As far as James knows, he’s from Plumas County and lives the life of a cowboy. From his old truck to his ranch life, absolutely nothing about the young man says he was born and raised anywhere other than in rural Northern California.
But then one day he finds out something a little different. He finds out he wasn’t born here at all — finds out he didn’t move to Plumas County until he was 4 years old. His mother — a woman with little formal education, and definitely not someone with a law background — confesses to him when he goes to get a Social Security card to begin work. She didn’t have any idea they’d stay this long and become tethered to the land so far away from her home.
He’s 17 now and barely remembers anything before age 7 and nothing in his baby photos suggests a setting other than where he is now.
James was planning on going to college and had just applied for a part-time job.
And now he’s the victim of circumstance and an arbitrary line that wasn’t always there. Suddenly James — a kid who speaks no other language than English — is being told to get ready for deportation back to his country — a country he’s never seen and doesn’t speak the language of.
This nightmare sci-fi scenario is, unfortunately, commonplace for many Californian students who find out that they were not born in America.
To the unsavvy, unversed in immigration law, casual observer, the solution falls into a couple of categories: 1) Well, why not just go to the country of origin? 2) Well, why not get one’s papers in order and get to the “back of the line” and do things properly?
All easier said than done. What immigration law, Congress and armchair observers miss is the obvious — these are people with lives, with loves, with jobs, with children. These are people responding to circumstance the best they can — just like the rest of us do.
What sets DACA kids apart from other immigrants isn’t necessarily their absence of criminal record (100 percent, according to government data) or their 91 percent college graduation rate or their military service. Or even that they tend to major in harder, more demanding subjects than their American born counterparts. What separates DACA recipients from other immigrants is a 1996 anti-terrorism law that came about as a response to the first time an attempt had been made on the World Trade Center. Huh?
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 signed into law by Bill Clinton has a clause in it with a very unintentional side effect.
Effectively? An undocumented person applying for status within the United States must apply from outside the United States to get back in the country regardless of whether or not an American in their family can sponsor him or her. The wait period for application is as many months or years the person was “illegally” in the United States.
So, in other words, someone with no big ties to America who overstayed a travel visa last year and married an American can leave the country and apply to come back and be snug at home in less than a year — sometimes less than six months.
But a child brought to the United States at age 6 and is now 29 has to legally stay out of the United States 29 years if he or she wants to do things “the right way” through the proper channels.
Where’s the justice and equity in that? Like anyone in Plumas County, if you lived like James does in Plumas County for 29 years and were suddenly told you weren’t a rural American, but an urbanite from a city you’ve never seen, speaking a language you’d never spoken, you’d be devastated. You would hope others could see your plight and act humanely.
The Dream Act was and is a stop-gap measure attempting a correction at the miscarriage of law that the 1996 law proved to be. But no person in Congress is strong enough to vote down an “anti-terrorism” law. I can just see the political ads taking lawmakers to task (queue scary political music: “He voted to get rid of anti-terrorism measures …”
If you think this doesn’t affect people in Plumas County, you’re wrong. My English as a second language classes were peopled heavily with DACA eligible students.
There are people milling about their armchairs shouting over the Internet about needing real immigration reform. To them I say, absolutely. Of course we need one. I would personally like to see an amnesty like the 1986 one that the Reagan Administration introduced, but with clearer paths to citizenship and execution that doesn’t break up families.
Both major political parties hide from their responsibility to both immigrants and native born Americans — the former for keeping people in endless costly limbo and the latter for spreading incorrect information.
Do you remember the political decisions you made when you were 6? Have your parents ever made desperate economic decisions?
Meanwhile, DACA recipients who entered their information into the system willingly and trustfully will be deported. Counties across the United States will lose valuable assets to their communities. And for what? To satisfy an unsubstantiated hatred and fear.