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Is New Mexico illegal immigrant a hero or a criminal?

August 24, 2011 | 12:07 pm

Illegal immigrant 
Antonio Diaz Chacon of Albuquerque has been feted in recent days for what authorities described as a heroic act that potentially saved a 6-year-old from harm. When Chacon, 23, saw a man scoop up a girl into his van, Chacon gave chase in his pickup.

The suspected kidnapper crashed into a light pole and fled on foot, allowing Chacon to rescue the girl, the Associated Press reported.

But Chacon, like many heroes, turned out to be somewhat flawed -- the Mexican native told reporters he'd been living in the country illegally for four years.

That set off a firestorm in a state warring over how best to handle undocumented residents. The latest battle involves Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's attempts to repeal a state law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

Chacon is married to a U.S. citizen; they have two daughters. His wife, Martha, told reporters that seeking citizenship for her husband had been too costly, but that he would like to become a legal resident.

If anything, Chacon's story touches on the gray areas that are sometimes overlooked in the immigration debate. Like the undocumented college students who would qualify for citizenship if the federal DREAM Act were passed, Chacon was technically breaking the law by living in the U.S. illegally. But it was hard to write off his bravery.

To wit: Even Martinez, whose opponents have used Chacon's story as a cudgel in the driver's license debate, was measured in her response. "As others have expressed, praising Mr. Chacon's courageous actions has nothing to do with his immigration status," she said in a statementto KOAT-TV. "We should be proud when we see anyone do the right thing in extending a helping hand to others, regardless of their background."

So is Chacon a hero or a criminal? Under current laws, he's arguably a bit of both. 

RELATED:

Could he be a good American? 

Noncriminals swept up in federal deportation program

U.S. will review cases of 300,000 illegal immigrants in deportation proceedings

--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas 
Twitter.com/ashleypowers

Photo: Antonio Diaz Chacon poses with his wife, Martha, and their daughter Brisseida after he was recognized for his heroism during a ceremony in Albuquerque. Credit: Susan Montoya Bryan / Associated Press 

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