Dream Act could save immigrant students from deportation

Thursday, August 12, 2010

IN MANY WAYS, Eric Balderas's story is the typical American dream. He came to the United States with his parents at age 4. He was the valedictorian of Highlands High School in San Antonio and was admitted to Harvard's class of 2013. There, he studies molecular and cellular biology and is about to begin his sophomore year. He dreams of helping to find a cure for cancer.

But there is one problem: He is not in the country legally. On June 7, boarding an airplane back to Boston after visiting his mother in San Antonio, he was arrested and threatened with deportation. There was an outcry--on Facebook, in newspapers, even from members of Congress. Finally, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it would not pursue his deportation, allowing him to remain in the country to continue his studies.

Eric is only one of a number of students whose deportations the Obama administration has declined to pursue, sensibly focusing its efforts on deporting those undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. But this policy is not official -- and the administration has said it won't be without the passage of immigration reform. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security tackles student deportations case by case, leaving it vulnerable to criticism for selectively enforcing the law and consuming time and resources better spent expelling criminals. But even an official moratorium on student deportations would only serve to keep students in the country, not offer them a path to citizenship.

Rather than allowing this state of limbo for students to continue, Congress should pass the Dream Act.

Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) conceived the Dream Act to offer a path to citizenship for thousands of promising young people who came to the country illegally when they were children. Some of these students do not even know they are undocumented until they try to apply for driver's licenses or scholarships. Rather than deporting them to countries many of them barely remember, the Dream Act would help lead to naturalization for youths who came to the United States before age 15, earned GEDs or high school degrees and completed two years in college or in the armed forces. The measure is carefully aimed, targeting only young people with clean records who have resided in the country continuously for at least five years. Such students demonstrate the hope and promise of a better life that America has always held out to those who seek its shores. But without the Dream Act, they remain vulnerable to deportation.

Comprehensive immigration reform is necessary to repair the broken immigration system that strands thousands of deserving would-be immigrants on endless waiting lists. But it may not be achieved before the end of the congressional session. This is no excuse not to pass a sensible, narrowly tailored measure that could have a significant, positive impact.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company