I’m baffled by the debate going on in this country about illegal immigration.
As an immigrant, I am squarely in the camp of those who defend immigration and the people who try so hard to come to the US. My position is not based on exhaustive studies or statistics, but on feelings and instinct. Legally or illegally, getting here is a long and arduous process.
I came legally as a political refugee, and even if I discount the actual hardships I went through — lack of money, uncertainty, separation from family and friends, cultural barriers, fear of the unknown — I can state first hand that the procedures themselves, the paperwork and the documentation, had been a bureaucratic nightmare. I was young, energetic, college educated, and fluent in English, but the formalities, the waiting, the bored and obtuse immigration officials, the seeming irrelevance of the multiple questionnaires, were confusing and discouraging. They were designed to deter rather than help. There were many instances when I was tempted to give up, but unfortunately (or fortunately), in my case, there was no going back. I can only wonder at the confusion a poor Mexican migrant worker would experience should he elect to try and come legally.
The most common advice I hear these days is to get an immigration attorney. Great advice, if one can afford one!
When it comes to illegal immigration, the first reaction people have is that the illegals have broken the law. We are a country of laws, they announce proudly, and we shouldn’t reward those who break them. How straight forward and righteous this sounds, but how simplistic it is!
When I tell people from experience that legal immigration is a bureaucratic mess, most people relate. In their lives, they have gone a few times to the MVA. They quickly suggest immigration reform. Yet the politicians have debated reform for decades, without doing much of anything. Why? Maybe because, like healthcare, it’s not easy. Lives matter. Families matter. Principles matter, too.
Think about the principles that are involved. We are a nation of immigrants and want to continue the tradition. We are a melting pot. We recognize that immigrants contribute to our wellbeing, diversity, creativity, and exceptionalism. We want to be safe. We don’t want to discriminate. And we are republicans and democrats, and there are political implications at stake.
Ronald Reagan had forgiven many illegals who happened to be in the country during his presidency, with the assumption, I guess, that from that point onward, immigration laws would be strictly applied, and no more people would cross the border illegally. But it didn’t work. And today’s republicans say they don’t want to repeat that mistake. Reward criminals? Absolutely not!
Most people who came here broke the law in part because we created the need, and in part because of things they could not control. Who doesn’t want a better life? They cross the border, mow our lawns, keep our babies safe, and ensure that our fruit and vegetables are fresh and cheap. They work in construction, in restaurants, and in the fields. They are not the enemy. They are not the problem that some people, recently, have decided to make them.
If America has problems, the undocumented immigrants are not it!
Getting rid of them will not cure America’s ills. Deporting them is inhuman, and will not work. Changing the immigration laws to allow for a guest worker program that is easy to understand and implement, even for a simple migrant who doesn’t speak English well and has only an elementary school education, will help reduce the number of illegals. But more importantly, we need to find a way to legalize the status of those here already, and create a path to citizenship. The process might be long and complicated, but one must exist.
To those who say this is equivalent to rewarding criminals, I say it is not the undocumented immigrants’ fault. We’ll do this now, and maybe, in twenty or thirty years we will have to do it again. And then, later, we might do it once more. We should not encourage illegal immigration, but we should tolerate it. If we build a wall, they will jump over it or dig under it. If we ban all flights, they will sail or swim to our shore. As long as the world is divided into poor countries and rich countries, countries at war and countries at peace, famine and wealth, we have no choice. As long as we, representing 5% of the world population, run the world, and consume a disproportional percentage of all the resources, finding ways to help when the needy and the poor run in, is the least we can do.
It’s not like we don’t have the heart or the space.
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