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Know the West

Young, All-American, Deported


(David) Morales graduated from Granite Peaks High in South Salt Lake last spring with high grades and hopes. He wanted to become a Christian pastor and start Utah’s “biggest church.” … As a high school student, Morales raised money to help homeless teens. He volunteered as a Spanish interpreter at Woodrow Wilson Elementary during parent-teacher conferences. He spoke at graduation, telling his fellow students … that they had climbed a mountain peak they once viewed as too tall to reach.

But David Morales isn’t going to get the chance to carry out his plans, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.  In January, on his way to divinity school on a Greyhound bus, he and the other passengers were stopped by immigration officials who asked if they were U.S. citizens. Morales was not – his parents had brought him here from Mexico when he was 9. Now, he faces deportation back to Mexico, where he’ll have to stay for 10 years or more before trying to return to the country where he was raised and educated.

It’s a situation that hundreds of young people find themselves in each year, as we described in our August cover story “Young, All-American, Illegal”.

These kids are brought into the U.S. from other countries by their parents and are allowed to attend school, but when they hit 18, they have no legal status; they cannot get drivers’ licenses or Social Security numbers, and can be deported back to lands completely unfamiliar to them (for example, Saad Nabeel, who’s lived in California and Texas since he was three, got sent back to Bangladesh last January; a Dallas businessman, Ralph Isenberg, has taken up his cause and is trying to get Nabeel returned to America).

The DREAM Act (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors), which was first proposed in 2001 and again failed to pass Congress in December, would have given  undocumented youth like Nabeel and Morales a path to citizenship, either through military service or higher education. Opponents, though, see the bill as leading to full amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants.

Theresa Martinez, the University of Utah’s assistant vice president for academic outreach, finds stories like Morales’ “disheartening.” She works with students at the University of Utah, she said, who feel “hounded” by their immigration status.

“Our immigration policy is broken,” she said. “These children have been raised here. They have gone to school here. They have done nothing wrong. It doesn’t make any sense to punish them.”

The DREAM Act will no doubt be reintroduced this year, but its chances in the 112th Congress seem slim. In the meantime, Colorado is trying to pass a bill that would give undocumented youth resident tuition rates at universities (10 states already do so -- California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin). The measure was introduced in the Colorado Senate last month, but its prospects aren't good, given the divided legislature.

Jodi Peterson is HCN's managing editor.