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There's a woman standing in front of me with a GPS ankle bracelet like she's a criminal. Only she's a mom. Her boy, a profoundly innocent middle schooler, isn't either. Two months earlier, they fled Honduras for a better life here. The bracelet is Immigration's way of keeping track of her. They're in my pediatric clinic at San Francisco General. She's making sure he has his physical and vaccinations before school starts. Just like I do with my three boys. They came here because her son was pressured to work for the cartel back home, and saying no wasn't an option. Right now, they need stable housing.

Staring at her ankle, I think about the choices my three boys have: my youngest saving for a bike lock and riding up in the Berkeley Hills, my middle negotiating time off from his summer job to stay at his friend's vacation house, my eldest planning a camping trip before he goes to UCLA.

What is her boy learning about life when he comes here, looks at his mom's ankle, and hears her negotiation of necessary and narrow choices that hold everything together? Grit, determination, resilience -- buzz words that are the privilege of people like me trying to build character in my sons. Meanwhile, she faces different challenges -- creating a life where her son experiences the freedom, play and privilege my boys enjoy.

Coming home from work, I will listen to stories on the radio about the influx of these children. Hateful words are hurled by those who want to send these refugees back, Americans who believe that their families earned their comfort when many of us were just lucky in where and when we were born. Vietnamese, Cuban, Irish -- we all got here by boat.

I give the boy his shots as his mom tells me the tremendous story about their journey here. She smiles when I tell her that he's in good health. I want him to go to school, make friends. I want his mom to find work and housing in the California paradise I enjoy. More than anything, I want to snap off mom's ankle bracelet, a literal and figurative shackle, and let her know she's home.


With a Perspective, I'm Clem Donahue.

Clem Donahue is a pediatrician caring for youth at San Francisco General Hospital in the Children's Health Center.

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