Splitting the Difference on Illegal Immigration
The life of an illegal immigrant is not an easy one. There is the matter of the day to day- work, taking care of family and in the case of younger illegals (the vast majority of them) simply growing up. Then there is the underbelly- the exploitation many illegals have to live with, the challenges they face in procuring necessary documents in this increasingly document- and computerized- society.
While the media tends to focus on the criminal element (Jose Q Public going to work day and day out won’t sell newspapers), the vast majority of illegals are honest, law abiding and hard working seeking no more than than a better life for themselves and their children.
There are many Americans who believe that is liberal spewed hogwash but it is the truth- and it has nothing to do with politics.
Imagine you lived in an environment in which it was virtually impossible to support your family. Imagine your parents, grandparents and other close relatives lived in poverty with no hope of escape. Imagine that environment was filled with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats or criminal gangs. Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to change that reality? Isn’t that what generations of immigrants- legal and otherwise- have done?
Since when has offering the teeming masses an opportunity for a better life, become a political football? How have we become a nation which turns it’s back on ‘wretched refuse’?
Yes, we are a nation of laws- but we are also meant to be a merciful nation. We can find a way to accommodate those who have circumvented the legal and appropriate ways to apply for immigrant status. They may have to wait for those legal applicants to move to the front of the line (where they belong) pay back taxes and so on.
This nation has been enriched by immigrants since her inception, believing in and following the American dream. Shortchanging those law abiding illegal immigrants will hurt them, to be sure- but it will us as a nation, even more.
In the controversy over illegal immigration that has roiled our politics for decades, the image of “living in the shadows” has been invoked by all sides. For immigrant advocates, “the shadows” are where the undocumented are harassed by overzealous law-enforcement officers and exploited by unscrupulous landlords and employers. For many other Americans, “living in the shadows” conjures vaguely sinister intruders using public services to which they are not entitled and preying on law-abiding Americans through illicit activities and crime.
Yet regardless of one’s views on the issue, this imagery is profoundly misleading. It helps to perpetuate the myths and exaggerations that have made our immigration debate so fruitless. Undocumented immigrants are hardly mere victims of economic or political forces beyond their control. But neither are they dangerous criminals or public charges lurking on the fringes of our society. Rather, they are responsible agents who have made difficult choices in a complicated and risky environment — an environment for which all Americans bear some blame.
These choices produce both beneficial and negative consequences for the nation and for the immigrants themselves. And our policies must contend with both sets of effects. If we are to find our way to a solution, we must examine the genuine predicament of the millions of illegal immigrants in our midst without ignoring the legitimate concerns millions of Americans have about their presence.
If we succeeded in removing the hyperbole and stereotypes from the immigration debate, our politics might open itself to a balanced approach to the problem: legalization for as many undocumented immigrants as possible, but citizenship for none of them. Under this proposal, illegal immigrants who so desired could become “permanent non-citizen residents” with no option of ever naturalizing.