July 08, 2010

Immigration issue hits close to home

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) – From coast to coast, and right here on the South Plains, immigration is a controversial subject with many opinions and many stories.

In his first major speech on the issue of immigration, President Obama called for a major overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. "Fixing our broken immigration system is not only a political issue, not just an economic issue, but a moral imperative," he said.

President Obama said people who enter the country illegally should register with authorities, learn English and pay back taxes and a fine. He says employers who hire illegal workers should be held accountable.

KCBD NewsChannel 11 sat down with a recent high school graduate who understands the risk of telling his story, but decided it was worth sharing.

Luis graduated number five in his high school class of nearly 300. He is an honors student who was recognized by Governor Rick Perry for his service to others. He is a mentor at his church and by many standards a standout kid. "I grew up with my friends thinking I was the same but really not, not knowing it," said Luis who breezed through school rising to the top. "I realized investing my efforts and time in education really meant a lot."

It was on his quest to go to college that he learned the truth. "I was brought at age 3," he said. Luis is not an American. He is an illegal immigrant from Mexico.

"I really did not know what undocumented meant as I grew up. People ask me ‘haven't you applied for citizenship?' But they don't understand there is not a block for us students. There isn't a certain way we can get a visa," he said.

But there may be a way for Luis soon and it is called the DREAM Act. Version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors act have circled congress for several years but have yet to make it out. There are currently copies in congressional committees. "What I like about the dream act is it has certain guidelines that only the brightest kids will stay and only the best that have proven themselves," added Luis.

Some of the conditions to the proposal, you must have entered the United States before you 16th birthday and have spent five consecutive years in America. It is also a requirement to have graduated a U.S. high school or earn a GED. Qualified applicants would have six years to complete their college degree or serve two years in the military.

"There are thousands of children who have been brought by parents at age of two, three or four at time when they couldn't make decisions for themselves, and find themselves faced with difficulty that it is impossible for them to get a pathway for them to become legal," said Lubbock attorney Robert Hogan who recently expanded his practice to include immigration law.

Hogan does not represent Luis but is familiar with teens like him. He says the proposal would give kids who were brought here illegally the chance to earn citizenship. "The other alternative is to go home and it may be a country where they don't speak language. It is cruel and harsh to deport kids who in their hearts and souls are Americans and have lived here since they were young," added Hogan.

Immigration lines are years long and Hogan adds there are conditions in the DREAM Act that would ensure students did not use it as a back door to get a visa. Good moral character is a requirement and committing a crime disqualifies you. "If I commit a crime throw me back. I don't deserve to be here," said Luis who refers to that as 'justice'.

Luis is just one of an estimated 64,000 undocumented students who graduate each year from U.S. high schools but were born somewhere else. He knows there are probably people listening and thinking he should go back to Mexico. "I'd just like to ask them to stand in my shoes. I think some compassion has to go into this."

Luis is working on a documentary on the DREAM Act that he hopes will raise awareness about the proposed legislation. "I think that if people know we just want the chance to be here and be productive we could prove them that we are," he said.

Luis was accepted to college. The 19-year-old wants to become a youth minister and an accountant. The issue of immigration is complex, and Congressman Randy Neugebauer says the laws need updating. But, while sympathetic to Luis' situation he does not believe the DREAM Act is the answer. "Some folks would say these are just some kids who came in with their parents, but here is the problem if you set that precedent you are going to reward parents who do that what is then to stop flow of parents who want to continue process down the road," said Rep. Neugebauer.

Rep. Neugebauer wants reform to be consistent and only rewards people who take the legal pathway to citizenship.

©2010 KCBD NewsChannel 11. All rights reserved.

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