Oct 09, 2012 | By Ashley Wilson
In the presidential debate last Wednesday there was absolutely zero conversation about U.S. immigration policy. Lucky for me, I had the opportunity to attend a conversation and short film about immigration and deportation in the hours before the debate. The presentation featured Lundy Khoy, a Cambodian woman who was born in a Thai refugee camp and moved to the U.S. when she was one year old. She received her green card around five years old, and her younger siblings are U.S. citizens.
Lundy lived in the United States her whole life, and when she was a teenager she did what many teenagers do: she made a mistake. She was arrested and charged with possession with the intent to distribute because her boyfriend had given her some pills to hold on to. Her lawyer advised that she plead guilty. Lundy’s sentence was three months, and she was on probation for four years after that.
Lundy made a mistake and had to pay the consequences. What she didn’t know then, and what I didn’t know until last Wednesday, was that green card holders can face deportation if they are found guilty of criminal charges brought against them. It doesn’t always happen right away, and it can take years before the process is completed and travel documents required for deportation go through. Lundy, now twelve years after her conviction, will be deported to a country that she has never even been to. The most frightening thing for me is that apparently this isn’t uncommon and deportations keep increasing, particularly for Southeast Asians living in America.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, provides temporary (two-year) deferral of deportation from the U.S. as well as work authorization for people who came to the U.S. before their sixteenth birthday. There is a long list of eligibility criteria, and people like Lundy are not eligible. Kids make mistakes. It happens, and I know that there are plenty of people out there who wouldn’t want to be judged by some of the things they said or did at nineteen years old. I know I wouldn’t, and I’m only twenty-two. It doesn’t make sense to me how the United States and Immigration and Customs Enforcement can look back to a silly mistake that someone made as a kid and turn their world upside-down twelve years later.
DACA, for the most part, is a beneficial, much-needed policy. DACA supporters were momentarily reassured when Mitt Romney said he would honor the Obama Administration policy should he take office in January. In the days since, Romney’s campaign has clarified that although they would not revoke the exemptions already paid for prior to January 20, there would be no new visas issued after he takes office.
What does this mean? Currently in the United States, there are 1.4 million people eligible for DACA. To date, only about 200 people have been approved. Based on this rate, it is estimated that 100,000 people would receive their visas and work papers before Inauguration Day. That’s only one in every fourteen people eligible. Clearly, the election will have a major impact on U. S. immigration policy.
No matter what is decided on November 6, it is clear that DACA does not serve as a solution to the inconsistent and unfair immigration policy of the United States. What we need to do is establish realistic, compassionate, and comprehensive immigration reform that does not simply use a checklist to determine what is just.