Some Thoughts on Obama’s Decision on America’s Young Illegal Immigrants

The firestorm over the President’s decision to permit as many as 800,000 young migrants who came to the United States as children to remain in our country and seek a better future continues to rage.

Of course his decision is not perfect, not bipartisan and, not surprising, very unpopular among Republicans.

Perhaps the president is somewhat politically motivated.

Perhaps the president’s use of an executive action is questionable.

Perhaps the timing, five months before national elections, is awkward – perhaps even opportunistic.

Perhaps the president should have tried to work even harder with Congress on reaching a compromise on the Dream Act.

But perhaps — also — the president’s decision will put an end, at least for the time being, to the uncertainty, anguish — at times even despair — which 18-year-old Heidy Mejia has faced for too many years.

You see, Heidy still remembers, “crossing the Rio Grande in the middle of the night, floating next to her mother on a wooden board strung between two tires. A man pulled the makeshift raft as he swam and told Mejia not to worry. The river, he said, was like a long, flat swimming pool.” Heidy was only four years old then.

She still remembers getting caught by the Border Patrol when they reached the other side of the river and being ordered to appear in court.

Since Heidy and her mother, Dora Aldana, did not show up for the court hearing, the United States filed an order for their deportation — if they could be found — on Sept. 21, 1999.

A lot of things happened during the next 13 years.

According to the Washington Post, Heidy and her mother moved to Richmond, Va. and settled into a two-bedroom basement apartment. Aldana found a job at a hair salon and married Mejia’s father, who worked in construction until he was deported in 2009. The family joined a church and a neighborhood association and a Sam’s Club. Aldana gave birth to a son, now 3, who is a U.S. citizen.

Heidy went on to attend Meadowbrook High School in Richmond where she graduated with honors on Friday, June 8.

Heidy had planned to enroll in college.

However, there was one little problem. In December, immigration officials came to her family’s apartment with the announcement that Heidy and her family would be deported back to Guatemala only days after Heidy’s High School graduation.

Things have happened very quickly during the last couple of weeks.

After the Washington Post published the story about Heidy’s and her mother’s pending deportation on June 10, Heidy and her mother received a last minute reprieve when, on June 11, the Department of Homeland Security granted them a one-year deferral.

The reprieve from deportation will now allow Heidy to enroll in college and “get a part-time job in cosmetology, as she had planned,” for at least a year.

However, the specter of eventual deportation would still hang over Heidy’s head.

That is, until last Friday, June 15, when President Obama made his policy announcement that could remove that specter and allow Heidy to step out of the shadows of disesteem, uncertainty and fear and open to her and to 800,000 others “pathways to higher education, to careers, to fuller involvement in society that, until Friday morning, had been hopelessly blocked.

Perhaps President Obama jumped the gun.

Perhaps he should have done this sooner.

I hope that, regardless of all the accusations, suspicions and outrage, when the storm passes Americans will agree that the president’s bold move is sound — the right thing to do for the young immigrants but, more important, in keeping with our country’s values, compassion and conscience.

Image: www.shutterstock.com

         

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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7 Comments

  1. At the end of the day, it simply was the right thing to do. As I note in another comments thread, the last president to advocate what Obama has done was George Walker Bush, but hardcore conservatives (and this was pre-Tea Party) would have none of it.

  2. It is my understanding that individuals under the age of 30, in school, or finished with American school or have spent time in the military or are in the military can qualify for the residence granted by this action.

    Can someone explain how someone in the country illegally (by legal definition, not social definition that accepts them as being American) can be in the military? I thought you needed a SS# and other documents to enlist, but that does not seem to be so.

    Anyone know the answer?

  3. That is a good question.

    A non-citizen who wants to join the military must meet certain requirements: (1) Have an Alien Registration Receipt Card (stamped I-94 or I-551 Green card/INS Form 1-551), (2) Have a bona fide residence established, and (3) Have established a record of the U.S. as their home., in addition to all other requirements that U.S. citizens have to meet

    There are illegal immigrants who have been able to join the military probably by not divulging all the facts.

    Here’s one story. http://seattletimes.nwsource.c.....rmy09.html

    There are many more .

    And here is another person asking the same question — and giving a partial answer:

    “Wait, they let illegal immigrants in the military?

    President Obama’s executive order halting deportations for certain illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children is all the buzz today. The Christian Science Monitor describes the specifics:

    Under the executive order, individuals need to be at least sixteen years old and no older than thirty to be eligible for the deferred action policy. They need to have been brought to the United States before they turned sixteen and need to have resided in the country for at least five continuous years before their application. They also need to be currently in school, or to have graduated from high school or gotten a G.E.D., or have been honorably discharged from the military.

    Honorably discharged from the military? Do the Army and Navy not care if you’re even in the country legally when you go to enlist? It’s strange.

    Personally, though, I’d say that if someone’s good enough to face Taliban bullets for America, a work permit once they’re discharged is the very least we can do for them.” emphasis mine

  4. There are a lot of what ifs.

    Some of those 800,000 people will be concerned about applying, because of their relatives. Some of them will have to rely on themselves for the first time if their relatives are deported. Can they support themselves and complete college? What happens after college? Will they then need to go into the military to keep their status?

    There are a lot of what ifs.

  5. I am just as curious as you — and I am sure 800,000 others — as to exactly how the change in policy will be implemented.

  6. Ohioan — not only for their families, but for the repercussions if the next administration, should it change in November, immediately revoke this policy. It’s documentation that a person is here illegally, it likely contains things like place of employment and address. Sounds like an easy place for particularly sadistic administration to start looking for people to deport.

  7. I didn’t think of that, roro. You’d think the stink raised in doing such a thing would preclude anyone doing it. But we’re not talking about anyone, we’re talking about the Tea Party.

    Just heard that the Koch brothers are spending their money at lower levels to insure a GOP congress. I guess I did assume that, but not on such a scale. This may take years to correct.

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