A high school Valedictorian in Texas announced that she was an undocumented immigrant this week, sparking a debate about who should and should not be enjoying the benefits of residency in the US. Larissa Martinez stated the following:
“By sharing my story, I hope to convince all of you that if I was able to break every stereotype based on what I’m classified as — Mexican, female, undocumented, first generation, low-income — then so can you.”
My maternal grandparents are from Italy. My mother is a first-generation American. I was the first person in my family to go to college, which happened later in my life because my parents didn’t really see the benefit. After all, my father never graduated high school, and no one in either of their families had been to college and they turned out just fine.
Naturally, in our changing economic climate that was a mistake. However, back to the undocumented part… When my grandparents came here it was much easier to become a legal resident of the US. My grandfather was so unbelievably proud to become an American Citizen, after the long and grueling process of naturalization. He only spoke Italian when he arrived, and worked at low-paying jobs doing manual labor. He learned English. He studied, he sweated, and he passed the test after 12 years.
Larissa says that she and her mother have been trying to become a citizen for seven years, and that the US Immigration system is broken.
While the US Immigration system is probably broken, the Mexican Immigration system is equally as convoluted and full of red tape. I cannot just walk into Mexico with my children and set up housekeeping, as Larissa’s mother did. News stories I read about her family stated that they ‘fled’ to the US; from an abusive, alcoholic father, apparently. It seems to me that it was probably not necessary to illegally enter the US for that reason. I will assume that Larissa’s mother wanted an American life for her children.
In 2011, the Mexican government enacted a ‘softer’ law about undocumented immigrants to Mexico. Up until then, this was the law:
- Under the Mexican law, illegal immigration is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.
- Immigrants who are deported and attempt to re-enter can be imprisoned for 10 years.
- Visa violators can be sentenced to six-year terms.
- Mexicans who help illegal immigrants are considered criminals.
- The law also says Mexico can deport foreigners who are deemed detrimental to “economic or national interests,” violate Mexican law, are not “physically or mentally healthy” or lack the “necessary funds for their sustenance” and for their dependents.
Sick and poor undocumented people are not supported by the Mexican government.
So, when Larissa’s family arrived in the US, the law in Mexico was pretty harsh. Had I done the same thing with my children, I would have been imprisoned for two years and charged with a felony, then deported. The law has since been changed to an administrative and financial penalty, and it is possible to obtain Mexican residency unless you are sick or poor. Larissa’s family was poor.
Having said all that, am I in favor of deporting all undocumented immigrants? No, of course not. I am in favor of naturalizing them; they already live here and contribute to the economy. As a matter of fact, they have historically contributed to Social Security and never collect the benefits. Of course, there are people who work “Off the books”, but the large majority actually contribute to all payroll taxes via a false Social Security number. And this is not the fault of their children, who know no other life.
However, if they commit crimes against other people, I am in favor of instantly deporting them. Not in a year, not after a prison term that we pay for. That very moment. Mexico can keep her problem children. They have high standards for Americans emigrating to Mexico.
Let’s get to the healthcare part! 🙂
The Affordable Care Act specifically prohibits undocumented immigrants from purchasing health insurance through the marketplace. Undocumented immigrants can sometimes get coverage through an employer. They can purchase private health insurance, which is expensive. If they are a college student, they can purchase a student plan through a university. These are usually cheap.
Also, a 2012 federal law provides temporary work authorization and relief from deportation to undocumented children and young adults who arrived in the U.S. before turning 16. It’s part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals law, known as DACA. Undocumented immigrants who qualify are eligible. Since we really cannot blame kids for the actions of their parents, I think it is a good concept. In California, undocumented immigrants may be allowed coverage under Medi-Cal if they have DACA status.
I see no problem with undocumented immigrants buying health insurance through the marketplace. More people = lower prices according to our government. Also, these folks currently seek primary care in Emergency Departments all over the US because they have no insurance. 11 million undocumented people can clog up a lot of ED’s. Let’s make them pay for insurance like everyone else, and stop using the ED as a PCP’s office.
While I do not have the answer to the problems we have with undocumented immigrants, I would say that Larissa probably made an error when she did this. Many people will see it in a negative light. She is still in the country illegally. I hope Yale knows her immigration status, and that she is prepared to get a student visa. She is a smart kid, so she probably thought of this.
However, great job on those grades, girl! I hope you are a great neurosurgeon.
And we don’t need that wall.
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