US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Young immigrants have a dream

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Just yesterday it was announced that Rigoberto (Rigo) Padilla will not have to leave this country later this month. He can stay another year while his immigration status is reviewed and regularized. Rigo came to this country at 6 years old, went through U.S. schools, and was an honor student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was caught running a stop sign, had had a few beers, and, as an undocumented immigrant, had no driver’s license. ICE came upon him as he was locked up in Cook County Jail, and an immigration judge quickly ordered his deportation.

A campaign ensued among his fellow students and faculty at UIC to allow him to stay in the country, at least to finish his education – he is a junior and sociology major. One interesting aspect of the protest in favor of Rigo was that many of the organizers were in the same situation – undocumented students who were brought to this country at young ages. Like Rigo many no longer had effective contacts to their country of origin, may be had never even visited it, and see themselves as “Americans.” Now he can stay to finish his education, but there are many in our schools who have similar histories to Rigo’s.

When I was stationed as an associate pastor in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, I knew some such students. I admired their courage and that of their parents in supporting at some sacrifice the education of their children. It was not easy. Illinois gave them a break on tuition, but families were known to mortgage their homes to pay the rest since undocumented students did not qualify for government-assured student loans. I always thought our hard-nose attitudes on immigration, especially toward the young, was a waste of money and talent. We educated them in our schools and when they were ready to be productive citizens of society, we begrudged them help in the final stage of education. What a waste of talent!

For years Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) of Chicago has introduced in Congress the so-called Dream Act, which would extend to youth who were brought to this country illegally before 15 years and who went through our schools, the right to stay to finish their education and then even to apply for permanent residency. The bill had won broad acceptance in Congress, but was always a casualty to the anti-immigrant animus toward comprehensive reform. A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Senate by Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.). But it probably will have to wait to be part of a comprehensive package that will be taken up in the new year. Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security seems to be signaling to go slow on cases similar to Rigo Padilla’s (see New York Times article ).