One of President Obama's finer achievements in office was his executive order allowing young people who came to this country as the children of undocumented workers to sign up for work permits to stay in the country without fear of being suddenly deported back to a life that many of them literally never knew. Some had been here since infancy and did not even know they were "illegal" (excuse the redneck-speak) until they applied for a driver's license or had to prove citizenship for college, voting, or perhaps a work permit.
Young people who came to the United States with their parents before the age of fifteen and who have been here at least five years and not been in any serious trouble can register for the program. The upper age limit on the process is thirty.
Today the process became real when thousands showed up on the first day of the registration process and filled out paperwork to remain in the country legally - at least for a few years. Now they can stay near the friends they developed at school and in their neighborhoods. Now they can have some of the same opportunities as their life-long friends enjoy. Now they have the dignity and respect of being who they are openly and proudly.
It is not only a great day for these young people and their families and friends, it is also a great day for America. We are keeping a big pool of talent and potential on this side of the border where it can flourish and benefit us all. Estimates are that the process may eventually effect as many as 700,000 young people - bright, hard-working, talented young people whose futures would be put in jeopardy by deportation to a strange land that is only their home on paper. They benefit by staying here, and we benefit by having them.
But it's not all cactus blossoms. The immigration issue (debate) has more needles that a century-old prickly pear. Big prick number one, in my opinion, is Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Joe has been in office sixteen years and is currently running for one more four-year-term. He will win reelection handily because he is a superb campaigner and knows the issues that drag his base, the blue hairs in Sun City and other snowbirds and senior citizens - almost all white, of course - to the polls.
A few years ago Old Joe (he just turned eighty) figured out that immigration was the biggest boogie man to those voters, and he has shamelessly gone after "illegals" ever since, often, of course, pulling a fair amount of very legal U.S. citizens into his dragnets - citizens who just happen to have brown skin and Hispanic surnames.
Recently Joe has been on trial in Federal Court in Phoenix on a charge of racial profiling. He denies that allegations, but evidence presented against him and his department is compelling, and he is likely to be found guilty and perhaps be assigned a court monitor to oversee his policing operations. Such an outcome would be a stunning blow to the ego of America's meanest sheriff.
One of the tidbits of evidence that was brought up at the trial was a letter from an elderly female constituent who complained to the sheriff that the workers at her local McDonald's were speaking Spanish to each other while they worked, and apparently conversing with her in "broken English." Instead of politely telling the woman that there is no law against speaking Spanish in Arizona or even Maricopa County, and that perhaps she could find a different McDonald's to frequent, the sheriff, ever mindful of the aging white votes that keep him in office, sent her a nice letter in reply stating that he would look into it.
Joe Arpaio, contrary to what he believes, will not be in office forever. I hope that when it comes time to replace him, one of the fine young people who registered for their work permits today, will step up and run for his office. What a pleasant and uplifting change that would be!
Congratulations to our young Hispanic friends who can now stay in this country legally. Welcome, welcome, welcome!