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“Dear Obama,
This Christmas a lot of things came to mind when I thought about what I wanted as a Christmas present. I thought long and hard but realized that I wanted something bigger than what you can buy at a store. I decided that what I wanted was my dad, even though I have him now. It frightens me to think that in one afternoon while I’m at school he might not be there when I come home. It just wouldn’t be the same without him this year during Christmas. So my Christmas wish this year is to have a world with less deportations. – Stephanie, age 13.”

During the holidays, most kids wish for a bicycle, a video game, or a fancy new doll. This year, thousands of children are wishing for something much more meaningful—that all families be able to spend the holidays together. In fact, over 5,000 children of all ages and backgrounds submitted letters as part of the “Wish for the Holidays” campaign, an effort led by We Belong Together, asking President Obama and Members of Congress to keep parents with their children and safe from deportation this holiday season.

Some children wrote about sadness for friends whose parents were detained or deported, some wrote of the fear and devastation they would feel if they had to experience having a parent taken away from their family, while others spoke of their own heartbreaking experiences witnessing a mother or father arrested and taken away from them. Each letter was handwritten, all of the messages were heartfelt, and many were carefully illustrated. Each expressed the same simple wish: that all children and families be allowed to stay together, regardless of their immigration status.

On December 8th, I had the privilege of participating in the press conference and delivery of letters to Members of Congress along with several children, young adults, and their parents. The simple but sweet messages made me think of my own family and the fact that I cannot imagine having grown up without the constant, loving presence of both of my parents. My mother and father were involved in every aspect of my life, attending each soccer game, dance recital, school play, and band concert. They provided every ounce of support, love, and encouragement I needed to get through difficult trials, and the inspiration I needed to succeed. They continue to be an incredible presence in my life, and I know I would not be nearly the person I am today without them in my life. It is unimaginable that any child could be denied the stable, loving home I was so fortunate to experience, and that every child deserves.

During the letter delivery, I was accompanied by two vivacious little girls, Hailey and Alejandra, 5 and 6 respectively, and their lovely mother, Leslie. Adorable in their matching leopard print coats and high ponytails, Hailey and Alejandra were a breath of fresh air in the stuffy halls of Congress. This was both girls’ first time in the Capitol, and their excitement was contagious. Each girl’s face was fixed with a huge smile as we walked through the Russell Senate Office Building to deliver baskets of letters; beautiful smiles that belie the pain and sadness these girls have experienced for the more than 17 months since their father was wrenched from their lives and deported to Honduras. The girls have not seen him since he was taken from their lives and Hailey and Alejandra yearn for their father every day. Each time the girls ask their mother when they will get to see their dad again, Leslie’s heart breaks as she is forced to tell them that she simply doesn’t know.

Seeing this family hand-deliver letters urging our leaders to protect mothers and daughters just like them around the country was a truly powerful experience. Leslie and her daughters, all United States citizens, are living proof that inhumane detention and deportation policies devastate children and tear families apart. According to a new report, over 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children were removed from the country during the first six months of this year, and over 5,000 children are currently residing in the child welfare system due to policies impeding them from reuniting with their parents.

The holidays are a time of tradition, family togetherness, and reflection — a time to appreciate the wealth and love we have been blessed with and to share that wealth with others less fortunate. As I travel home to spend the holidays with my own family, I can’t help but think about Leslie and her little girls. Undoubtedly, Hailey and Alejandra would give up all of their toys and presents for the chance to get their father back. It’s time we listen to the voices of children around the country and urge our leaders to keep families together.

Click here to read press coverage on the letter delivery

Click here to read more of the children’s letters