In Georgia alone, more than 10,000 immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children have applied for a temporary reprieve to protect them from deportation. That’s a significant number, especially when you consider that the program was only announced five months ago.
There are a couple of ways to think about numbers that large.
Those who believe that illegal immigrants are by definition criminals who pose a threat to this nation’s economic security, soveriegnty and even ethnic identity would find 10,000 an ominous number. The same would be true of the 300,000 that have applied so far nationwide. And of course, that 300,000 in turn represent just a small subset of the 12 million or so illegal immigrants now in the country.
But there’s another way to look at it as well. The 10,000 applicants from Georgia — all of them between the ages of 15 and 31 — are people who think of themselves as Americans, who have lived much of their lives in this country and who very much want to be Americans. Most speak excellent English. They are not here, as some stereotypes would have it, to live off the rest of us.
In fact, to even be eligible for the program, these children of illegal immigrants must have graduated from an American high school, have earned a GED or still be in school. And while qualifying under the federal program makes them eligible for a temporary permit to work in this country, it does not make them eligible for government benefits of any kind.
And again, some 10,000 such people have applied in Georgia alone.
I understand that many Americans who take the first point of view about illegal immigrants are unlikely to change their minds. But the question is, where does that perpective lead us? If we take that position as a country, what policy options flow from it? If we insist that those people be treated as criminals, our only options are to try to identify them and deport them by force — all 12 million of them.
As a practical matter, that simply isn’t going to happen. It would be far too expensive, far too time-consuming and far to disruptive to the communities in which those 12 million have made their home. And as a matter of morality, it shouldn’t happen. Because here’s the thing that is acknowledged too seldom in this debate:
The vast majority of those who entered this country illegally in the past 25 years were lured to make lives here under an immigration enforcement regime that was lax not by accident or incompetence, but by design. We did little to enforce our borders, and even less to patrol the workplace, because our leaders made a conscious choice that in a booming economy, we could look the other way and make good use of their labor.
We — as a nation — broke our own laws, out of our own sense of greed. To now turn around and try to boot these people out because they are no longer convenient for us is not the act of a great nation.
And the American people understand that fact. In the wake of the election, a lot of attention has been focused on how poorly Republican candidates did among Latino voters. But the American people as a whole are also eager ready to resolve this question. In exit polling, 65 percent of all voters said that illegal immigrants ought to be given the chance to become citizens. Only 28 percent said they should be deported.
The public, in other words, is far ahead of its supposed leadership on this issue.
– Jay Bookman