Undocumented kids shouldn’t be punished

Alex Belz

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) among activists across the country. The bill, which was introduced in the House in March of 2009, would allow children of illegal immigrants to apply for five years of conditional permanent residency in the country if they serve two years in the military or at university.

While Congress is waiting to decide whether these people can  apply for legal residency, some are being deported to their home countries. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is handling cases involving illegal immigrants eligible for the DREAM act on a case-by-case basis, rather than deferring every case until Congress makes its decision. Congress is expected to vote on the legislation this fall.

If Congress votes the bill into law, the people who are being deported this year and last will be ineligible to apply once they are out of the country. Some of them are prevented from coming back for up to ten years.

How can we force them to leave and not come back for so long, when in a month or two Congress may decide that they were eligible for legal residency after all? These cases need to be deferred. These people deserve a chance to stay, and, if there’s a possibility that act could pass, we owe it to these potential U.S. citizens to give them that chance.

The problem is that currently there is no way for an illegal immigrant who came here as a minor to apply for residency. These are people who grew up in America and happened to have been born somewhere else. They didn’t knowingly come here. They deserve a chance for a choice: to stay or to leave.

In some of the cases, the people have little or no relation to their home countries anymore. This is the case for Ivan Nikolov, a Russian illegal immigrant who came to this country with his mother when he was 11 years old. His mother married a U.S. citizen, and they’ve been living in the states for over a decade.

Melissa Pinskey/NW

Nikolov is now 23 and lives in a suburb of Detroit, engaged to a girl who was born here. On May 5, his home was raided by ICE. Although he barely speaks Russian and has little ties to his birth country, he was held in jail from then until this past Monday, Aug. 23, when he was released with an ankle bracelet to monitor his movements. Now, Nikolov is just waiting for the news of when he will be deported, and his mother  already has been.

It is one thing to deny residency to an illegal immigrant who came here knowing they were violating the law. It is quite another to prevent someone from staying who may never have had a choice to come here, especially if that person spent almost all of their most formative years in America.

Strangely, progressive Democrats, every bit as much as hard-line Republicans, have been delaying the discussion of the bill on the floor. The Democrats want comprehensive immigration reform and don’t think that voting on this bill by itself is enough. They want a bill to increase security along the Mexican border and give long-time illegal immigrants amnesty, even those who knowingly violated our immigration laws.  The hope in this reform is that people on all sides of the political spectrum can get behind it.

Unfortunately, by waiting for some magical, perfectly comprehensive illegal immigration bill, these Congressmen are allowing people like Ivan Nikolov to be deported every year.

I’d love to live in a world where such comprehensive reform can be introduced. However, I have a feeling that’s a pipe dream that won’t occur for a long time.

Think about how long it took progressive Democrats to get health care reform to be seriously considered in Congress. “Comprehensive immigration reform” may take another twenty years.

While Congress is dawdling,  trying to figure out what it is going to do for these people they might decide can legally stay here, the loved ones of people like Ivan Nikolov are wondering whether their friends or spouses or boyfriends or co-workers are going to have to leave the country permanently.

People like Ivan Nikolov don’t have twenty years to wait around for the magical comprehensive immigration reform to save them.

They’re waiting to learn if they’re going to be deported today, tomorrow, next week. And for some of them, it’s already too late.