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So Much For Compassionate Immigration Laws

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[Sorry to disappear for two days, kids. Was out of town surprising a friend who is getting married and who was in the states from Europe, where she lives. Am back. Obviously.]

The loud and clear lesson from this article in today’s Times: if you are an undocumented immigrant, ’tis better to stay under the radar than to take on a public service career. From the sad story of Oscar Ayala-Cornejo/Jose Morales:

Growing up here, Oscar Ayala-Cornejo recalls, he played chess and devoured comics, hung out at the mall and joined the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. After high school, he realized a childhood dream, joining the Milwaukee Police Department.

But when Mr. Ayala-Cornejo filled out recruitment papers, he used the name of a dead relative who had been a United States citizen. He had to, Mr. Ayala-Cornejo says, because ever since his parents brought him here from Mexico when he was 9, he has lived in the country illegally.

The life that Mr. Ayala-Cornejo carefully built here, including more than five years with the police force, is to end at noon on Saturday, when, heeding a deportation order, he will board a plane bound for the country he left as a child.

In May, acting on an anonymous tip, immigration agents arrested him on charges of falsely representing himself as a citizen. He pleaded guilty, and is now permanently barred from the United States.

It’s obviously a bad idea to take on someone else’s identity in this age of identity theft and terrorism. So strike one. But it seems to me that it’s in cases like this that some sort of amnesty program might make sense. He is a policeman, for chrissakes.

For example, if the immigration bill had passed last year, Mr. Ayala-Cornejo and others like him who graduated from high school in the United States would be eligible to adjust status without having to leave the country and re-enter — a process that is onerous, time consuming, and that takes years and years. Stories like this also put into sharp relief for me that the country’s immigration problems stem not only from undocumented immigration but also from the stinginess of our legal immigration system. Mr. Ayala-Cornejo, the article says, could have had his younger brother, a citizen, sponsor him to immigrate. But that would have required a long absence (10 years!) from the country and from his family. The sad irony is that he will now have to bear absences from his family of perhaps indefinite duration; unless his parents have adjusted status, they will not be able to leave the U.S., and he can now never return.

Seems to me there’s room to condemn identity theft in the service of undocumented immigration while also implementing a program that provides amnesty for people who immigrated as children and are now, as adults, dealing with the fallout of their parents’ choices.

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