JUNE 11, 2012
Sometimes you’re simply stunned:
She would graduate from Meadowbrook High School on Friday, her blue gown decorated with awards from the National Honor Society, the school’s AP program and the Virginia governor.
She was scheduled to be deported to Guatemala a few days later.
In the election-year debate over immigration reform, the situation [Heydi] Mejia is in has become one of the most debated of all. What should the United States do with illegal immigrants who come to the country as children, grow up here, break no laws and want to remain? In Mejia’s case, what should be done with an illegal immigrant who came to the country at age 4; who speaks better English than Spanish; who wants to attend Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and become a nurse; whose knowledge about modern Guatemala comes in part from what she’s read on Wikipedia?
Don’t miss the entire fantastic piece on Heydi Mejia in today’s Washington Post. If she isn’t deported in the next few days, it will only be because immigration officials fear bad press more than their own consciences. And even if she is spared, there’ll still be little reason for hope: There are, after all, many more like Heydi—too many to write about.*
Earlier today, I was on a conference call of immigration reform advocates. The topic of discussion was a much-hyped review by officials of pending removal cases. After seven months, it has resulted, pathetically, in relief from deportation only about 2 percent of the time. Every single one of the advocates was fed up.
They’re not alone. When it comes to immigration policy, President Obama has shown a remarkable ability to infuriate basically everyone. To be sure, not all of his detractors’ complaints are valid—Congressional Republicans, in particular, have devoted most of their energy since January 2009 to denouncing White House immigration policies that exist mainly in their imaginations. But to proponents of immigration reform—a group among which the president should, in theory, have more allies—this administration has consistently over-promised and under-delivered. If you don’t pay close attention to every corner of immigration politics, it seems like a baffling strategy. But here’s the thing: It’s not baffling, and it’s not a strategy, either.
“The thing you have to understand,” a leading immigration expert told me once, “is that the administration is getting fucked from all sides.” The deeper you go into the world of immigration policy, the truer that seems. For Republicans, Obama, simply because he favors enacting immigration reform (eventually), can ipso facto never be sufficiently tough on enforcement. But even so, to preserve any hope of eventual reform, Obama needs to build credibility with those same Republicans, so he has been very tough on enforcement—which alienates the reformers in his liberal base. To address their complaints, the administration has announced new changes to immigration enforcement, but facing resistance from Republicans and immigration officers, it has failed to implement those reforms. Now, everyone is furious: The announcement of reforms was proof to the hardliners that the White House really favored “amnesty” all along, and failure to follow through on the new policies was proof to the reformers that the White House was all talk. Like I said: This is not strategy so much as it is flailing.
Of course, even in the twisted politics of immigration, there are certain cases that you’d think would be beyond dispute. And you might also think that even Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has been notoriously stringent in its interpretation of the new removal guidelines, could find some reason to spare from deportation a young woman who was brought to this country as a small child, who knows no other home besides the United States, who poses no threat to society, whose teachers vouch for her work ethic and strong character, and who has recently graduated (with a high rank, no less) from high school. But if you think that, you probably don’t spend much time in the world of immigration politics.
*Update: I learn, via Dara Lind of America’s Voice, that ICE has granted deferred action to Heydi. Like I said, there’s nothing quite like the threat of bad press. Still, while this is good news, the sad truth is that there are thousands more in Heydi’s situation, and they can’t all be featured on the front page of a major newspaper.