The right thing to do

When I was an immigration advisor at UGA I once had to tell a young woman that she was here illegally.  She was an 18 freshman who had gotten herself a job at the dorm when her would be employer told her she could not work and that she would need to go see me.  When I asked her about her legal status she said she had been here for years and was not sure.  I knew immediately what she was.  One of the millions brought here before she could remember anything else, but she was completely unaware. I told her to go home, talk to her parents, and come back with her passport and visa documentation - whatever that may be. When she came back it was as I suspected.  She had been here since the age of 7 on a tourist visa that expired when she was 8.  She was from South America but had no memory of being there.  She was crushed.  She was paying for school with a church scholarship.  A good student and a regular church-goer, she had enough get up and go to get a part time job on campus only to find out she was not eligible for employment in this country. "What do I do now?" she asked.  I knew there was little to be done, so I told her to talk to her mother and get an immigration lawyer.  The best I could do for her was to tell her to make sure that lawyer specialized in immigration law, since I knew of lawyers who promised these kids a lot just to take their money.

She was the only one I ever had to break the news to myself, which I guess is pretty rare.  But I knew of many others who like her had fallen through the cracks and were going against all odds to get an education in hopes that someday they would actually be allowed to work.  You see in the state of Georgia at the time (I am honestly not sure if it still is the case) anyone who could pay and qualified academically could go to a state school.  Your legal status could not deny you admission, since admission is based on academic qualifications.  Of course they are not eligible for the HOPE scholarship or any other government aid because for that you need a legal and valid social security number.  So they have to make it with other help: mostly family money, church aid or other private scholarships.  I have heard of others who were student leaders, doing what they could to create awareness of this problem.

And it is a real problem.  There is this incorrect notion that the people who are here illegally are illegal because they are too lazy to become legal.  "They should get in line like everybody else" you frequently hear.  There is no such line.  Someone like this girl can go back to her parents' home country and get in line, which means she has placed a ten year bar on her ability to come to the US. Period.  Then she can navigate a very complex immigration system that is based on marriage and employment.  If she has an employer willing to sponsor her visa to work, she is still subject to a quota that is ridiculously low.  Or she can marry an American citizen who might want to sponsor her green card.  None of these options is realistic or easy.  The idea that any of these people can just walk into an immigration office to "get legal" is a fantasy because that option does not exist.

There is a number of misconceptions about undocumented people floating around.  I know, because until I worked with immigration and was trained on these regulations I believed some of the same crap I still hear so called educated people spew out on TV.  Most of the people here illegally came here legally, and overstayed.  Getting a tourist visa is fairly easy in most countries, but there is a misconception that once you are in you can just change your visa status in country.  That is very hard to do.  If you are here on a non immigrant visa becoming a legal immigrant while you are here is almost impossible.

President Obama has deported in his term an unprecedented amount of people.  He has been criticized for this  because people are quick to criticize anything he does.  All the reports I have read say that they have dialed up deportations of people with criminal records which we should all be for, right?  And I mean those who have committed violent crimes. This was the briefest and most balanced account I found to share:

While I agree that granting a blanket amnesty sends the wrong message, the other option is deporting millions of people which is also ridiculous.  Not to mention the hypocrisy of it all, since when the economy was booming no one seemed to care much about the illegality of the bus boy or the construction worker as long as the table was clean and the house was built.  As usual, in times of economic hardship it is the immigrant that gets the lovely role of the scapegoat.  Someone has to be to blame for all this bad stuff around us.  In any case, regardless of what is done for or to those who chose to come illegally, stopping deportations of those who came here as children is the least we can do.

In my opinion, it is cruel and inhumane to punish the children for the sins of their parents.  I certainly would not want to held accountable for what my parents did when I was a child.  I was born in New York City, but I have never claimed to be from New York.  I am from Puerto Rico which is where I grew up and lived until I was 22 and made the choice to leave for the first time.  Even after all these years, Puerto Rico is my home, and I always refer to Georgia as my second home, New York never even plays into the picture of who I am.  I cannot imagine a world where I am told "You are from New York and that is where you belong."  Really?

What is the alternative?  The idea that they will "self deport" is ludicrous.  The proposal to deport all of them is impractical and costly, when law enforcement dollars should be spent on other issues like, I don't know arresting child molesters and rapists.  The current situation forces these people to live in an underground economy with no hope of getting out.  I don't know about you but none of these options sound like the land of the free or the home of the brave.  This is why I have supported the DREAM act from the first time I heard about it.  If you don't know what it is, here is a brief history:

This is the opposite of amnesty.  This gives young kids who are here without papers an incentive to do well in school and stay on the straight and narrow.  If you are told by your guidance counselor: "If you stay out of trouble you could eventually become legal" wouldn't you stay out of trouble?  The system right now tells these young people they might as well start the life of crime now because there is little legal opportunity for them.  As thinly stretched as the military is, why not extend this opportunity to those who want it?  Opposing this seems insane to me.

The Dream act, or some portion of it has been around for over ten years and has never been passed.  What Obama did was take the underlying principle of it and try to implement it as best he could, as a way to start it off somehow.  Was it politically motivated? Of course!  If any of you live under the illusion that a politician up for reelection does anything a few months before the election for anything else than political points you are just flat out naive.  Now the political points to be scored are smaller than people think.  I mean, we all know you have to be an actual citizen to vote right?  I think the biggest political point scored was stumping the Republican favorite for VP who had a plan who is now moot because of this.  Brilliant move.  At a time when Romney needs to move to center to force him to have to discuss this is priceless.  However, I do not think he is going to convince any new voters, the most he can accomplish is to get some enthusiasm out of people like me.

People like me see this, know the political implications, can pretty much guess the motivation behind it, but still: It is the right thing to do.

Anyway, here is Jon Stewart on the subject:


  1. Whatever your feelings for Rubio or the Republican Party are, he was working towards an actual bill, a law. Obama killed the changes of that happening. Even if Republicans were developing the bill purely to regain the Hispanic ground they had under W., it would have had a positive effect in the Hispanic community. Most bills are politically motivated anyway and to think otherwise is delusional. I too support something like the Dream Act (although I have some reservations about the college requirements given the fraud history that some schools for-profit have had), but I am really displeased with what Obama did, or did not do, rather. First, when he had control over both houses, he did nothing for the immigrant community. Claims that they were too busy with the economy and other things are bogus. W (as much as I hate giving that man credit for anything) had a great immigration reform bill. The Republicans then defeated it. The bill gave undocumented immigrants a change to get legal status paying back taxes and getting to the back of the line so to be fair to immigrants who have been waiting for years to come to the US via the legal way. Obama and the Democrats could’ve simply reintroduced that bill and pass it. They didn’t. They took us for granted. Instead, they let congressional interns prepare a healthcare bill that the president admitted he never read because it was too long. As to the Democratic inaction towards immigrants and the Dream Act, here are two good op-ed pieces from Ruben Navarrette, a CNN commentator on Hispanic matters. I don’t always agree with him, but as to this issue, I found myself agreeing with him almost 100%: and I cannot join in any celebration that this was a great way to sticking it to Rubio or the Republicans – this only stuck it to us. Immigrants were promised a diamond ring by Obama and instead got a cubic zirconia.


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