What would you decide? Deport or pardon?
What if you were the administrator at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Phoenix headquarters who on Monday will hear the appeal of Maria and Felix Cardenas?
Consider the case. In 1993 Maria and Felix crossed the desert and worked several years for a local windows manufacturer. They have never returned to Mexico.
Today, the couple has two Mexican-born adult children living here and a 10 year-old American born son, Felix Jr. The older children carry work permits and are in the process of applying for long-term residency.
But Maria and Felix are scheduled to be deported next week.
On Monday they will apply for a coveted legal loophole known as “cancellation of removal.” It is their final hope.
The provision is available to illegal immigrants who have been in the country at least ten years and who have shown good moral character. They also must prove that removal would result in “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Maria and Felix argue that they don’t have criminal records and that their children are likely to stay in the U.S. for life.
They also contend that if they are deported, Felix Jr. would suffer “exceptional and unusual hardship”.
Several years ago Felix Jr. was diagnosed with a mental disorder and learning disability. As a U.S. citizen, Felix Jr. receives state social services for treatment. If he were to be uprooted to Mexico he would likely severely regress, his parents say.
“He (Felix Jr.) doesn’t want to leave,” says Maria. “He’s just ten years old. If we are deported, we would probably have to leave him behind with my other children. But I don’t know if we could stand to do that.”
Adding to the couple’s dilemma is the fact that, if deported, they would not be able to return to the U.S. for ten years.
I mentioned to the family’s attorney, Monika Sud-Devaraj, that many Arizonans who learn of the family’s story will not have sympathy because the couple came here illegally. Decisions have consequences, many will say.
Sud-Devaraj said she understands the sentiment and she doesn’t believe in blanket “amnesty.” But she points out that the U.S. Justice Department announced last year a shift in policy to focus on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records. Then earlier this year President Obama announced that foreign-born children of illegal immigrants, dubbed by some as “dreamers”, should be allowed to obtain work permits if they meet certain requirements.
“Lots of people have come here illegally. Mr. Obama’s policy right now is ‘let’s not worry about them (Maria and Felix). They’re honest hardworking people.’ If we were talking about a criminal, it’s a different issue,” Sud-Devaraj said.
On Monday, nobody’s opinion will matter except that of one very influential ICE administrator. What would you decide?