The way Gabriel Canas, a bus driver from gang-ridden El Salvador tells it, he was doing his job back home when his bus was attacked by the MS-13 gang. So he took his 9-year-old daughter and got her out of the country while the getting out was good. Like so many other immigrants to this country, he headed north, hoping to find not just sanctuary but a place to start life anew.
Good luck to Mr. Canas, but he'll need more than luck to join his parents and a sister already in the States perfectly legally. First he'll have to get past the multiple hurdles facing him and his daughter, beginning with being interviewed by this country's Citizenship and Immigration Services, which could be not only his first but his last interview with them if he fails to give them the answers they're looking for. He's already worried that he flunked the initial interview, he was so flustered by having lost track of his little girl.
Gabriel Canas hadn't heard a word from or about his daughter since the Border Patrol separated them two weeks before, and in the meantime he was moved from one federal detention center to another. "The day I had my interview, I wasn't well because they'd taken my daughter away. I was worried sick. I didn't know where she was. I hadn't spoken to her."
Not until after his interview with Citizenship and Immigration did he learn what had become of her. One of the lawyers who has volunteered to help such bewildered parents, Norma Sepulveda, remembers, "The first thing he said to the asylum officer was: 'Do you know where my daughter is?' "
Counselor Sepulveda found that the girl had been transferred to Arizona by way of Chicago. No wonder her father had been at his wit's end by the time his daughter had been located, subject to every stray rumor that came down the line.
The first thing Gabriel Canas' story brought to the mind of this son of American immigrants was the story of his own mother, who had struck out for a new country and the New World as a 19-year-old immigrant fleeing the collapse that was eastern Europe as the First World War drew to a close. Sarah Greenberg, then Sarah Ackerman, had little but the clothes on her back and an address in Chicago pinned to her coat, but she was rich beyond compare because she had a warm and extended family waiting to clasp her to its bosom.
No wonder this immigrant girl, maybe five-foot-two when she stood on tiptoe though with the bearing of a field marshal, would become an America patriot, for she had a gift for gratitude. And to the end of her life she would not allow a bad word about her adopted country to be spoken in her presence, for it had adopted her in turn. She may not have looked it or talked like it, but in her heart she was a Yankee Doodle Dandy and might as well have been born on the Fourth of July.
When my father dared complain about the taxes he had to pay, my mother would give him what was known in our family as The Look--a withering stare that would put an end to any further discussion. She may have spoken a number of languages less than perfectly, but The Look was more eloquent than anything she said. When a friend of hers suggested that, instead of spending still another summer with family in Chicago, she consider a vacation in Europe, all she needed to say was a dismissive, "My dear, I vas born der." And she clearly wasn't about to consider returning.
So here's to America and all those who love her and are loved in turn, to the children of old Europe and new Asia, to the Canases and O'Reillys, to the Sepulvedas and Washingtons and Chans and, yes, the Greenbergs. It's a grand old flag and an even grander collection of folks. Let's count our blessings and those blessings, God willing, still to come.
Paul Greenberg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Editorial on 07/22/2018
Print Headline: Distraught