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We Shouldn't Be Throwing Out Hardworking Immigrants

By Stan Simpson

July 05, 2012

As President Barack Obama minted 25 new American citizens this week, it got me thinking about one of my favorite immigrants.

I'll call her "Portia.'' I won't use her real name because this 16-year-old is an undocumented resident.

She is a cute kid, sharp as a knife, of West Indian descent; caring and warm. She tells me I remind her of her father, who is no longer in the picture. Every now and then after a Sunday dinner, her grandma would send me a plate of leftover Jamaican treats. I've treated Portia like my daughter; warned her away from boys with bad intentions and tried to keep her focused on her schoolwork and her goal of being a lawyer.

I have no doubt this cheeky and mischievous honors student with the gift of gab can one day be one of America's top barristers. But there was only so much I could do for Portia. I couldn't help her secure internships or summer jobs and I was reluctant to even talk to her about the college application process.

I knew at some point the need for a Social Security number would be a problem. And that the specter of deportation was a possible ramification.

So, the best advice I could give Portia was to be patient, keep her grades up and to steer clear of confrontations. The latter was not as easy as you'd think in an urban environment where the slightest provocation or perceived insult could end up with hands being thrown, or worse.

I told Portia that President Obama would eventually be an ally, but that she'd likely have to see how the presidential elections played out.

Immigration has become such a highly politicized topic in this country of immigrants. As the American-born son of Jamaican immigrants, I understand how education opportunities this country can break a cycle of poverty and transform lives. I've never forgotten that I am just one generation removed from the kind of abject poverty that would humble folks in America's poorest communities.

So, I root for people like Portia, who through no fault of their own found themselves in a legal quagmire. Living on the down low becomes a daily, debilitating and dehumanizing existence. I reject those naive and mean-spirited voices that simply want to deport, damn the circumstances or consequences.

My parents came to the States legally and made a better life for their children. My dad chose to get his citizenship; my mother opted to retain her Jamaican citizenship and instead became a "legal alien."

My parents did it the right way. But I am not going to condemn those immigrants who come here by any means necessary.

If they are caught, and are trying to live productive lives, free of criminal activity, I want to see them and their children remain in the country. That doesn't mean we can't figure out a way to attach some sort of "undocumented immigrant" tax to their wages until such time that they become certified citizens.

I don't have all the answers. Apparently the president and the Supreme Court don't either.

I just don't want to see anything impede talented folks such as Portia and Mariano Cardoso from fulfilling their American dreams. Cardoso, 24, graduated from Capital Community College last year. He wants to be a math teacher or engineer. More than two decades ago, Cardoso's parents came into the country illegally from Mexico. In 2008, immigration officials, looking for someone else in New Britain, discovered Cardoso. Deportation proceedings began. Through the support of many, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Cardoso was granted a stay last April.

President Obama's recent edict that children of illegal immigrants, particularly those who are looking to enter college or the military, not be deported was a defining moment in the country's debate about immigration reform.

I'm certain that Portia and her family are relieved. I certainly am.

In the coming summer Olympics, American wrestler Henry Cejudo will not be seeking to add another gold medal to the one he won in 2008. The son of illegal Mexican immigrants did not make the team this time around.

But the "Star-Spangled Banner" that played after his 2008 victory certfied one thing:

He is an American.

Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FoxCT).

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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