Hispanic group urges immigration action

August 2, 2011


When President Barack Obama spoke to a major U.S. Hispanic group last week about his unsuccessful efforts to change this country’s outdated immigration rules, many in the crowd broke out in a spontaneous chant: “Yes you can!”

The chant at the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza in Washington, a mocking reminder of the president’s 2008 campaign slogan, marked a rare moment of confrontation between Obama and his Hispanic constituents. Obama got 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008, and used to get warm welcomes from U.S. Hispanic audiences.

Hispanic leaders are not happy with the Obama administration’s nearly 1 million deportations over the past three years, which they say is more than took place during former President George W. Bush’s eight years in office. And they are not buying the president’s line that he cannot do anything to change immigration rules because of the Republican Party’s hard-line anti-immigrant stands.

According to Hispanic leaders, there are many things the president could do using his executive authority, like granting temporary immigration benefits to good students or army volunteers who were brought to the country when they were children. The Dream Act bill, which would grant a path to legalization to these students, has been blocked by Republicans in the Senate.

“We are disappointed that we have not seen the president do more to address the high level of deportations,” NCLR President Janet Murguia told me after the meeting. “We all agree that violent criminals should be deported, but we take issue with the fact that people who make real contributions to this country are being deported. We don’t think they should be the enforcement priority right now.”

On the very day Obama was talking to the NCLR, I got a call from the Argentine consul in Miami, who brought to my attention the case of an Argentine student facing imminent deportation.

When I later talked to 23-year-old Miyen Spinelli, I couldn’t help wondering why the financially strapped U.S. government is spending time and money to deport young college graduates like him.

Spinelli told me he has no criminal record, graduated high school in the top 15 percent of his class, got his B.A. degree in sports administration at St. Thomas University, and is preparing to do his master’s degree in international business. He paid for his studies with about $8,000 a year from his family’s savings, plus a soccer scholarship from his school.

Shortly before graduation, during a trip to Maine for a soccer tournament, the car in which he was traveling — driven by a friend — was stopped by police. They were not speeding, nor had they violated any traffic law. The policeman said he had stopped them to check on the car’s Florida license plate.

“He asked me for my papers, and then called the border patrol,” Spinelli told me. “They kept me six days in jail, and then gave me a deportation order for August 15, and put an electronic bracelet on my right ankle.”

When his story appeared in The Miami Herald on July 26, immigration officials gave Spinelli a one-year extension on his deportation order. Spinelli now hopes that, in the meantime, the Dream Act will pass.

There are an estimated 825,000 foreign students in the United States who could benefit from the Dream Act. Most of them came to the country at a very young age. Some are top students in sciences and engineering, whose skills the U.S. badly needs.

Other countries, such as Canada, France, Britain, Germany and Singapore, go out of their way to give legal visas to their best foreign students, or workers whose skills are needed. In Canada, about 36 percent of immigrant visas are given out annually in the “skilled visa” category, as opposed to only 6.5 percent in the United States, according to a recent Brookings Institution study.

My opinion: Deporting qualified students and military volunteers is a waste of government time and money, goes against the U.S. tradition of being a country of immigrants, and slows down America’s creative energies at a time when other countries are benefitting from “brain gain” immigration strategies.

Republican anti-immigration zealots are hurting America by opposing the Dream Act. But, until they come to their senses, Obama should use his executive powers to delay deportations of qualified foreign students. As the NCLR audience told him last week, Yes, he can!

— Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. His email is aoppenheimer@miamiherald.com


Dan Matthews 6 years, 9 months ago

"....I couldn’t help wondering why the financially strapped U.S. government is spending time and money to deport young college graduates like him."

Oh gee, I don't know... Maybe because he was in the country illegally? Just a thought...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

And he probably ripped the tag off of his mattress, too. What a criminal!!!

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 9 months ago

And, of course, the car was stopped because it had Florida tags. That qualifies for the type of "suspicious activity" that allowed the cop to stop the car in the first place...which is the only reason the cop gets to ask for "papers"?

I once lived in Florida for a while, then moved back to Boston. The only time people said anything about my Florida plates was to ask what it was like in Florida and tell me how they'd like to visit there some day. Times sure have changed.

I'd like to know how old this young man was when he came to America. Frankly, I believe there's a point where we have to stop holding kids responsible for the "sins of their fathers". If your parents brought you to America when you were an infant/child and you grew up thinking you were American, speaking English like an American, and with no knowledge of any home but America, why should we think it reasonable to "send you back where you came from"?

I'm not arguing that everyone who sneaks into the country should automatically become a citizen. But, I keep desperately holding onto the belief that common sense has got to kick in at some point!

I mean, we got the 95 year old WWII vet who learns he's always been in the country illegally because he's Canadian, not American...even though his parents were US citizens.

Or kids being told by their parents since when they were toddlers they were American citizens...and we should throw out these kids who grew up as Americans, grew up planning to go to college, get a job, raise a family, pay taxes...grew up never knowing they were anything but Americans?

How about those kids who believe they are Americans growing up and enlisting because they want, with all their hearts, to serve America...THEIR country...the nation to which they've pledged allegiance their whole lives? Let's toss them out, too?

I'm tired of people righteously proclaiming "once they learned they weren't Americans and were here illegally, but chose to stay anyway, THEY became lawbreakers themselves."

Excuse me??? "Chose to stay anyway"? Chose to stay in the only home they've ever known? The only country they've ever known?

Before people start righteously proclaiming that "well, they should have filed for immigrant status once they learned"...there's a wee bit of a problem about that "solution".

These kids would be deported.

They'd be tossed out of America and returned to the country where they were born, then file for a green card, then HOPE they get a visa to get back in. So they've got to "return" to a country they don't remember, where they may have no family, certainly no jobs, and then hope against hope to get a visa that's often impossible to get...particularly if you've been deported.

I'm not a fan of illegal immigration. But we certainly need a VASTLY improved system of legal immigration/temporary worker permits.

Americans should stop playing the blame game, and start playing the "gain game"!

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

I'd like to ask you a question. Suppose a child is brought here, grows up here, this being the only home here knows. Fine, but suppose he's 16 or 18 or 25 and his parents are faced with deportation, having been caught by authorities. Will the U.S. now be in the business of breaking up this family? Will we deport the parents while allowing the child to stay? Isn't that the next moral dilemma on the horizon? If we allow the parents to stay because we don't want to break up the family, then the original lawbreakers will be rewarded. Then your statement about not wanting to let all of them to stay becomes a moot point. Add to that all the many claims that will come up, a child caring for their elderly parents, a parent caring for a disabled child. There will be a race to victimhood.
While you say we need a better system of immigration, I wonder what we should say to the many people around the world who are filling out their applications, doing everything we ask of them and are patiently waiting their turn to enter this country legally?
And if it's the laws that need to be changed, fine, let's change them. But that change must be our choice, not a choice imposed upon us by people who by virtue of their first act here, broke our law.

melott 6 years, 9 months ago

Well, now I have another reason to support Obama. Thanks, Andres.

jayhawxrok 6 years, 9 months ago

The answer to immigration problems is not a bunch of racist, isolationist laws we can't afford or enforce. GOP, pay attention.

Pete Kennamore 6 years, 9 months ago

Illegal immigration is an easy problem to fix.

  1. Grant a path to citizenship to all illegal immigrants currently in county. I mean seriously, we're not going to deport 12 million people.

  2. If as an employer you hire an illegal immigrant, you lose your business and all your personal assets.

  3. Enforce #2

Illegal immigration ends overnight.

HW 6 years, 9 months ago

If you include a step that punishes (including deportation) ALL future illegal immigrants, I think you would have a lot of people in agreement with you.

melott 6 years, 9 months ago

Why can't we deport 12 million people? If Andres has his facts right, we have deported 1 million in the last few years. No one even noticed (except the deported, I assume) and it wasn't a budget issue. A little effort, and we can do 12 million in the next few years.

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