Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The carne sizzled outside. The Spanish festively bounced around the kitchen. Families poured in for the Sunday birthday celebration in a warm middle-class Denison neighborhood, Latinos and white folk on the same block. The host family stood on the ready. Another glass of horchata? A piece of tres leches cake?

But there was one noticeable absence. The family’s 13-year-old daughter would not leave her room. Wouldn’t make an appearance. Not even for a moment. She squirreled away for the day.

“What’s she doing in there? She sick?” I asked her bilingual sister. Most kids you encounter in Denison are bilingual. They speak Spanish as well (or almost as well) as their parents and manage English like native Iowans.

“She’s in there watching ‘Twilight’ for like the 50th time,” the sister said, her eyes rolling on something of a spin cycle. “She’s crazy in love with Robert Pattinson.”

I laughed. So much for the issue of assimilation. This girl’s issue isn’t that she won’t adopt American culture. Quite the opposite. Like millions of other American teens, she’s under the Edward Cullen spell.

Is her family here illegally? I don’t know. Perhaps. I don’t make it a business to ask people for papers in Denison. There’s enough of that in Jan Brewer’s Arizona. But like dozens of other young Latinos I’ve met in the last 10 years, the 13-year-old’s crushing on Pattinson is indisputably American. And collectively, these young people, who deserve to be fully embraced, are a staggeringly valuable untapped resource in western Iowa — possessing the ability to code switch from Spanish to English and back. In a state reliant on exports, this should be viewed as a bigger deal, a blessing.

When President Obama announced a policy to stop the deportation of young, undocumented immigrants, I could see the faces.

Yes, there are politics. I understand this. But it is the right move by the president on a human level.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, applauded the Obama administration’s decision to stop the deportation of young undocumented immigrants in favor of a work-permitting process.

“I’m very much in favor of the DREAM Act, and I applaud the Obama administration for their steps in this direction,” Harkin said in a conference call with Cityview and other media. “It just seems a violation of human rights, unfair, for a child whose been brought here illegally by parents or others, who had no choice in the matter, but has grown up here and is going to school here, just to be summarily deported.”

Illegal immigrants will be immune from deportation if they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED, or served in the military, The Associated Press reported.

The Obama administration stopped short of referring to the plan as an administrative DREAM Act. DREAM is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors

“Many of these young kids maybe don’t even have families there anymore,” Harkin said. “Maybe their families are here or elsewhere. This, to me, is just fairness, equity. Human rights is fundamental.”

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month found Obama leading presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters 61 percent to 27 percent. A December poll by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that 59 percent of Latinos disapproved of the president’s handling of deportations, The AP reported.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, called the philosophy behind the move a concession to the forces of amnesty. He’s even threatened to sue the president.

In an interview with Fox News Latino, King, vice chairman of the House Immigration subcommittee, challenged the philosophy behind the DREAM Act.

“If you give them (their undocumented children) a pardon, it would consist of eliminating or reducing the penalty that exists,” King said. “That’s amnesty. I’m not without compassion, I see the DREAM Act as the strongest argument they have, but it still meets the definition of amnesty. We need to restore the rule of law; we need to restore the expectation that the law will be enforced. Until we can do that, why would we grant a path to citizenship?”

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the move is an affront to American democracy.

“The president once denied that he had the legal authority to do this, and Congress was assured more than once that the administration would consider individuals for this sort of deferred status on a case-by-case basis only, and that there was no plan to implement a broad-based program,” Grassley said in a statement. “It seems the president has put election-year politics above responsible policies. On top of providing amnesty to those under 30 years old, the administration now will be granting work authorizations to illegal immigrants at the same time young Americans face record-high unemployment rates.”

Not in western Iowa where we need people. Including Latinas obsessed with “Twilight” heartthrobs