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Deport the Innocent

Last Friday, the Obama administration announced, as reported in the NYT, that

hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children will be allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation and able to work … .

Administration officials said the president used existing legal authority to make the broad policy change, which could temporarily benefit more than 800,000 young people. He did not consult with Congress, where Republicans have generally opposed measures to benefit illegal immigrants.

The policy, while not granting any permanent legal status, clears the way for young illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, work legally and obtain driver’s licenses and many other documents they have lacked.

Later in the day, Atrios devoted a post to what he labeled Asshole Test:

I think a reasonable test of whether someone is an asshole without any hope of improvement is if you sit them down and explain that:

1) People without the legal right to live and work in this country often bring their kids here with them.

2) Those kids are often quite young when they arrive. You know, babies.

3) Such kids also are undocumented.

4) In many cases they grow up not or barely speaking the language of their home countries, depending on their age and particular circumstances.

5) Given whole lack of documentation thing, most of these kids have never been to the country that their parents came from and don’t know any of the family, if any, that are still there.

6) Upon becoming adults, their work and educational opportunities are complicated and limited.

If the person’s response is, “they’re illegal, deport them,” then you know you’ve found an asshole.

Today, in a front-page NYT article, Damien Cave provided a concrete example of the damage done.

Jeffrey Isidoro sat near the door of his fifth-grade classroom here in central Mexico, staring outside through designer glasses that, like his Nike sneakers and Nike backpack, signaled a life lived almost entirely in the United States. His parents are at home in Mexico. Jeffrey is lost.

When his teacher asked in Spanish how dolphins communicate, a boy next to him reached over to underline the right answer. When it was Jeffrey’s turn to read, his classmates laughed and shouted “en inglés, en inglés” — causing Jeffrey to blush.

“Houston is home,” Jeffrey said during recess, in English. “The houses and stuff here, it’s all a little strange. I feel, like, uncomfortable.”

Never before has Mexico seen so many American Jeffreys, Jennifers and Aidens in its classrooms. The wave of deportations in the past few years, along with tougher state laws and persistent unemployment, have all created a mass exodus of Mexican parents who are leaving with their American sons and daughters.

[snip]

Critics of immigration have mostly welcomed the mass departure, but demographers and educators worry that far too many American children are being sent to schools in Mexico that are not equipped to integrate them. And because research shows that most of these children plan to return to the United States, some argue that what is Mexico’s challenge today will be an American problem tomorrow, with a new class of emerging immigrants: young adults with limited skills, troubled childhoods and the full rights of American citizenship.

“These kinds of changes are really traumatic for kids,” said Marta Tienda, a sociologist at Princeton who was born in Texas to Mexican migrant laborers. “It’s going to stick with them.”

Jeffrey’s situation is increasingly common. His father, Tomás Isidoro, 39, a carpenter, was one of the 46,486 immigrants deported in the first half of 2011 who said they had American children, according to a report by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Congress. That is eight times the half-year average for such removals from 1998 to 2007.

Mr. Isidoro, wearing a Dallas Cowboys hat in his parents’ kitchen, said he was still angry that his 25 years of work in the United States meant nothing; that being caught with a broken taillight on his vehicle and without immigration papers meant more than having two American sons — Jeffrey, 10, and his brother, Tommy Jefferson, 2, who was named after the family’s favorite president.

As for President Obama, Mr. Isidoro uttered an expletive. “There are all these drug addicts, drug dealers, people who do nothing in the United States, and you’re going to kick people like me out,” he said. “Why?”

[snip]

Jeffrey, like many other children whose parents have moved them to a country they do not know, seems to be teetering between catching up to his classmates and falling further behind. His parents are struggling to find work and keep their marriage together. Jeffrey, in quieter moments, said he was just trying to endure until he could go home.

“I dream, like, I’m sleeping in the United States,” he said. “But when I wake up, I’m in Mexico.”

Obama’s policy change has come a little late. But I’ll put most of the blame for our benighted immigration policies on the Republican Party leadership, who care far more for children before they are born than after.

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