How Old Is That? Old Enough: Age and New Immigration Policies

photocredit: Porchlife

With this year’s presidential election looming in the near future, consistently hot-topics have become even hotter.  This includes, of course, immigration.

Both candidates can talk the talk, but current president Obama is using his powers and this opportunity to try to prove that he’ll also “walk the walk”.  Though his highly controversial Dream Act is currently stalled in Congress, Obama has recently announced that “for the next few months, eligible individuals who do not present a risk to national security or public safety will be able to request temporary relief from deportation proceedings and apply for work authorization” (Obama’s “Not Amnesty, Not Immunity” statement via Washington Post).

This relief applies only to immigrants who arrived before the age of 16 and have been law-abiding citizens ever since.  The working idea here is that because people who came over before 16 were too young to know what they were doing, they should not be punished for a law they were not aware of breaking.  But why sixteen?  As youth has been defined from a sociological as continuing until twenty-four, and one becomes a legal adult at the age of eighteen, sixteen seems a rather arbitrary number.  The president has given no explanation for the choice, and it causes one to question at what age people become responsible for their own actions.  Certainly, the strict age limit will result in families, friends, and marital partners being separated, and so the age limit is not just an irrelevant detail.  Are we requiring immigrants to be fully accountable for their actions before we expect Americans to be capable of the same thing? Do they deserve consideration when they are already catching a break because of this political move?

The question then becomes whether we consider illegal immigrants as the same sort of people we consider Americans, and whether or not we can categorize them in the same way.  Do sociological terms apply in the world of politics?  And do legal definitions of age apply in the world of immigration?  Obama’s seemingly less-provocative move in the field of immigration has lead to a more blurry world of definitions and questions than he perhaps intended.

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