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U.S. Congressman Don Beyer visited the Ordnance Road Correctional Center Tuesday and met with two men who said they were separated from their children as part of President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance policy." Video courtesy facebook.com/RepDonBeyer

Like many Baltimore area families, the week leading up to the first day of school was filled with jitters in our house — along with anxiety, excitement, nervousness, energy, hope and joy as we wondered aloud about teachers and class lists and friends and summer reading. It was a week of intense feelings for me, heading into my 18th first day of school as an educator, and my two children, who were starting third and sixth grades.

But the feelings I was most concerned about that week were those of my husband, the last piece in our Connect Four family.

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Detainees walk down a hall at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga.
Detainees walk down a hall at Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. (Kate Brumback/AP)

Earlier this summer, he had told me that he was considering being away from us during the first week of school. He would be traveling to the remote town of Lumpkin, Ga., to do pro bono work by translating for detainees at an ICE detention center. After much deliberation, he decided to go on the trip. On a truly selfish level, I wanted him to refuse and stay for our first week of the new school year. On an empathetic level, I was scared of what that week would bring to him.

I consider myself to be a pretty “woke” person: I stay current on national and global events, I think about and act upon my personal responsibility to create change, I share research and resources with those around me. And yet, there always exists a distance — ICE raids occur over there, ICE detainees are held over there, ICE detention centers exist over there.

My Latino husband was voluntarily walking into an ICE detention center, and I could not stop fixating on what it would mean for a first-generation Latin American immigrant to sit in that space. On the day he packed for the trip, I told him I was worried. I was worried about what he would see and hear and feel; he thought I was worried that he would be detained in the center and assured me that he would not. I burst into tears.

And he left. He left to give assurance to a traumatized community. He left to ensure that vulnerable people had access to due process. He left to be part of the solution. He left because that was the right thing to do.

Every night of that week, we wrestled on the phone. I wanted him to share all of the embattled and complicated stories that he was holding in his brain; he wanted to hear about our children’s first day of school. I wanted to cry on the phone with him; he wanted to hear funny anecdotes. I wanted to experience all that he was experiencing; he wanted to protect me from his experiences.

So, I helped our son with his 1-inch binders and packed our daughter’s new backpack and thought hard about my opening day outfit. I piled my kids and their things and my things in my Honda Pilot and made my drive up Charles Street.

On that particular first day of school, I hugged and kissed my kids. We decided we would do dinner at their favorite restaurant. I went outside to greet and welcome students to The Park School of Baltimore, where I work. I walked around our school, feeling privileged to be in a place where students and faculty and community members think deeply about all of the issues affecting us today — and advocate for themselves and others.

When my Puerto Rican/Dominican/Ecuadorian children were safely and peacefully asleep that night, I cried. I cried for my husband’s experiences that week. I cried for the detainees who had been held for months with little hope of release without deportation. I cried for parents who made difficult decisions because they wanted their children to experience a magical first day of school in this country.

As an educator, as a parent, as a community member, I cried because I felt overwhelmed by all that we are facing in the world.

A couple of months ago, a close friend wrote about curricular work we had co-created. In his letter he said, “this calls me more vividly and urgently still to our work with young people figuring out how to live in this bewildering and also beautiful world.” This world is bewildering and beautiful. This world belongs to young people. And we owe it to young people to recognize that there is still so much work to do.

Priscilla Morales (pmorales@parkschool.net) is associate head of school at The Park School of Baltimore.

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