At 2 years old, Helen was brought to the United States from Mexico as her family struggled to provide food for the table and hope for a better life. They were poor urban workers in Mexico, where there was a long line for day labor but no line for legal immigration to the United States. Like many people, Helen’s parents began a dangerous journey north, seeking a better life for their children.
Helen’s parents found work in the fields of California but soon migrated to the fields of Minnesota, where they searched for the means to support their children away from the violence of gangs and drug wars.
They pursued the American dream knowing that their children would do better than they had and would have a chance for a good education, resulting in greater economic and housing stability.
Beyond her grasp
Helen was an eager learner and did great in school — close to the top of her class. At 16 she was ready to enter the hallmark class: driver’s education.
Needing a Social Security card in order to get a driver’s permit, Helen sought this all important documentation from her parents. Only then was she told of her undocumented status; soon the realization sank in that driving was not the only thing beyond her grasp — so, too, was higher education and her chance to become a school social worker.
Her dream became a dream much deferred, and Helen did a tailspin into major depression. What future could she have? Why should she continue making good grades? Why had she tried so hard only to end up at this dead end? What would her friends think if she was the odd-woman out, not pursuing the typical high school and post high school activities?
Clearly this whole mess wasn’t of her making, but it was becoming her undoing.
Enter the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals rule, the temporary administrative relief offered by President Obama that would allow Helen to pursue work, a driver’s license and education at a community college.
This break, while only temporary, rekindled her spirit, and she began to immediately gather all of the “proof” she needed in order to apply for DACA status.
Helen, for all practical purposes, is a U.S. citizen — she knows nothing else, remembers nothing about Mexico, English is her primary language and her Spanish isn’t even that good. Without comprehensive immigration reform, however, Helen will be stuck again because this administrative relief is only a two-year reprieve.
Hope on the horizon
Enter the just introduced Senate Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act that would create an immigration process allowing Helen to obtain lawful permanent status after five years in a new probationary status established by the legislation (compared to 10 years for others). She also would be immediately eligible to apply for full citizenship at that time.
If this legislation passes, Helen has a future in this country as a new aspiring American and can come out of the shadows.
If this legislation passes, her parents also will be eligible to pay fines, back taxes and proceed to follow a road map to citizenship. It will take 13 years for them to fulfill the requirements before they can become citizens. As people who have contributed to our culture and have a commitment to our country, this seems like a long time. On the other hand, they have already waited 15 years to have this chance.
Immigration reform is long overdue; think of the talent and gifts that will be wasted if we fail to act!
Tomlin is vice president for social justice advocacy at Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Category: Faith and Justice