Mr. Essaheb's immigration saga began two years ago when he urged his father and brothers to register with the Department of Homeland Security. They were among the 83,000 immigrants from Muslim countries and North Korea who
complied with the Special Registration anti-terrorism program after the September 11, 2001, attacks. All the Essaheb men were found not to have legal status, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not pursue his father's case. Mr. Essaheb and his twin younger brothers, however, were among the 13,000 men placed in deportation hearings.
At an immigration rally last week, his first, Mr. Essaheb, dressed smartly in a jacket and a tie, looked in wonder as fellow students, religious leaders, and advocates marched around him shouting"Education, not deportation" and hoisting "Don't deport our friend Kamal!" banners. A representative of the Mayor's Office of ImmigrantAffairs slipped him contact information and told him to get in touch with her if he had any questions. A Chinese reporter approached him and asked
for a card. "I don't have a business card," Mr. Essahebsaid. "I'm still a student."
The Moroccan, who did not disclose to many of his closest friends until recently that he is an illegal immigrant, said he has been touched by the
overwhelming response, but not fully surprised."
A lot of folks assume immigration court makes sense and if someone is being deported he must be a criminal, terrorist, drug dealer," he said over the din of the marchers. "When they see it's essentially an American kid, they want to help as much as they can."
For Mr. Essaheb, discovering he was an undocumented immigrant meant he could not receive the financial assistance necessary to pursue his dream to study engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Instead, he attended Queens College. New York is one of nine states that have enacted legislation to allow certain long-term unauthorized immigrant students to become eligible for in-state tuition.
Mr. Essaheb was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper and graduated with a degree in economics. His trek through immigration court, however, motivated him to shift his career track to law, and he entered Fordham Law School as part of the Stein Scholars Program inPublic Interest Law and Ethics.
At last week's rally, a Fordham professor, Jennifer Gordon, noted the tremendous contribution immigrant students make to the City Universityof New York system. In one of her classes, she said, the 55 students could trace their heritage to 45 different countries."We say we are the country of immigrants, and we say we are proud of that heritage," Ms. Gordon said, "but what kind of country ofimmigrants is going to deport its best and the brightest?"
Mr. Essaheb's case was granted administrative closure earlier this month, meaning the government is reconsidering if it will pursue his case. Even if he
is not deported, however, he will not be able to work legally as a lawyer when
Kamal's story makes a pretty clear case for passing the DREAM Act - here is a bright student who has followed all the rules (he registered with the Dept. of Homeland Security) and got ahead, but can't work because of his immigration status.
In related news, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff appears to be endorsing a guestworker program as part of comprehensive immigration reform. While I don't think Bush's pro-business guestworker proposal is the perfect solution, something like it would be a step in the right direction. More importantly, it's good that people outwardly concerned about security issues aren't portraying all immigrants as terrorists, and realize that a solution can be reached without draconian border policies.