If you believe every undocumented immigrant should be deported no matter the circumstances, then there’s probably little I can do to persuade you otherwise. I’m certainly not going to talk down to you, or berate you or call you a racist. There is already too much bile poisoning our public discourse.
Besides, polemics from both sides rarely address the complexities of the issue. Immigration advocates, in their zeal to promote their cause, don’t declare often enough that there are undocumented immigrants we don’t want in America under any circumstances.
Meanwhile, those who adopt a hard line that anyone and everyone without documentation should be deported overlook how this belief breaks up families that include American citizens. Also threatened are undocumented immigrants making positive contributions to communities.
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So, instead of finger pointing or name calling, I’d like to address the issue by appealing to your common sense and asking this question: Are there some deportations that would cause more harm to our country than good?
President Donald Trump appears to be on the verge of answering that question. He has said that on Tuesday he will announce the fate of a program that, at least temporarily, spares thousands of young people from deportation.
As a presidential candidate, Trump had pledged to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which has provided work permits and administrative relief from deportation to nearly 800,000 young, undocumented people since 2012.
These people, often called “Dreamers,” were brought to this country without documentation by their families when they were infants or children. They have passed extensive background checks, paid nearly $600 in fees each time they renewed their DACA status, have attended college, served in the U.S. military, and been law abiding.
For every Luis Bracamontes, the undocumented Mexican national accused of killing two Sacramento-area deputies in 2014, you have many more people like Doris Romero.
Romero, 20, was brought to the U.S. without documentation from El Salvador when she was only 5. She now is a successful student at Sierra College in Rocklin. She hopes to get into UC Berkeley. She would love to run for Congress one day, the very governmental body that has kept people like her in limbo.
Congressional inaction for more than a decade stalled comprehensive immigration reform that might have allowed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants like Romero, her family and many others.
Instead, President Barack Obama created DACA to spare young people who are not responsible for their “illegal” status. DACA was always a Band-Aid and now Trump threatens to rip it off, irrespective of the young people who consider themselves Americans without papers.
“I’m proud of living in the United States,” Romero said. “I’m proud of being an Auburn resident.”
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Earlier this year, Romero became part of the immigration debate when she told Republican Congressman Tom McClintock about her circumstances at a town hall meeting in El Dorado Hills. McClintock appeared unmoved by Romero’s story and essentially told her she had to return to El Salvador, a country she doesn’t know or remember.
Romero said she was scared to out herself publicly as an undocumented person, but felt she had to speak up about the realities of her situation. She was stunned when the crowd at the town hall meeting began chanting “Help her! Help her!”
Even in staunchly conservative Auburn where she grew up, Romero found herself mostly embraced despite her “illegal” status, she said. Why? Because some Americans understand the common-sense difference between undocumented immigrants like Romero and Bracamontes.
With Bracamontes, you prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law and you do the same to undocumented immigrants who threaten our communities in any way.
It wasn’t her choice to come to the U.S. without documentation. She wouldn’t know for years what “undocumented” even meant, or how much danger that classification would bring to her life or to the lives of hundreds of thousands of others.
She now has three younger siblings, all of whom are American citizens. Her mother and father have worked multiple jobs in the nearly two decades they have lived in Auburn.
“I remember my mother coming from work and taking off her Sizzler shirt and putting on her Chevys shirt and then going back to work,” Romero said.
Romero’s family fled El Salvador after Hurricane Mitch destroyed their village in 1998. She grew up in an area with only a few Salvadoran families. She remembers being called “that little beaner girl” in junior high school.
“Some of the people who said this were my quote friends unquote,” she said. “I didn’t confront them.” She was told to avoid confrontations, for fear of bringing trouble to their fragile existence.
Her parents worked hard, gave birth to American kids. And Doris Romero? By the age of 8, she was the family interpreter. She dealt with utility bills and was often the only kid in her class without parental accompaniment on field trips because her parents were busy, pushing themselves to provide.
She didn’t learn she was undocumented until she wanted to get a driver’s license and her mother explained to her why she couldn’t. Nevertheless, she did well in school, enrolled at Sierra College, got a job at the college because of DACA, and found her voice that day McClintock told her to go back to El Salvador.
“Most of the people (in Auburn) have been very welcoming,” she said, adding that she wants to make her community better because she loves it.
What would be solved by deporting her to a country she doesn’t know? What would become of her American siblings? What would happen to the undocumented students at Sacramento State? Or the undocumented people who have graduated and become teachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District? Or those who work in Sacramento City Hall? Or anywhere else?
It was heartening that Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House, called on Trump not to end DACA. Orrin Hatch, the venerable Republican senator from Utah, did the same and said the obvious: Congress needs to sort out immigration first. Tearing families apart in the meantime will do more harm than good.
There shouldn’t be as many undocumented people in the U.S. as there are, and Congress should have acted a long time ago. But sometimes if you pull hard on a thread, all you do is damage the garment.
“I don’t want to think about what might happen” if DACA were repealed, Romero said. “I would have to hide.”
Would it make sense on any level to upend a productive life like hers? It would not. So why do it?