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Commentary: Children in the shadow of the immigration fight

I knew a young lady for four years before she had the courage to come out to me.

I never suspected her secret.

She was smart.

She worked hard.

She stayed out of trouble.

She got herself educated.

She was talented.

She didn’t fit the stereotype.

She was in this country without the proper documents. She finally told me with a face red, tears dripping off her cheeks.

She was a juvenile when her parents brought her here.

She has blond hair and fair skin.

I had not known she was one of the millions living in the shadows, in plain sight.

The immigration policies of our country and state have been making headlines.

Two weeks ago, President Obama said his administration would no longer deport young undocumented immigrants who have graduated from high school, served in the military, and have a clean criminal record.

On Monday, the Supreme Court tossed components of an Arizona immigration law that was the most stringent in the nation. They left in place a provision allowing police officers to ask for a person’s immigration status when suspicions warrant, but only in cases when the person has been stopped for other legitimate reasons.

The ruling upheld the federal government’s role in handling immigration issues.

South Carolina patterned its own law after Arizona’s, though it has been in legal limbo ever since.

The political reaction has been mixed and fairly typical, including comments from those who say the president should have waited for Congressional action on the Dream Act that would have done essentially the same thing and been able to withstand political upheaval.

The act was passed by the U.S. House in 2010, received 55 percent of the votes in the Senate, and had a president ready to sign and majority public support. It’s not law today only because of the overuse of the filibuster that requires 60 votes in the Senate. Meanwhile, border crossings from Mexico have dropped by 53 percent since 2008, according to the Border Patrol. And the number of agents on the border have more than doubled.

Gov. Nikki Haley in a statement after the Supreme Court ruling said South Carolina’s reform “told the rest of the country we’re a tolerant state but also a law-abiding state. That’s what this has been about for us – the rule of law – nothing more, nothing less.”

Attorney General Alan Wilson expressed disappointment that all of Arizona’s law wasn’t upheld but said the “most important element of South Carolina’s law, the ability of law enforcement to verify a suspected illegal alien’s status upon an ‘authorized lawful detention,’ was found to be Constitutional on its face.”

The S.C. chapter of the Americans Civil Liberties Union said the court’s ruling was “a rebuke to Arizona but still raises very serious concerns for civil rights” and that “anti-immigrant laws modeled after Arizona’s - like South Carolina’s - hurt state communities, economies and reputations” and “harm business, undermine police work, and threaten our most basic American values.”

The S.C. Immigration Coalition, an alliance of faith leaders and civil and human rights advocacy groups, said the one provision the court somewhat upheld “mandates racial profiling by requiring officers to check the immigration status of anyone they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ to believe is undocumented, is disappointing.”

The court said people could not be stopped based on their race or place of nationality.

The bickering likely won’t stop any time soon.

In the mean time, talented young people who did not knowingly break any laws when they were brought to this country – a country they know better than any other – are still wondering if it’s OK to come out of the closet, or if they must still keep their predicament a secret even to their friends.

We are a better country than that.