Say, How Do You Explain Immigration Law To Fifth Graders?

Say, How Do You Explain Immigration Law To Fifth Graders?

That’s a great question. Elizabeth Keyes gave it a shot, and proves once again that some people are seriously disingenuous on the subject

(PRI) The challenge: Bring immigration law to life for a room of fidgety fifth-graders.

Specifically, I need to bring it to life for fifth-graders who have already heard from a dozen other parents on Career Day in May — including an actual rocket scientist. I am an immigration lawyer and professor. The room is warm, and the kids sit at their desks, sets of four scattered around the room. The looks on their faces are tired and skeptical. My daughter at her desk is alternately hopeful and nervous that I will embarrass her.

My plan? Talk about Pokémon.

The Rules

I write Pokémonlandia on the board and announce that we are going to create the rules for who could come live in that imaginary place. What kinds of people do we want?

The boy with glasses who had been bouncing in his seat calls out “Pokémon trainers!” After a couple more Pokémon-related suggestions, a quiet girl whose head had been in a book when I walked into the class raises her hand and suggests “kind people.”

I ask the class if they want people who could play sports or who liked pizza. They agree with the pizza idea and specify that we should have soccer and basketball players. I ask if we should let people in who liked “Hamilton.” Half the class gets worked into a frenzy in favor of this idea. The other half shares defeated looks, clearly not part of the craze.

Once Ms. Keyes has the rules in place, she heads into the evidence, which is finding out what kind of people those who are in certain classes can be. Interestingly, Mr. Trump and a few Senate Republicans are going to reintroduce the RAISE Act today, which would limit legal immigration while focusing on people who can help the country, versus continuously allowing people with few skills, who will be on the public dole, do not speak the language, and won’t assimilate, into the nation easy peasy.

Ms. Keys then jumps into the complexity of allowing people in. Following the byzantine rules, that it’s easy to make mistakes. That some are more acceptable than others, that some rules require this and that and the other. Sounds just like the legal immigration system, does it not?

I did not get into all of this with these kids that day. For me, it was enough to introduce in a palpable way that it is a complicated system to navigate, hoping that if they hear simplistic slogans like “Which part of illegal don’t you understand?” they will remember that it’s harder than that.

In other words, what Ms. Keyes, like so many illegal immigration supporters do, was conflating legal immigration with illegal immigration, mixing the two, in order to make the law breaking by illegals seem to be just part of the system, in an attempt to accept them all.

But, if you really want to explain illegal immigration to 5th graders, let me modify the explanation I have for adults.

Let’s say you and your parents go on a week long vacation to someplace fun during spring break. When you come back, you walk in and there are people in your backyard. They have tents set up, they’re using the pool and grill, and you can’t understand a word they’re saying. Some of them look like cool people, and are working on the hedges, others are wearing saggy pants, all the same color shirts, and have scary tattoos.

So mom and dad call the police. The police are good people, they help citizens in trouble. They stop by, and tell mom and dad that there’s nothing they can do. Had mom and dad called within a few hours of the people coming onto the property they could have taken them away, but, since it had been a week, well, they will bring it up to a judge, who might do something in a few weeks. Besides, the people came from the poor section of town, and are just looking for a better life.

Mommy and Daddy are furious. They explain to the police with their cool uniforms that “the people are trespassing.” You quickly whip out your iPhone and look up the meaning. One of the links explains this is a crime. The police are not impressed, because the city tends to ignore these situations, because it is accepting of diversity of people just looking for a better life.

The police then go on to explain that mom and dad will forthwith be responsible for providing clothing, education, healthcare, food, and money to the trespassers. Furthermore, mom and dad have to let the trespassers use the house for things like bathing, cooking, and sleeping. You find one with tattoos up in your room going through your toys, and see one of the nice looking ones coming out of your parents bedroom holding cards with mom and dad’s pictures on them and others that are a nice shade of blue with a long string of numbers on them.

When you come back outside, some other guy in a suit and tie is explaining to mom and dad that they cannot build a big fence around the property, and, furthermore, they have to allow the relatives of the people in your yard to come and stay. You just don’t get it. You remember when old crabby Mr. Jones chased you and your friends off his property when you were riding dirt bikes in the woods. Mom and dad explained that it was his property, and he’s in charge (and crabby). So, why can’t they evict (you learned the word while looking up trespassing” these people? It’s your property. You live there. You just don’t get it. Why are these people treated differently? Trespassing is trespassing. And why does that guy have your book of expensive Pokemon cards peeking out of his pocket?

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach.

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