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Undocumented Students Not Being Deported

I mentioned in the last post about scapegoating, which seems to follow a recession. Matt Yglesias had a good piece in the Washington Post this week about the issue. But beyond public employees and the “lazy unemployed” xenophobia appears to be taking center stage this summer, both with respect to the Cordoba House Islamic center and the birthright citizenship issue. In short, as Peter King (R-NY) surprisingly admits, demonizing brown people seems to be driving a lot of what the Republican Party stands for nowadays.

King, the Long Island congressman, said that in terms of social issues, the raging controversy over the Arizona border laws is providing more than enough ammunition for Republicans in key districts.

“The Arizona immigration law is there, there’s no reason to be raising an issue of gay rights” as a wedge, he said.

The anxiety people feel over the loss of job security has been channeled by right-wing politicians into fear of the alien other. This is normal in a time of economic stress, when people want to blame someone and opportunists will always go out and find a punching bag for that express purpose.

You see both parties succumb to this. Instead of dealing intelligently with our immigration problem, Democrats hastily passed a border security bill in the Senate that gives in to the worst impulses of the nativist wing of the country. You can see it in the record amount of deportations under President Obama. Democrats across the board have sought to prove their “toughness” by taking it out on vulnerable members of society.

But that apparently has its limits. The President is not targeting undocumented students, an outcome which could lead to a more humane policy in this area.

The Obama administration, while deporting a record number of immigrants convicted of crimes, is sparing one group of illegal immigrants from expulsion: students who came to the United States without papers when they were children.

In case after case where immigrant students were identified by federal agents as being in the country illegally, the students were released from detention and their deportations were suspended or canceled, lawyers and immigrant advocates said. Officials have even declined to deport students who openly declared their illegal status in public protests.

The students who have been allowed to remain are among more than 700,000 illegal immigrants who would be eligible for legal status under a bill before Congress specifically for high school graduates who came to the United States before they were 16. Department of Homeland Security officials said they had made no formal change of policy to permit those students to stay. But they said they had other, more pressing deportation priorities.

It’s true that the federal government does not have unlimited resources to deport every undocumented person in the country. But this line-drawing at the level of students should lead to passage of the DREAM Act. A failure to enforce can only go so far. These students want to contribute to America in a positive way, and current law will not allow it. They had no say in the matter to come to this country, and they shouldn’t be punished for the sins of others. Close to 700,000 students would become eligible for citizenship status under the new policy. It’s the right thing to do.

Until we actually start creating jobs, the xenophobia won’t go away. In the meantime, we can put together a humane and simple policy that would at least bring the next generation into the fold.

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David Dayen

David Dayen