To the best of my knowledge, all four of my grandparents immigrated to America in a legal fashion. My parents were born in Texas, allowing my birth to gift me citizenship as an American and a Texan. Yet I sometimes wonder where I might be had my family been deported.
I suspect the scenario would not be so good.
A great deal of discussion has erupted about the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was designed to give some protection to young, U.S.-based individuals brought to our country illegally as children by their parents. Without the tag of “legal entry,” these individuals were subject to deportation to their country of origin. Without the DACA protection provided by President Obama, they faced being returned to countries of which, in most cases, they simply have no memory or even family or friends to contact.
The fiery rhetoric we hear often focuses on the “illegal entry” aspect. With some, it’s a clear-cut issue: One is either in this country legally or illegally. If one is here illegally, then one must be shipped back to the country of origin. That, it would seem, is that.
For others, the question is more humanitarian. If one is brought to the United States illegally by someone else (parent or other family member, sex trader, border runner, etc.) without any real choice in the matter, are Americans simply not able or willing to accept these “innocent immigrants”? What might seem the right solution for some — deport them — is for others a moral question not so easily answered.
Talking or, more than likely, arguing about “them” as a group often skirts discussion of the individuals themselves. And each of these DACA elective applicants has a different story to tell. Many of their stories are emotional accounts that would, if heard, probably prompt at least some of those at the forefront of the “send-’em-all-back” faction to rethink their stance.
One such story comes to me often because I knew a brilliant young man who came to McLennan Community College as a student when I was in the administration there. This student was a quiet, respectful and deeply intelligent young man who had been educated entirely in Waco Independent School District throughout his primary and secondary school years. His goal: Get a degree in accounting.
Because of his high academic achievement in high school, this student received a private scholarship to attend MCC. He did so well that he was named the most outstanding accounting student in his sophomore year. Before his MCC graduation, however, he was stopped by local law enforcement because his automobile had a hole in the muffler, causing the vehicle to run loudly.
Upon learning the student didn’t have the proper papers, our young scholar was detained, transferred to San Antonio and scheduled for deportation hearings. Shortly afterward, his appointed attorney called me to ask if I could supply some background material on our student to help him, at least temporarily, avoid immediate deportation to a country he never knew because he had been brought to the United States as an infant. The future he now faced: being placed on a bus, driven across the Texas border and unceremoniously dropped off. No friends or family would be waiting for him. Just imagine this for a long moment.
That phone call is seared in my memory. I would have been terrified if one of my own children were in this situation. And this student, whom I knew well, was facing a fate I would not want for my children. This student had a brilliant mind, was reared in a respectful manner, loved our country and was a good citizen in every way but officially. He defied the ready stereotype of some rough, street-smart hooligan. Would he have lasted long at all on the streets of a country unknown to him?
Thankfully, we assembled information about the student’s scholarship program, his progress and achievements at MCC, support letters from faculty and administration, etc., which, when presented to the proper authorities, moved the hearing judge to rule for deferred adjudication for our student. This young man was able to return to MCC, complete his associate degree program, move to a university, earn a bachelor’s degree and land a local job where he has excelled.
He is now married with children, pays taxes and serves as an excellent role model for family, friends and co-workers to emulate. In retrospect, the solution seems so right.
His employer, a strong supporter of MCC, would tell you that this young man earned his position with the bank. He didn’t take anyone’s job away. He competed for it with an excellent resume and strong work ethic.
This story is but one of many in Waco and throughout our country. I truly believe anyone who had the opportunity to know some of our young students — to really know them — would think long, hard and judiciously as to whether a massive deportation effort is fair. Yet, after all these years, with the end of DACA at hand, with an often-conflicted Congress faced with the question of whether to save these individuals, with no expeditious legal path to legal status, DACA recipients now face deportation. Upon deportation, away from spouse, children and job, they could only return to the United States legally by applying for re-entry — and then waiting for approval for 15 to 20 years under the current system.
My children are blessed to face life without fear of deportation. Such uncertainty plus the potential loss of American freedoms would cast to the winds any hard work and achievements young DACA applicants might have accomplished, even as they seem to live the lives of any other individual of their generation here in America. I like to think our all-American ingenuity, compassion and work ethic would just naturally appeal to our better angels and compel us to spurn any penalty for DACA applicants. If they do what is so right, perhaps we should too.