No shadows

With new rules on deportation, young illegal immigrants have a chance to escape ‘hiding.’

August 18, 2012 

They came to this country through no choice of their own, brought by a parent or parents who were themselves seeking work and a better life, even if it meant breaking the laws meant to control our borders.

Some found that better life and managed to do better for their kids, who went on to graduate from high school. Some of those young people even served in America’s armed forces. Often, they worked steadily.

But always, there were shadows. Always, there was the chance they’d be sent home. Maybe there would be a raid.

And then there came the era when local law enforcement in some places enlisted to help federal immigration officers. A traffic stop could result in the unexpected and unwanted ticket back to a homeland they’d never really known.

And they waited, waited for the federal government, which has charge of immigration law, to do something about the presence of millions (no one dares guess anymore, but the figure was at 12-15 million at one time and now may be around 11 million) of illegal immigrants and their families.

Some on the radical right said: Send ’em home. But that was an unrealistic position. Others, President George W. Bush among them, talked of a “guest worker” program, by which illegal immigrants could stay in the U.S. to work without staying in the shadows. But such advocates were ignored or shouted down.

A good step

Now something positive has happened for some of these families. Those who were young children when they were brought to America can, under a policy change instituted by President Obama, apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for a program that will allow them to stay in the country and work for two years without fear of deportation. They will be, in one sense, “legal.”

It’s a good first step. Those eligible, after all, were innocent bystanders when their families brought them here and have been the same ever since. This is, for all intents and purposes, their country. They should not be treated as criminals.

The program may be threatened by the lack of resources available to process the applications (which cost applicants a fee of $465). But one hopes the program could have positive impacts in other ways. Perhaps local law officers could back off of doing the federal officials’ jobs for them, and focus on public safety in their communities exclusively.

And perhaps in light of this ruling, the state of North Carolina can back away from unreasonable rules that make it difficult -- not impossible, but difficult -- for undocumented immigrants who have graduated from high school in the United States to attend public universities and community colleges. Those who have been residents of the state must face all sorts of roadblocks, from no public financial aid to out-of-state tuition rates.

Let’s grow up

And might there be hope that this action could diminish the demagoguery among some state and local politicians, who have made political targets of illegal immigrants for years?

What about, for example, North Carolina’s community colleges? They could provide prime training opportunities for young illegal immigrants who’ve graduated from high school and are seeking further training opportunities, opportunities they could turn into jobs in local communities in North Carolina, and thus into tax revenue for Raleigh and cities and towns.

Yet the state’s policy remains unfriendly, and Republican lawmakers, who have often tended to make illegal immigrants a politically opportunistic target, are now in charge in Raleigh and no one knows what anti-immigrant actions they may take next year.

Let us hope they resist that dark temptation. It must be said again and again: These are young people who did not plot and scheme to cross the borders to engages in nefarious activity. They were brought over by parents or other relatives in search of a better life.

Those who did their part, by getting educated, by working, by being law-abiding residents, have done nothing to deserve the treatment they’ve received at the hands of politicians, many of whom are using them for their own purposes.

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