Deporting the best and the brightest

Deporting the best and the brightest March 7, 2012

Two recent stories that I find equal parts confounding and infuriating.

First, from Raw Story/Reuters, “Miami students rally for valedictorian facing deportation“:

A judge on Monday denied a green card request by Daniela Pelaez, an 18-year-old who was born in Colombia and brought by her parents to the United States when she was four. Her lawyer is appealing the decision.

Pelaez grew up in the Miami area after she and her family overstayed their tourist visas. A high school senior, Pelaez said she has applied to several Ivy League universities.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Pelaez told Miami’s WSVN Channel 7 TV station. When she heard the judge’s decision, she said, “I thought, what am I going to do in Colombia?”

And Charles Kuffner directs us to the story of Jose Luis Zelaya, as reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Susan Carroll:

That [Jose Luis] Zelaya is an illegal immigrant is no secret.

In April, he stood in a plaza on [the Texas A&M] campus, in the same spot where the elections commission will announce the results … and shared his story of coming to the U.S. illegally at age 14 from Honduras to escape an abusive, alcoholic father.

It was a bold move on one of the nation’s most conservative campuses, where some student leaders have attracted national media attention for vocal opposition to a Texas law that allows certain illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition. But it may not stop Zelaya from becoming the first openly undocumented illegal immigrant to lead the student body at A&M.

Kuffner’s response to Zelaya’s story applies to Daniela Pelaez as well:

What exactly is the public policy rationale for kicking a guy like that out of the country, instead of helping him become a citizen and reaping the benefits of his talent and work ethic? I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have made my way from Honduras to the US by myself at the age of 14. Yeah, sure, he cut ahead of some people in line. I say that’s more a problem for us to fix than for him to be punished for, but whatever. Fine him some appropriate amount, make him do some community service (I’m going to step out on a limb here and guess that he’s already doing that), have him write 100 times “I will not cross international borders without having all my papers in order”, etc etc etc. But seriously, isn’t Jose Luis Zelaya the kind of person we want in this country?

To the extent that I can discern any argument for not allowing America to benefit from the presence of determined, gifted young people like these two, it seems to be that it would encourage others to “cut in line” by breaking our opaque and labyrinthine immigration laws. So it would create a kind of moral hazard.

But I’m still not seeing the downside. Let’s assume the worst-case scenario this moral-hazard concern imagines — that thousands of other determined, gifted young people come to America, study hard, earn the respect of their peers and their teachers, and commit themselves to benefiting America as their own home.

How would that be a bad thing?

Some more good links on immigration:

Update: Good news — “Miami high school valedictorian avoids deportation

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