By some estimates, nearly a million young people in this country are living in a kind of immigration limbo. The United States is the only home many of them have known, but because they were brought here illegally as children by their parents, they live in fear of deportation.
Last week, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) introduced a bill that would provide a temporary respite for some of these young immigrants. In addition to creating more visas for newcomers who open businesses and hire at least 10 American workers and allowing foreign students who earn postgraduate degrees in math or science from a research institution to apply for green cards, the bill would provide temporary visas for undocumented immigrants while they attend college. Any student who was brought to the U.S. before the age of 15 and who has lived here since then could apply for one. Lofgren's bill does not offer a green card, or any kind of path to legal status — something anti-immigrant groups denounce as amnesty.
It's true that these students would find themselves back in limbo once they leave school. That's why we would rather Congress find the courage to take on comprehensive immigration reform, including the long-deferred DREAM Act, which would offer a conditional path to citizenship to young illegal immigrants who attend college or serve in the military. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) has reintroduced the legislation, and a hearing is expected this month. But given the current political climate, Lofgren's proposal may have a better chance of passing. Even staunch opponents of reform such as Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, concede that students who arrived here at a young age shouldn't be deported.
The reality is that some of them are. Although the Obama administration has said that students who would benefit from the DREAM Act aren't a priority for deportation, it has refused to formally issue a policy to defer such removals. Consider the case of Steve Li, a 20-year-old college student who spent two months in an Arizona detention center facing deportation to Peru. Li came to the U.S. as a child and did not know he was in the country illegally until he and his parents were detained by immigration agents last year in San Francisco. His deportation was halted after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) stepped in.
Lofgren's bill would offer these young, hardworking students who consider themselves Americans at least a few more years in the country they would like to call home.