Dreaming USA

My admonishment of S. 2611 may have been a little rash and idealistic, so let me get more specific. This bill, though not a satisfactory long-term solution, would still serve as a savior for millions of people now living in limbo and the danger of deportation -- and not only through the "guest worker" provisions.

S. 2611 includes the Dream Act, which would help foreign-born residents who have lived in the USA since before the age of 16 to adjust to permanent residence if they haven't left the country for more than 90 days, except in extreme circumstances, for five years before the enactment of the bill, if they've completed high school or a higher level of education, and if they have "been a person of good moral character". This provision is important.

Consider the case of "Samuel", who came to the USA as a small child with his family when his father was a diplomat from Cameroon. The family came on diplomatic visas, meaning legally. Samuel and his siblings grew up here, fully documented and part of the fabric of our country. Samuel developed into a fine athlete and eventually used that talent to earn a scholarship to a private high school and then admission to a major university, UMASS-Amherst.

But when Samuel was a teenager, his father returned to the Cameroon and died soon after. The family -- Samuel, his mother, and three siblings -- lost their status. The mother applied for political asylum and, if approved, could have then applied for residence for the children. But the immigration authorities were so slow in processing the case that Samuel aged-out, became too old to qualify as a dependent on his mother.

As a college student Samuel later could have applied for a student visa. But in order to get a student visa, he'd have to prove he intended to stay here only to study and then return "home". That means he'd have to show his established life and roots in Cameroon. Which he doesn't have. Because he has grown up here. In other words, our current immigration policy wouldn't give Samuel a student visa because he does not have roots in Cameroon but also refuses him residency here because it claims that he belongs in Cameroon.

Now, years since the family first came here, Samuel faces the possibility of deportation to a country he doesn't know. For all intents and purposes he is an American. He speaks English as if it were his first language, without a hint of a foreign accent. His friends and his life are here. He has been paying taxes all these years. He has contributed greatly to Amherst's community as a student-athlete, graduating this week with a degree in political science. He served two years as a captain of the Division I-AA UMASS-Amherst Minutemen (ironic, no?) football team and this year received the Coaches' Award. And he recently accepted a job as an assistant coach with the team.

He came here legally and as a child, and we would kick him out of the country? This Minuteman who has lived here for almost all of his childhood and for the entirety of his adult life?

And he's not a rare case. We have students in our schools whose parents brought them here as small children who have the brains and drive to contribute to our country, but they can't attend the schools and universities to which they gain admission because they don't have the right papers. We're missing the boat here.

The Dream Act should go through. It would serve as a savior to upstanding, talented, contributing people like Samuel who have spent their lives here. And that sounds nice and American, doesn't it? But for this version of the Dream Act to help people, the bill to which it's attached, S. 2611, has to be approved.

So, now what? Do we push for the enactment of this bill that could save many and perhaps tighten up our system? Or do we reject this bill and hope for one that provides longer-lasting solutions to our problems? Or do we take a third road through which we hope to pass this bill for now and immediately start work on a new one to improve it?


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