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About 12 years ago, my cleaning lady’s daughter came to our house on a school day with her mom to clean my house. I had our cleaning lady for about one year and was careful to ask her for her green card – since, as a member of the Washington, D.C., press corps, I try to stay within the confines of the law. Our cleaning lady produced her green card, and I hired her. Her daughter was sitting on the staircase, and it was obvious that she was a teenager. I asked her why she wasn’t in school, and she replied that she could not attend her local high school. They had told her she was not legally in the U.S. and, therefore, could not attend high school.
I was not able to figure out why her mom had a green card and she didn’t, but knew enough to know that she could be enrolled in school. So, I took her to a high school in Washington, D.C., and enrolled her in classes and junior ROTC. Arriving here at four years old, she considered herself an American. She had not been back to her home country in Central America. Although she spoke Spanish, she spoke English without an accent and identified with all the cultural touchstones that most American teenagers connect with.
In the early summer of 2007, before former television/radio host and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow resigned because of his colon cancer, I spent a few minutes with him in his White House office. I had known Snow from Fox News Channel since 1997, and I always loved and respected him.
He was already sick, had undergone surgery and therapy, and I asked, “Tony, why are you still here? Why don’t you write and speak and de-stress your life?” Tony’s answer to me was startling. He told me that he came to work in the Bush administration because he believed in President Bush’s policy on immigration and he wanted to stay and make sure it was implemented.
President Bush wanted to cut the time of application for immigrant visas, wanted more border security, wanted us to have a sane worker policy and wanted our immigration policy to be humane. He wanted immigrants to learn English but wanted the government to have respect for other languages. President Bush, as governor of Texas, was fluent in Spanish.
If President George W. Bush had given the speech in the Rose Garden Friday, he would have been applauded as a “compassionate conservative.” Now, Republicans are excoriating President Obama.
The executive order of President Obama puts into perspective what the federal government can and cannot do. We can’t deport every person without documentation to Mexico and Central America. We have to go after the bad guys, the ones who commit crimes and who make America less safe by being part of the drug importation problem. The kid who graduated UCLA this month, or the NYU student who graduated dental school in 2009 is not the problem. Neither is Marie, the daughter of my housekeeper.
The president’s executive order makes undocumented immigrants safe from deportation if they came here before they were 16, have not reached their 30th birthday and have been in the U.S. for five years. They would need to have a high-school diploma or GED or have served in our military.
I would have gone further than the president. I would have made the executive order longer than two years. I would have tried to find a way within the law to make a path to citizenship and would have extended it to anyone who came to the United States before they were 18 years old. I don’t think 17 year olds make a choice. They go where their parents go.
What is amazing is that the Republicans are freaking out about this. They know it needs to be done. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, is going to make his own plan a “DREAM Act lite.” Gov. Romney would not say if he would rescind the president’s executive order, nor would he delineate his plan on Sunday. He would only say that President Obama was doing this for political reasons. This is a laughable position given that as a presidential candidate, Gov. Romney’s entire strategy must be political.
The president made a bold move. He is taking the heat for it, but it shows he is willing to take a position that everyone knows needs to be taken. Tony Snow, rest his soul, knew it and so does Gov. Romney.