Recognizing unfairness

Young people dressed in graduation caps and gowns protest for immigration reform.

  • Ray Ring


(This editor's note goes with the HCN magazine cover story, "Young, All-American, Illegal.")

Five young immigrants dressed symbolically as successful students -- in caps and gowns -- formed the next frontier of the civil rights movement in Tucson two months ago. They staged a sit-in in Sen. John McCain's office, refusing to leave, determined to pressure the Arizona Republican to reform one of the most unfair aspects of our immigration policy: Those who arrive in this country at a young age often have no good path to citizenship. When they reach adulthood, they can't work or drive a car legally or enroll in most colleges, and they're at constant risk of being deported. Three of the protesters arrested in McCain's office face that harsh penalty.

"It was the first time students have directly risked deportation in an effort to prompt Congress to take up a bill that would benefit illegal immigrant youths," reports The New York Times.

Their gutsy tactic has caught on. Two weeks ago, for instance, more cap-and-gowned protesters pushing for the same reform were arrested in McCain's Washington, D.C., office, as well as in Nevada Sen. Harry Reid's D.C. office. Others who protested in California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office got busted after they moved to the atrium of the Senate office building. Many of these young people also face deportation.

The protesters are often good students in college or high school, or accomplished recent graduates. Our cover story examines their plight through the personal struggles of five Westerners who fall into the same pattern: They grew up as immigrants leading typical -- even admirable -- U.S. lives. But now, after graduating, they've been rejected by this country.

This is a national problem, but its Western dimensions are especially worth exploring. Of all the states, California has the most young people (more than half a million) directly caught up in it. Arizona ranks number five (more than 100,000) while Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Utah also rank way above average. In all, more than 800,000 young Westerners face possible deportation.

High Country News is not here to lobby for any particular legislation. We simply highlight a heartbreaking situation and urge the debate to settle on some reasonable solution.

Three veteran journalists with an international perspective -- organized as The Story Group, based in Boulder, Colo. -- bring this struggle to life in HCN. Writer Dan Glick has covered the Rockies and D.C. for Newsweek and wandered the globe, showing his kids the realities beyond our borders. Photographer Ted Wood has photographed the 1988 Yellowstone fires and scenes as far away as Mongolia. Leslie Dodson, who crafted a video about the young Westerners in our cover story for the HCN Web site, roamed as far as Japan and Paris doing documentaries. We first worked with The Story Group on a 2008 multimedia package, "Still Howling Wolf," about the political and cultural struggles around a shaggy predator. Dan Glick emphasizes his team's goal, "It's all about telling the story."

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