Tears flowed when Caroline Vang Polly of Sterling Heights heard the news today that President Obama would halt deportations of people like her: young, law-abiding, educated, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16.
“I just can’t believe it. It’s what so many people have been working so hard for,” said the 28-year-old woman, her voice shaking.
Polly is one of the estimated 800,000 young people who would be affected by the new policy, which was reported by the Associated Press this morning in advance of an afternoon news conference.
The wire service quoted unnamed officials as saying Obama’s directive would allow undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation and be eligible for work permits if they came to the United States before they were 16, are younger than 30, have been in the United States for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history and graduated from high school, received a GED or served in the military.
“This is a long time coming,” says David Koelsch, associated professor and director of the immigration law clinic at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. “It’s just nice to see the Obama Administration wake up and recognize the reality that we’ve got good, hard-working high school and college students and people in the military who deserve better treatment.”
Koelsch has at least three clients currently who will benefit from Obama’s directive.
“I just emailed them and said, `Hey, good news,’” he said.
Bills have been introduced in the last several sessions of Congress that would have granted the same measures to young people but even with bi-partisan support, they stalled.
Polly, her parents and younger sister have been able to stay because of a private bill introduced by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) that seeks to grant them citizenship while their immigration appeal proceeds. Polly, who married last year, and her younger sister, Melanie, were born in France. Her parents, who are Hmong, fled there from southeast Asia after the American military left following the Vietnam War.
Nearly 25 years ago, the family came to Michigan on tourist visas issued to them in Europe, mistakenly believing they allowed the Vangs to stay in the States.
Polly’s parents opened Bangkok 96, a popular Thai restaurant in Dearborn, had two more children and learned years later they were actually here illegally. Their case has been in court for years.
Polly, who graduated from Walsh College with a degree in marketing, started a frozen food company with her mother last year called Thai Feast. www.thaifeast.com. They employ a dozen people around the country.
“This whole journey has really pushed us to become better citizens and to prove to the government that we’re not bad people. We pay our taxes, we’re going to school. We’re paying for our tuitions,” Polly said. “We’re working really hard and thinking about what we can do next.”