Tom Smart, Tom Smart, Deseret News
If ever there were cases tailor-made for President Obama's new approach to "smart and effective immigration enforcement," it would be those of Barbara Tapia Avelar and her sisters Silvia Juarez Avelar and Laura Rangel Avelar.
The three came to the United States as children, brought by their parents under tourist visas that eventually expired. As children, it was not their decision to stay in this country illegally. The family settled in Utah. The ladies were raised and educated here and now are parents themselves. And all three suddenly are facing deportation to Mexico, a nation one of the women describes as "another world" for the three.
None of these sisters has a criminal record. All three have jobs. Their children, six of them among the three women, were born here and are U.S. citizens.
A regional spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said "multiple levels" of the courts system have held that the sisters have no legal right to remain in the United States. It is a case that apparently has languished in the federal system for 15 years, dating back to when they were brought before an immigration appeals board as children.
Last August, the president announced a new immigration policy. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano explained it this way in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "The president has said on numerous occasions that it makes no sense to expend our enforcement resources on low-priority cases. [Doing otherwise] hinders our public safety mission — clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources away from individuals who pose a threat to public safety." At the time, CNN reported that ICE had been directed to give leeway to veterans, minors and undocumented immigrants who have been living in the United States since childhood.
Why is this policy not in evidence in these cases? Why is ICE wasting time and money deporting law-abiding people brought here through no fault of their own, rather than focusing on illegal immigrants who pose a threat to society? How is the nation served by separating children from mothers and fathers?
The Avelar sisters made their plea this week at about the same time that nearly 100 lawyers and professors sent a letter to President Obama telling him they believe he has the constitutional authority to provide broad relief from deportation, as well as to invoke provisions of the Dream Act that Congress defeated in 2010. The Dream Act would have offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and then graduated from high school or served in the military and had no criminal record.
The lawyers expressed surprise that this could even be a question, noting how other presidents have stepped in on behalf of immigrants. Despite this, Obama has insisted he can do little without Congress passing reform legislation.
Both ICE and the administration should be ashamed if they let the Avelar sisters' case proceed toward deportation. Yes, Congress should finally pass immigration reform legislation based on common sense and compassion, but the administration need not wait for that in order to stop a proceeding that has nothing to do with the nation's interests.
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