The case of Eric Balderas would make a great movie. The child brought to the United States by his Mexican mother, fleeing an abusive father, when he was just four years old. She struggles as a factory worker to care for him. He studies hard, becomes valedictorian of his high school class, and miraculously gets accepted with full scholarship to Harvard, where he studies to become a micro-biologist. [Rocky-like music plays in the background.] Who knows? Maybe Eric is the one who will discover a cure for cancer. It’s the stuff of great American myths. The only problem is, Eric Balderas came to this country illegally.
According to the Boston Globe, Balderas never even knew about his immigration status until he was in high school. As many know by now, the Harvard sophomore was detained at the San Antonio airport returning from a visit to his mother. When the news hit, along with the threat that he could be deported to Mexico, the all-powerful Harvard community, up to and including President Drew Gilpin Faust and members of the Harvard Law School, sprung into action, and now, happily, he has been accorded deferred deportation status. He can stay at Harvard and study and work. At some point, he’ll have to reapply to renew that status. So we all feel better.
But what about all the other Erics out there, kids brought here illegally through no fault or choice of their own, kids without Harvard connections who nonetheless have much to contribute to the American melting pot? We can feel good about the one story, but what of the policy changes needed to keep this from happening on a large scale?
The Dream Act, sometimes called the American Dream Act, has been kicking around in Congress for nine years. Erics of the world would have to be between the ages of 12 and 35 when the law is enacted. They’d need proof of having arrived in the United States by the age of 17, having resided here at least five consecutive years and having graduated from an American high school. They’d also have to be of good moral character. The first six years, they could be here conditionally so they could get a leg up on their college education or serve in the military for two years. They then would be able to apply for legal permanent resident status. They couldn’t get Pell grants but would be able to apply for student loans and work study.
Would the Dream Act encourage illegal immigration? That’s a legitimate concern, but yet another reason to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Eric Balderas may not like being in the limelight, but he certainly puts a face on one aspect of immigration in the United States. His apparent character makes it harder to demonize immigrants, even certain young illegal immigrants. The time for comprehensive immigration reform is long past due. Without it we will encourage states like Arizona to try to deal with the problems large and small, real and imagined, as part of a crazy quilt of inconsistent local responses. . George W. Bush and John McCain showed that this doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. But now Bush is gone and McCain has turned quisling in the face of a tough primary challenge. Will the real statesmen and women please stand up?
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