Ortiz Y Pino

Jerry Ortiz y Pino
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President Obama’s decision to cease deporting young undocumented immigrants will keep thousands of families together. It is rightfully being celebrated in many households around the country. But it may have come too late to help the Dorado family.

Ramon and Norma Dorado approached me a few weeks ago, seeking help for their son. Ramon Jr. is an honors graduate of a public Albuquerque high school and a 4.0 student at CNM, with a full academic scholarship awaiting him at UNM. He was stopped in 2010 by police while driving his younger sister to her classes.

He produced his driver’s license and his proof of insurance, but when the officer asked for his immigration papers, Ramon had none to show.

The policeman called Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and in a matter of hours, the young man was detained and then sent across the border. There was no hearing, no evidence—no proof required. He was deported to Chihuahua and has been living there with his grandmother ever since.

Several things about the story jumped out at me:

The officer who pulled him over on I-25 turned out to have been an airport cop and not a member of the Albuquerque Police Department.

Ramon came to this country with his parents when he was a toddler. Since then, he’d never set foot in Mexico before being deported.

He speaks perfect English without a hint of an accent. He has no criminal history. Yet he was asked to provide immigration papers when stopped for a minor traffic violation, something we’ve been assured APD does not do.

In other words, the episode reeks both of ethnic profiling and of some type of informal, unholy conspiracy between the airport policeman (operating off-duty) and ICE. I can’t help believing that there are probably a great many other families in our community who’ve been reduced to begging for help from whatever politicians they can get to listen to their tales of children whisked away in the night.

Many Albuquerque educators and officials are trying to help get Ramon back to his home so he can resume his studies. Our efforts so far haven’t produced even a form letter response from the U.S. State Department. That’s who has to grant the exception to the rule that once deported you must wait 10 years to apply for a visa, even a student visa. I know the department must be overwhelmed with similar requests.

So it was with mixed emotions that I heard the president end this deportation policy. From now on, immigrants under the age of 30 who came to the United States before turning 16 will be allowed to obtain a permit to legally work and study in the country. In other words, Obama used an executive order to implement some of the provisions of the Dream Act, which has been pending in the stalemated Congress for several years.

I join the millions of immigration reform activists and human rights advocates who are cheering the step. It is the just thing, the humane thing, to do, and Obama deserves credit for slicing through the Gordian knot of legislative obstruction to get it done.

On the other hand, I can’t stop thinking of Ramon and his heartbroken parents, trapped on opposite sides of the border—and of the numerous other families in similar straits. For them, the public celebrations must be particularly painful.

Seeing the Dream Act vision become reality is the culmination of years of hard work by people like Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido in Santa Fe, a leading immigration rights proponent. She greeted the president’s move with applause: “This announcement highlights the foresight of policymakers in our state who chose to integrate immigrants rather than alienate them,” she said in a news release.

Erika López is a student at Highlands University who immigrated to Santa Fe when she was 8 years old. She said in the same release: “After many years of hard work and raising our voices, we are finally being heard. We are not invisible anymore."

The joy is real. The dream is closer to being realized. But until the Ramons of the border world are permitted to share in that dream, the struggle must continue. President Obama has not ended the need for comprehensive immigration reform. He has simply underlined its importance.

Jerry Ortiz y Pino is a retired social worker, community activist and college instructor. He is in his second term as the Democratic state senator for District 12 in the New Mexico Legislature. Email jerry@alibi.com

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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