My husband, Steve, and his first wife, Laurene, moved to Eastern Europe shortly after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. The day before they boarded the plane to move to Bratislava, Slovakia, Steve and Laurene discovered that they were expecting, unexpectedly, twins! Since Bratislava’s medical care was still behind those of Western Europe and the birth of twins is a higher risk pregnancy, they chose to go to Vienna, Austria for the pregnancy care and birth.
Early one morning Laurene’s water broke and they made a harried run across the Danube River for the Slovakia/Austria border. Before long David and Paul made their dramatic debut about a minute apart via C-Section.
Steve and Laurene planned on living there long-term, but a breast cancer diagnosis short-circuited those dreams. At six months of age, the twins were brought to America for the first time. Since then, they’ve lived, gone to school, and looked for jobs in America, which is as much home to them as any child born in America.
What if the Immigration police showed up one day and looked at their Vienna, issued birth certificates and passports? Would the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents send them back to Austria, a country where they’ve never actually lived and where there are no relatives and where they don’t speak German? David and Paul would be lost.
Now this can’t happen to David and Paul since they were born abroad to U.S. citizens. If their parents had not been U.S. citizens, the twins would find themselves in the same situation facing almost a million young people who were brought to America. When you’re a toddler you go where you parents take you. You live where your parents live. When you grow older, according to the law of your new land, you attend school and eventually graduate.
That’s the point where the one million Dreamers’ lives have stalled. They cannot attend college, apply for a scholarship or even obtain a job to support themselves. And, the shadow of fear of deportation stalks them. College student, Jessica Colotl discovered this in 2010. She was attending Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., when she was arrested on campus for driving without a proper driver’s license. She was exposed as an “illegal immigrant” even though the migration occurred when she was ten years old, well before the age of informed consent. This honor student quickly found herself in handcuffs and behind bars after being transported to an ICE facility in Alabama.
Her experience has been shared by many young people who were brought — much like David and Paul — to this country, were raised here and consider America their home. Last week, President Barack Obama spoke a message of hope to the Dreamers who are stuck in this Catch-22 immigration situation.
In Obama’s address to the nation from the Rose Garden he said, “Effective immediately the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. Over the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization.”
The president said, “They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper. They were brought to this country by their parents — sometimes even as infants — and often have no idea that they’re undocumented until they apply for a job or a driver’s license, or a college scholarship.”
Even before he finished his speech, the wails of protest began from those who oppose giving grace to those young people who are stuck in this flawed immigration system.
There are restrictions on who can apply for a work permit or scholarship for college. The new policy states that a young person would be immune from deportation if they arrived in the United States when they were younger than 16, have been in the country at least five years and are under the age of 30. They have to have graduated from high school or earned a GED and have no criminal convictions in order to be eligible to apply for this exemption. Since this policy change was made by executive order it goes into effect immediately.
Almost 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King echoed the cry of the Dreamer’s hearts when he said, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring…”
…And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
I’m well aware that many argue this will encourage an increase in illegal immigration or that Dreamers would drain federal programs of funds but, I agree with the president on this one. Tempering the joy that his executive order brought to the families affected, he said, “Let’s be clear, this is not amnesty, this is not immunity…this is not a permanent fix. This is the right thing to do.”