Dear Senator Cotton:
This morning I received an email from one of my all-time favorite students requesting recommendation letters for college scholarships, a service I have enjoyed performing dozens if not a couple of hundred times during a 26-year teaching career.
This young man has a 4.0 GPA and perfect attendance in his senior year. I have recently seen his photograph in our local newspaper for winning awards at conferences for computer programming and Future Business Leaders of America. I knew him from my post as EAST facilitator. EAST, (Environmental and Spatial Technology) as you probably know, is an Arkansas-based experimental classroom model combining teamwork and service learning projects with high-tech tools.
This student twice gave presentations at the annual EAST National Conference, and in our class, he was always helpful, courteous, knowledgeable, and supportive of others when not in the actual leadership role. Of course I immediately got busy writing the recommendation – he more than deserves it.
Here is the issue: he was born in another country – one of those kids permitted to stay, study and work in the USA under the soon-to-be-expired DACA order. He is here legally and holds an after school job. (I am reluctant to state his name or home country for fear that ICE would pounce upon him.)
Arkansas has become increasingly international. Spanish-speaking people work for Tyson, Walmart, and operate their own businesses – bakeries, cafés, auto body shops, beauty salons, landscaping. More recently, we are seeing folks from the Philippines, Thailand, and Pacific Islands. In today’s “global village,” we all grow by learning from those who came far to get here.
They come here for the same reasons that other people come here from other states. The countryside is beautiful, the cost of living is low, the people are friendly and down to earth, there is plentiful work, schools are good. The Ozark traditions are strong – lots of churches, grow your own food, fish or hunt, make your own clothes, or trade with the neighbors. Old-fashioned values are important: people honor their extended families, respect their elders, and numerous churches here offer services in Spanish or Marshallese.
That is why my student’s parents moved here. They have what I call the Universal Parent’s Wish – that their children will achieve more in life than they have themselves. I am sure your parents had that desire, as you have for your own children.
I wrote this student a glowing recommendation, which he deserves as much as any of the other students for whom I have written such letters. His goal is to attend the Honors College at the University of Arkansas and train to be a general surgeon. (I wish I had had such ambitions graduating from high school!)
I know that many Arkansans are opposed to “amnesty” for persons born in other countries. I hope you are aware that likewise, many of us are sympathetic to foreign-born residents who contribute to our society, our economy, our culture, our schools, our workplaces, our friendships. As a Harvard graduate, war veteran, and Senator, you grasp the importance of meeting and working with people from different backgrounds.
My mother was a German “war bride,” who met my dad after World War II when she served as an interpreter for the US Military Occupation where he worked. She forfeited her German citizenship, and every year she had to fill out forms as a legal alien. She bore five children, all US citizens. She died young, only meeting the eldest two of her nine grandchildren, a life unfulfilled.
My wife’s father’s parents were immigrants from Lithuania who met in Chicago. So our children are ¼ German, ¼ Lithuanian, with the rest a typical mishmosh of European and probably Native American genes.
None of us choose our parents or our birthplaces. I encourage you to work in the Senate to discover a way for these so-called Dreamers to remain in our country. Like me, they are also your constituents.
Grandview, Berryville, Ark.