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COURSEY: In immigration debate, spare the children

There's not even a bill yet, but it's already clear there will be plenty to argue about as President Obama and congressional Republicans haggle over the details of immigration reform.

But there's one point that everyone should be able to agree on: Spare the children.

While most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in this country made a conscious decision to break the law to come here, many of them did not. They came because they had no choice.

Cristian Sanchez used false identification to cross the border from Mexico into the United States in 1995. But should she be punished for that? Before you answer, understand that she was 5 years old at the time, traveling with family friends who were bringing her to be reunited with her parents in America.

In his story in Sunday's Press Democrat, Martin Espinoza wrote that Sanchez went on to become part of the first graduating class at Roseland University Prep in Santa Rosa and was accepted to UC Riverside. But her lack of immigration documentation barred her from certain types of financial aid. Without the financial help provided by local attorney Lee Hunt, Sanchez may not have earned a degree in public policy after graduating with honors.

There are hundreds of thousands of children like Cristian Sanchez. They have grown up in America, in towns like Santa Rosa, attended schools alongside your kids and mine. Yet when they finish high school, they hit a wall. Their lack of legal status limits their options for education and for work.

Some say they should "go home." But for a young person who has lived in America for as long as he or she can remember, this is home – no matter what their immigration status.

The Obama Administration has recognized this with a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, described in two stories by Espinoza in Sunday's newspaper. About 200,000 young people brought into this country illegally as children have been approved for temporary legal work status under the program. More are awaiting approval.

The program allows these young people to come out of the shadows. Where once they faced a future as an "illegal" – read, "criminal" – member of society, they now can get a Social Security number and a driver's license, pursue higher education and a good job, strive to become a full, legal participant in the community.

Is than not good for America?


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