We can’t let everyone in, nor let everyone stay. But we can do better than this.
ONCE a month I volunteer at a DACA clinic at Microsoft. I was hesitant at first. I’m a lawyer, but I don’t practice immigration law nor do I speak Spanish. I soon discovered that Spanish isn’t necessary. Most applicants speak English as well as I do, and they come with their forms neatly filled out. They look and sound American. They’re studying biology, teaching kindergarten, coaching your child’s soccer team, mowing your lawn. They want to stay here, to work, to study, to live the lives they’ve started. For most of them, the United States is the only country they’ve ever known.
It’s not lost on me: They’re not here legally. Their parents crossed a border without permission, or were here legally and then lost their status. But these kids, the “Dreamers,” had no say in any of this. Their parents made the choice. Send them back? To Mexico, El Salvador, South Korea — to countries of which they have no memory? Part of the application process is answering detailed questions about how they crossed here. To a person, most of them have no idea. They were 2, 3, sometimes 9 years old? They text their parents to make sure they have the right facts because they were too young to remember.
As I look across the table, I see young folks who seem American. We laugh at the same jokes, watch the same TV shows, have similar dreams and share American values. I realize that had I been born to different parents, I might be sitting on the other side of the table. I was lucky. As a doctor, my father was able to come to the U.S. from Iran and bring our family with him under a work visa. My parents found their way to the Seattle area, where my sisters and I grew up. Over time, we became American citizens, in our hearts and on paper.
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Dreamers feel American in their hearts, and they contribute to our society every day. But their circumstances leave them no way to climb out of limbo and obtain legal status. No matter how great a student, how well they teach, nor how well they heal you, our laws offer them no way to live here legally.
Blind enforcement of the law — without regard to circumstances or equity — does not render justice. That’s why good prosecutors will often decline a case, even when they could technically stitch one together. What justice do we render and what message do we send by forcing out people who have otherwise lived here lawfully and didn’t themselves break our immigration laws? Can you even violate the law at age 2?
Our current immigration system is surely broken, or, at best, convoluted. We deny asylum to people fleeing war-torn countries, and yet we allow foreign nationals who have no desire to plant roots in our country to effectively buy a green card. The question is what future vision do we hold and what values do we consider paramount as we fix our system? Is our vision a paranoid one, with a shrinking and limited pie where we each grab for ourselves and let the rest be damned? Do we want to dole out immigration status to the highest bidder? Or is our vision an optimistic and generous one that recalls that we share a collective history of immigration, with the binding ingredient our shared values? No, we can’t let everyone in, nor let everyone stay. But we can do better than this.
American success has been achieved time and again by reaching higher, for better solutions than those that come from easy answers or political expediency. Kicking out good people isn’t the right thing to do. It’s inhumane. We’re better than this.