Three years ago, Irakere Picon was an anxious first-year Northern Illinois University law school student who didn’t know whether he’d ever be allowed to practice law because of his immigration status.
Now, he’s a perfect example of the good that came from President Barack Obama’s decision in 2012 to grant limited legal status to the so-called DREAM kids caught in the limbo of the American immigration system.
Picon, who was 2 when his parents brought him to the U.S. from Mexico City on a tourist visa and never left, is among more than 725,000 immigrants who have benefited from Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Armed now with a renewable two-year work permit and exempt from deportation, Picon graduated from law school last weekend with an award for having demonstrated the strongest commitment to public interest law among his peers. Previously, he won individual honors at a national moot court competition.
Picon, 26, is currently studying for his bar exams with hopes to land a job working in a Chicago courtroom either as a public defender or doing civil rights law.
In short, he’s what you might call an outstanding citizen, if not for the fact he still has no path to American citizenship.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court in New Orleans refused to lift a Texas judge’s order blocking the Obama Administration from its attempt in November to extend this immigration policy to several million more undocumented children and their parents.
I can’t help but ask: Would they rather Picon and those like him spend their lifetimes washing dishes in a restaurant than contributing their fullest potential to our society?
Oh, I forgot. They want him to go back where he came from — when he was 2.
Because Picon was in the first wave of Obama’s DACA program, he is not affected by the current court case.
But some of his family members are, and Picon has a strong appreciation of what they are going through.
He grew up with the fear of deportation and after college faced the hopelessness that often befalls those whose options are limited by not having the right papers. It wasn’t until Obama’s DACA program that he could even get a driver’s license.
“Emotionally and psychologically, that starts to weigh down on you,” he said.
Picon, who grew up in Rockford, says he was “blessed” to have parents who worked two and three jobs at a time to put him through the University of Illinois, where he received his undergraduate degree.
He then took a job with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights before deciding he could accomplish more if he went to law school.
“It makes no sense, not morally and not economically, to block immigrants like Irakere from contributing fully to our nation,” said his former boss at the coalition, Joshua Hoyt, who is now executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans.
Hoyt can tick off the names of many young people having a positive impact right here in Chicago who were hidden in the shadows by their immigration status prior to DACA.
“The governors who sued to block immigrants like Irakere from contributing fully to America will go down in history like the southern governors of yesteryear who blocked African-American children from entering the schoolhouse door,” he said.
I, on the other hand, will concede the possibility that Obama overstepped his legal authority by enacting the program through executive action instead of legislation. The courts will have to sort it out. Unfortunately, that may not come before Obama leaves office.
That’s all the more reason for Congress to take care of business on its own and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform.