Talk about a group that’s caught in the middle. They’re out in the cold without many options. They came to the United States illegally with their parents. Some were children, some were babies, some were teenagers. It’s not like they had a choice in the matter. They and their parents were illegal immigrants, but in this conversation, that almost doesn’t matter. Most grew up in America and went to school in the United States. They have known no other country. They would be utterly lost in El Salvador, Bolivia, Korea or Sudan. For all practical purposes they are Americans.
However, since they came to this country with their undocumented parents, they’re considered aliens in the country illegally and therefore, subject to deportation. Fortunately, the Obama era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has spared them from deportation so far. It allows them to apply to remain in the U.S. on a year-to-year basis. But, its future, let alone any long-term path for these kids, is dicey at best. President Donald Trump has expressed sympathy for the DACA kids and said he wants an immigration compromise that addresses their unique situation, but he wants to end the program. The Supreme Court will likely decide whether he has that power or not. In June the U.S. House of Representatives, voted on a bill, H.R. 6, to give DACA kids a path to citizenship. The Senate, however, is reluctant to deal with the issue during an election cycle.
This highlights one of the problems we have with immigration policy in the United States. What to do about that people who don’t fit conveniently into one box or another? In a less partisan and excited era it’s likely that Congress and the president would work out some sort of path that these folks could follow to stay here. Right now, while eliciting lots of sympathy, policy solutions are in short supply. Still, it is a human issue and that’s the way it should be viewed.
So, let’s consider a real-life example. A young man I ran into at Starbucks near Central Park was a recent high school graduate. He was a nice fellow and I enjoyed talking to him. I don’t know how well he spoke Spanish, but his English was excellent, and came with a slight Northern Virginia accent. He too was caught in the middle. I don’t know why he shared all this with me, but he did. People can be very talkative while waiting for coffee. He came to this country as a child from El Salvador. Thankfully, he was able to stay and work here because of the DACA program. He said he couldn’t imagine ever living in El Salvador. He hadn’t been there since he was 2 years old. He was an avid Redskins fan, a strong point in his favor, and worked for his uncle in the flooring business. Nonetheless, he can’t make plans and really has no idea what his future holds.
There are about 890,000 of these young people in the United States with about 26,000 in Virginia. Most of the ones in Virginia are in Northern Virginia. So, what do all those numbers and program names mean in terms of people? This story repeats itself over and over again. Most are in school or in jobs and most are making a useful contribution to our country. Ah, but here is the kicker if it weren’t for the Deferred Action Program they would all be subject to possible deportation. Curiously, when compared to young people their own age, those who were born in the U.S. or are naturalized U.S. citizens, the DACA kids are far less likely to be involved in criminal activity or drug use. Indeed, most are in school or have jobs. I guess they know the bit about hard work and the American dream.
They also know that as American as they may feel, in the eyes of the law they’re not Americans. This is a problem that needs a solution. The administration and various leading members of Congress have said they want it addressed in a larger, more comprehensive immigration bill.
That’s nice, but that’s not going to happen. Not in this hyper-partisan environment.
That’s why, for now, for this unique group, maybe a targeted bill, one that just deals with childhood arrivals, like the House bill, is better. These young people have been out in the cold too long. It’s time to bring them into the fold of the only country most have ever known. That’s the right thing to do and at the risk of sounding like the introduction to a Superman movie, it’s also the American way.
David Kerr, a former member of the Stafford School Board, is an instructor in political science at VCU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.