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Today's word on journalism

Monday, October 8, 2007

Celebrating Columbus . . .

"1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them."

-- Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), author, from Breakfast of Champions

(NOTE: Strictly speaking, this Vonnegut quote doesn't have anything to do with journalism. I'll owe you one. On the other hand, Columbus didn't have anything to do with discovering America, either, strictly speaking.)


Months later, Hyrum raid echoing through elementary school

By Devin Felix

May 3, 2007 | HYRUM -- Nearly five months after the raid on the Hyrum Swift & Co. meat packing plant, in which 147 undocumented workers were arrested, Cache Valley schools are still feeling the effects.

Lynette Riggs, principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Hyrum estimates five or six families of students who attended the school have been deported. It's difficult to know exact numbers, she said, because some families left on their own and some stopped sending their kids to school after the raid because of fear.

The drop in attendance was at its worst directly after the raid, she said. The raid occurred at 7 a.m. and word of the spread quickly through Cache Valley's Hispanic community. When school started at 9:05 at Lincoln Elementary in Hyrum, about 20 fewer Hispanic students were in attendance than normal, Riggs said.

In the days that followed, attendance numbers of the school's more than 100 Hispanic students dropped and remained low for several weeks. Fearful parents saw the school as part of the same government that had taken away their loved ones; they dreaded what might happen if they sent their children back, Riggs said.

In addition to drops in attendance, teachers and administrators at Lincoln say students have shown behavioral or academic changes as well.

After the raid, nearly every child, Hispanic, white and otherwise, seemed to sense that something was dreadfully wrong, Reynolds said. They were very sympathetic to the students impacted by the arrests, she said. Her students never went anywhere alone in the days immediately following that Tuesday, and an air of apprehension and fear hung on the class.

"When this happened, this school was an absolute morgue," said Riggs. "There were a lot of tears, and not just from students. Children were crying for each other and teachers were crying for their students. There was great mourning."

Three students in Deb Reynolds' first grade class had parents picked up in the raid. All three became distant and somber, Reynolds said, but the behavior of one soon changed dramatically. Alex, whose mother was in jail, became verbally and physically aggressive. He was mean and sarcastic to teachers, parents and students alike. By the time Alex and his family were deported in the first part of February, the rest of the children were almost glad to see him go, Reynolds said.

Only one of those three students is still in the country. Seven-year-old Adrian Carillo and his family are still waiting to hear whether they'll be deported, said his father, who is also named Adrian. Carillo went to court in April, and the judge postponed deciding whether to deport him until September 2008, he said.

While young Adrian's father was in jail, he struggled academically more than any other student in the class, Reynolds said. For most of the year, Adrian had been far below grade level, in both reading and math.

He never volunteered answers in class, and he was introverted and timid. His communication skills were weak and on the playground he was usually a loner. All that changed drastically after his father came home in March, Reynolds said.

Instantly, she noticed a change in him. He became more confident and went from barely functioning academically to reading just below grade level and answering nearly all his math questions correctly every day. And socially, he became a completely different person.

"He has so much more confidence now," she said. "He'll play with every kid in class now where before he was too intimidated. He realizes now that he's smart enough, where before he just didn't think he was smart at all. And he smiles a lot more. I love that."

Carillo hopes his son's academic improvement will help convince a judge to let him stay in the United States, he said. At the advice of his lawyer, he's been gathering letters from employers, friends, teachers and others hoping to convince the judge that he is a good person who should be allowed to remain in the country.

He asked Reynolds to write a letter about the progress young Adrian was making in the American school system, and the devastating effect it would have on him to be removed from school and taken to Mexico. The judge asked for his children's birth certificates to prove they were born in the U.S., and copies of old bills to prove he had been in the country longer than 10 years.

Like the Carillos, many families are still in limbo. Some struggle while waiting for loved-ones to be released from jail. And they wait to discover whether they'll be deported.

Even the school itself might soon suffer, because the large number of student absences might keep the school from meeting legal requirements for attendance, which would count as a "black mark" against the school at the end of the school year, Reynolds said.

Riggs predicts a lasting impact on the lives of the children impacted by the raid.

"If you had white folks come and take your parents away, how would that affect you as a kid when you live in a world of white folks?" Riggs said.

"The real impact of this is on little children who don't understand at all. They don't understand the laws or the reasons for all this. What they understand is the reality: that their mom or dad or uncle or aunt was taken. It breeds mistrust in these children. We look at other governments that treat people like this and we think it's barbaric."


Copyright 1997-2007 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-3292
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