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Obama says young illegal immigrants get to stay

June 15, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Here's more fodder for the Presidential campaign.

President Obama announced today that his administration will stop deporting young illegal immigrants who are not a security risk. Illegal immigrants who were brought to the country before they turned 16 and don't have a criminal record will now be permitted to apply for legal work permits.

Congress has refused to pass the so-called DREAM Act, which would have given legal residency to young illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents as children and who grew up here. Today's action by Obama seems like something of an end run around Congress.

I have some mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I do think it's only fair to give people who grew up here a chance to stay here legally. There are too many of them to deport all of them. How is it right to deport a kid who may have come here as a baby and no longer speaks the language?

On the other hand, doesn't this open the door for a flood of illegal immigrants and their children? Will they be deporting the parents of these kids or do they get to stay as a humanitarian measure?

I have interviewed too many people who waited on waiting lists for 15 or 20 years to bring their families here legally, who paid thousands of dollars to go through the citizenship process, who took citizenship and English classes all so they could become American citizens. Obama has just said it's OK for kids whose parents broke the rules to get a free pass while the kids of legal immigrants get to stay on a long waiting list. The taxpayers also get to provide free K-12 education and likely free medical care for those students, all at a time when there are a lot of Americans out of work and some homeless and education and health care systems are stretched to the breaking point.

There are other concerns too, concerns about immigrants who fail to learn English and don't assimilate to the larger culture. A sudden influx of illegal immigrants to a region can cause a lot of tension. We may be reaching the saturation point for immigration in some of those areas, especially of illegal immigration.

The part of me that asks questions like that is the part that understands popular phrases like "What part of illegal don't you understand?" Maybe more deportations, not fewer, are necessary.

Long term, I think the United States does need to completely revamp its immigration system. It is clearly too hard to come to this country legally and it isn't right that so many people must wait 10 or 15 or 20 years to come here legally. But I'm not sure if Obama's move is the right way to go about fixing the problems with the system.

In the short term, this looks to me like a campaign year stunt that should boost Obama's popularity with Latino voters.


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