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.

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Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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