Blog Archive

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Keeping the dream alive for immigrants

By Elliott Young
October 01, 2010

Hector Lopez was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents when he was 6 weeks old. He lived a productive and successful life in the Portland area, attended Clackamas Community College, and he planned to transfer into Portland State University. That all changed one month ago when he was arrested with his father and deported to Mexico for being in this country illegally. Hector doesn't speak Spanish and wants to return home.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, the Dream Act would make about 700,000 students like Hector eligible for conditional legal residency; another million more immigrants would become eligible in the future. But the Dream Act has stalled in the Senate, where it's been held hostage to the defense authorization bill to which it's tethered. The Dream Act allows those who entered the country as minors, who graduate from U.S. high schools and who are of "good moral character" to earn conditional residency in this country. It makes sense for the Senate to debate and vote on the Dream Act and not to allow it to be held hostage to political maneuvers.

Hector Lopez's case is exemplary. He was a motivated student, a senior class president in his high school in Milwaukie, and from all reports he is well-respected in his community. But even if the Dream Act passes and 700,000 students have the opportunity to continue their studies and/or join the U.S. military, there will still be more than 10 million other immigrants who continue to live in the shadows.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, workplace raids by Immigration & Customs Enforcement increased dramatically, and a general wave of fear spread through immigrant communities across the nation. Barack Obama promised a more humane policy toward undocumented immigrants. But what we've seen since Obama became president is a different version of the same Bush policies toward illegal immigrants.

Obama promised to focus enforcement efforts on felons and repeat offenders among the migrant population. The reality is that under the Obama administration ICE has deported an unprecedented wide swath of the immigrant population. In 2009, only 35 percent of the deported immigrants were convicted criminals, meaning that the vast majority of deportees were not criminals. This year, ICE expects to forcibly deport a record 400,000 immigrants. That's 10 percent more than were forcibly deported in 2008, 25 percent more than were deported in 2007 under Bush, and an astounding 1,300 percent more than were deported in 1990 under George H.W. Bush. While ICE has changed its tactics from military-style workplace raids to company audits, the new strategy winds up deporting more non-criminal immigrants than Bush II's Rambo tactics.

There are some who may argue that all illegal immigrants are criminals. But coming into the country without proper documentation is a misdemeanor, the same as jaywalking or a speeding ticket. It makes sense for the government to focus its enforcement efforts on locating and deporting illegal immigrants who have committed violent crimes and are a danger to society. But it's an utter waste of government resources to deport hard-working, law-abiding immigrants, some of whom have lived virtually their entire lives in this country.

Hector Lopez languishes in Mexico, a country he doesn't know and whose language he doesn't speak. The bill that could help Hector and the thousands of other students who want to improve their lives and contribute to society also languishes in the halls of Congress. The dream of coming to the land of opportunity still draws millions of people to our shores and across our borders. Let's keep the dream alive.

Elliott Young lives in Portland and is the chair of the History department at Lewis & Clark College.