agents made their way through the car, asking passengers if they were
U.S. citizens. No, the vacationing siblings answered honestly, with
flat, Midwestern inflections: We’re citizens of
And so it was that college students
20, and his brother Rafael, 19 — both former captains of their high
school varsity tennis team — found themselves in jail, facing
Their secret was out: Despite their upbringing in
middle America, their academic success and their network of native-born
friends, they had no permission to be in
The Robles brothers, now out of jail but fighting
removal in Immigration Court, are among thousands of young illegal
immigrants in similar situations, living at risk of being expelled to
countries they barely remember.
Two weeks ago, a
These immigrants are known in some circles as “Dream
Act” kids, named after proposed legislation that would grant them legal
Their cases underscore a contradiction in the Obama
administration’s approach to immigration enforcement. Even though the
president supports the Dream Act — which would provide a path to
citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here as children who enroll
in college or the military — his enforcement bureaucracy continues to
pursue deportation cases against the increasing number of students who
would be protected by it. It’s part of a push that is on track to
remove a record 400,000 illegal immigrants this year.
“It highlights the inconsistencies in immigration policies,” said
Immigration authorities say they rarely deport
students, particularly once their teachers, coaches, friends and
elected representatives speak out on their behalf.
Balderas, for example, was placed in “deferred
status,” meaning the government won’t remove him unless he gets in
trouble. Even so, the young people remain in legal limbo, often unable
to land a professional job after earning a degree. And they live with a
legal sword of Damocles over their heads, subject to removal at any
“These cases illustrate the need for comprehensive immigration reform,” said
Their father works for a car dealer, and their
mother is an assistant at a mortgage company. They came to the U.S. by
airplane five years ago on a tourist visa and never went back.
“We want to go to school and to work here,”
Several residents of their community, a Republican-leaning
“Gee whiz, these are just two quality kids,” he
said. “They are everything you would want your kids to be. These kids
are going to be leaders in their communities — taxpayers, not tax
In recent months, immigration rights activists have renewed their push to persuade
to pass the Dream Act. Activists have staged hunger strikes and
occupied congressional offices. This month, about 30 students marched
“Immigration reform may be dead this year, but we feel that smaller pieces like … the Dream Act can move forward,” said
The Dream Act, sponsored by Sen.
“have essentially grown up as Americans” deserve legal status. But
Obama has done little to push the bill as president.
After meetings with immigration rights groups this month,
But proponents have to overcome opposition from
those who say the measure would grant amnesty to a far larger circle of
illegal immigrants than the college students who have become the faces
of the movement.
Under the proposed legislation, when the youths become citizens and turn 21, they could sponsor their parents for green cards.
“It would lead to chain migration,” said
executive director of NumbersUSA, which supports stricter controls on
immigration. “And they would create a lot of extra competition for our
There are dozens of undocumented students attending
and other selective universities and hundreds at state schools, he
said. They often speak flawless English and have few memories of their
native counties. Many were not aware they were illegal until they began
applying to college.
“I grew up thinking I was just like everybody else,” said
Lopez is trying to avoid deportation to
— a country she hasn’t seen since she was 7. Her family came to the
attention of authorities after her father’s employer initiated, then
withdrew, petitions to secure green cards for the family, she said.
Lopez graduated near the top of her high school class in
Lopez, who is studying to become a chemical
engineer, is gathering letters of support from her professors, coaches
and counselors to present at the next Immigration Court hearing. At the
same time, Lopez said, she is praying that the Dream Act passes.
“We are all just crossing our fingers,” she said. “It will benefit so many of us. It’s not just me.”
(c) 2010, Tribune Co.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.