When I was a young child during the Second World War, I was never afraid unless I chose to be. Yes, there was an unthinkably horrible war going on all around the world beyond my eyes and ken, and yes the parents of that nice young man who lived next door and sometimes bought this preschooler ice cream cones told me one day he had been killed in that war, and yes my father’s call to duty uprooted us from Boston and dropped us in Oakland. But day in and day out, I felt no threat except those I invented to thrill myself by climbing very high up in a pine tree or roaring down the hill too fast on my tricycle or getting lost for a few moments in the woods behind our house.
Meanwhile, half a world away, Anne Frank was hiding in an attic, terrified every second of her young life that the fate she feared and eventually suffered might happen in the very next minute. All these years later, the name Anne Frank instantly evokes our most vivid image of how an innocent child experiences the cruelty of adults turned hateful.
While Anne Frank was hiding from Nazi killers, I was hiding behind a massive tree feeling the faux terror of being found by whichever friend or brother was “It” in our nightly game of hide-and-seek. Afraid, because I chose to be. Afraid, but only of being found, not of being harmed. Sometimes I was found. Other times, not. Those other times I felt a rush of relief and pride when I heard the wonderful shout: “Olly, Olly, Oxen Free!” We who had evaded discovery—who were still “out”—could come in free of penalty (“All the, all the outs in free” before it morphed into the familiar-if-nonsensical words we chanted). We were safe.
Today, across America, a new generation of genuinely terrified children are hiding out. They are as frightened as Anne Frank was. It does not matter that when found, they will not be killed. Their terror doesn’t draw a distinction between loss of life, and loss of life as they know it. Parents and children were torn from each others’ arms during World War Two. So too, today.
“Until a few months ago,” I heard the pastor of a church in Nipomo, California, say recently, “our preschool and afterschool tutoring program had about forty-five children coming every day. Last week we averaged eight. They are afraid to come out.”
“My business has dropped off about seventy-five percent,” said the owner of a nearby Mexican restaurant. “Some people still order but it’s all take-out now, so they can dash in and then drive off. Nobody wants to sit still for too long.”
“That crew out there pruning the vines now, they’ve got no leader,” the founder of a boutique winery in Paso Robles told me the next day. “My vineyard manager—who started with me when I created this place seventeen years ago—quit in January. Said it felt like time to head back south while his family was still intact. I’ve advertised the job far and wide—good pay, about seventy-five thousand—but have had only one applicant, and he was a joke. An unemployed accountant, never been in a vineyard or winery in his life. Everybody’s gone to ground.”
I know some readers will berate me for comparing the fear of Anne Frank to the fear of children whose parents may be deported with or without them. But having spent a good part of my life studying and nurturing the inner development of young children (I formerly helped produce “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”), I assert with some confidence that the depth of fear felt in the young children of America who are at risk of separation from their deportable parents is inconsequentially different from the fear that was felt by Anne Frank. And I assert with profound conviction that this nation that has blessed me and others with a life free from terror owes an equally fear-free life to all our neighbors of every stripe, color, and condition—including undocumented immigrants.
Fortunately, virtually all our fellow citizens agree: a nationwide CNN/ORC poll in March indicated that a stunning, unprecedented 90% of Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for those in this country illegally but innocent of any other crime—a pathway that does not include deportation and re-entry, but rather permits them to maintain the integrity of their family and their place. Only a paltry 9% disagree.
Even more stunning: respondents to the poll ranked paving the pathway to citizenship as a higher priority than stopping illegal immigration! (http://dailycaller.com/2017/03/17/new-cnn-poll-shows-that-most-americans-want-a-pathway-to-citizenship-for-illegal-immigrants/)
All across America, there are frightened children hiding out at home who don’t even know the phrase but nevertheless yearn to hear us holler, “Olly, Olly, Oxen Free!” This is the moment to let your voice carry that cry to Congress (202-224-3121) and the White House (202-456-1111), politely but firmly insisting on a pathway to citizenship.
And your voice will be amplified dramatically if you then engage with one of the great organizations working day in and day out to make that pathway happen. I urge you to take the next ten minutes clicking through these links to learn who is doing what, and to discover which effort you might feel most eager to support: @RI4A, @AmericasVoice, @Re4mImmigration, @CitizenPath,@NIJC, @AJCGlobal, @UNITEDWEDREAM, @domesticworkers, @NILC_org, @TheActionNet. I know, I know: we both already have things planned for the day. But really, it’s hard to imagine a more noble use of our time than enabling a terrified child to know they are safe at home and free to come out of hiding. Click away.