrant youth and their families, visit www.nilc.org or call Congress at 478-488-8059 and ask them to vote on the bipartisan Dream Act now!