Commentary: Lines show immigrants want to be here legally

The Kansas City StarAugust 30, 2012 


Mary Sanchez is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.

MBR — Kansas City Star/MCT

The ludicrous question “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” received the perfect reply Sunday.

The answer came from several hundred people, some arriving two hours before their session with an immigration attorney at the Guadalupe Center.

They are immigrants hoping to qualify for a short-term fix to their illegal status being offered by the Obama administration, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

People lined up, paperwork in hand, eagerly anticipating becoming a legal, working, taxpaying resident. Organizers had to turn more than 100 away because there wasn’t enough time in the day for the 17 volunteer immigration attorneys to help everyone.

Unequivocally, these immigrants understand “illegal.” It’s a hellish label that can keep them from the opportunities of education, a job, a full life.

People who lob the “what part of illegal?” query tend to think it’s pithy. Actually, it’s the smart alecks’ way of demonstrating how little they understand about an immigration bureaucracy accurately and often described as “broken.”

The phrase often spins from the misinformed notion that people are undocumented because they didn’t want to come to the country legally. That they didn’t want to pay the necessary fees, that they didn’t want to wait in a line — that they are some sort of lesser moral beings who just don’t want to play by the rules.

If only there were workable rules they could have followed. Now there are, for a select number of immigrants anyway. It’s not a permanent fix, but merely a two-year window to not face a deportation.

The scene at the Guadalupe Center was indicative of the reaction nationally. Lines have formed in cities across the U.S. at similar events, all with immigrants wanting to prove they qualify because they have no criminal record, arrived in the country before the age of 16, are under 31, have a high school diploma, are in school now or were honorably discharged from the military, among other factors.

Most were brought to the U.S. by their parents. They didn’t choose to become “illegal” any more than someone decides what state they might be born in.

For the most part, no line has existed for these people. Most simply don’t fit the categories that would allow them to live and work legally in the U.S., much less upgrade to being U.S. citizens.

They still won’t have that option. This is a temporary measure to correct their undocumented status. No guarantees for the future.

But the heady response clearly demonstrates their desire to play by the rules.

When offered a line to get into, a fee to pay, a form to fill out to gain legal status, the people will come forward, ready to prove their value.

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