Undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children should be provided with a fast-track route to legal residency, especially if they are students, because they did not make a conscious decision to enter the United States illegally.
Khalil Turner was my best friend through high school. He was born in Trinidad, came to the US with his mother as a child, and attended public school. We filled out college applications during our Junior year, and both hoped to attend the University of Maryland. His mother refused to give him his social security card to finish his college applications. Eventually, he learned that he didn’t have a social security card, and his tourist visa expired years ago. Khalil had no idea he was here illegally, none of us did. I immensely respect his decision to return to Trinidad on his own accord, I’m not sure if I could have done the same. He lost a lot in that transition, and we haven’t kept in touch over the seven years he’s been gone.
The United States is a nation of immigrants. From the colonial period through the early 20th century, these immigrants were mostly European, due in no small part to the institutionalized racism of ethnic quotas and per-country limits. Thankfully, these measures were abolished with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which judges prospective immigrants on their skills and relationships with US citizens and residents, instead of solely their race. Since 1965, Latin American and Asian immigrants have outpaced Europeans.
All Americans came from somewhere else originally. Those fortunate enough to have immigrated earlier cannot justifiably try to keep the next wave of immigrants from seeking the same opportunities. The descendants of European colonists who fled religious oppression and tyranny in the 1600s have no more right to their citizenship than families fleeing the rampant crime and poverty of Central America.
Millions of people risk injury, sickness, imprisonment, social stigma, rape, and death to build a new life in the United States. The original settlers took risks on their voyage as well, because in their eyes, it was worth it.
A nation of immigrants cannot defensibly deport millions of fellow immigrants over a piece of paper. However, it would also be irresponsible to take a laissez faire approach. The best option is to help the upstanding find a place here, especially those who were brought into the United States as children.