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Globe Editorial

Case of Harvard student shows urgency of immigration reform

June 18, 2010

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WHAT COUNTRY wouldn’t want to be home to someone like Eric Balderas? Balderas was the valedictorian of his high school class and now attends Harvard on a full scholarship. He’s studying molecular and cellular biology and hopes to become a cancer researcher.

Despite those achievements and aspirations, the 19-year old Harvard sophomore could be kicked out of the United States and deported to Mexico. His mother entered this country illegally when Balderas was 4, and he grew up in San Antonio. On June 7, he was detained at a Texas airport by US immigration authorities when he tried to board a flight to Boston. He had lost his Mexican passport and was attempting to use a consular card from the Mexican government and his Harvard identification card.

The next day, he was able to fly back to Boston. But he now has a July 6 court date with an immigration judge. Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust is asking members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation for help.

His plight is another illustration of the urgent need for a reasoned national dialogue on the subject of immigration, with the end goal being comprehensive reform. As attitudes toward illegal immigration harden, more young people like Balderas risk detainment and deportation. But the logic that approach breaks down in Balderas’s case. Coming to the United States wasn’t his choice, and the nation has vastly more to gain by letting him stay.

A year ago, Faust urged Congress to support the Dream Act, the federal legislation that would allow young people who are illegal immigrants to apply for legal residency, under certain conditions. The Dream Act — once backed by a bipartisan dream team that included Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Arizona Senator John McCain — would create a path to legal residency for young people who come to America before they turn 16 and have lived here for five years.

Kennedy is no longer around to fight for the cause, and McCain has abandoned it. But the country loses if some of the world’s best and brightest are stopped from calling America their home.

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