May 13th, 2008
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a young man in your 20s, trying to make your way in the world. You are married and have a young daughter, just old enough to start to talk. You live in a run-down neighborhood, long passed-over by any economic advances. What schools you had access to barely taught anyone much. The few jobs you can reach have fierce competition, even though the pay is low. You worry about your health, but even more about that of your wife and child. Finding food is a constant concern. Although you are still healthy now, and you are willing and able to be a hard worker, there is simply nobody hiring people in your area. Not to mention the gunfights that erupt between gangs or drug dealers. Oh, and did I mention that your wife is 4 months pregnant?
Your top priority is to do your best to keep your family safe. You’re afraid that your whole family will starve, or be killed by an errant bullet. You’ve tried for a long time — it seems like forever — to do everything you can think of, with no success. Finally, you decide that the only way you can have the hope for a better life is to move somewhere where the economy is better, and the drug dealers are fewer.
But moving hundreds or thousands of miles away is no easy task when you have no money to move. Somehow, with some luck, ingenuity, and tenacity, you have finally managed to find a way. You have no job offer in your new town, but conditions are so bleak at home that you just can’t risk staying there. So the three of you move 1500 miles away.
You arrive with no money, no apartment, and don’t know anybody. But you’re a hard worker, and have talked yourself into a job. It pays what passes for minimum wage in your new home, but it’s a fortune compared to what you made before. It’s backbreaking work, and you work long hours. But soon you can afford a cramped apartment, and keep your refrigerator stocked with food. What a luxury!
Pretty soon your new baby son is born. You can afford to feed him, your daughter, your wife, and yourself, every day. When you’re really lucky, you even have some money left over to send to your brother back home, who is still struggling to make ends meet there. You seem to have climbed the first rung on the American Dream ladder.
Years pass. Your old home becomes a memory; your daily life revolves around new struggles now. Your oldest child is in school, your wife finds part-time work sometimes too, cleaning houses for rich people. You’ve been laid off several times, your income isn’t guaranteed, and the others in your new home don’t take kindly to strangers — and they still think you’re one. But it’s better than flying bullets and never knowing where your next meal will come from.
Then one day, while you are at work, federal agents show up. You are arrested and taken to jail. Agents show up at home, too, arresting your wife. It turns out that they realized you entered the country illegally from Ecuador those years ago. Meanwhile, your wife wonders what will happen to your son that was playing in a neighbor’s yard while she was arrested, or to your daugther that was at school.
After months in jail, with little contact with each other, and poor medical care, the government decides to deport you to Mexico. Why Mexico? Well, it’s cheaper, and there’s no documentation showing where you came from. Apparently you “look” Mexican, and they don’t believe your story.
After months in jail with no income, you are once again bankrupt. A government bus takes you to Mexico and drops you down someplace there, with your wife and your oldest child. Your younger child was born in the United States, and so is an American citizen and can’t be deported. But the government isn’t going to give him a free ride on a prison bus (and Mexico wouldn’t take him anyway, since everyone knows he’s American). You have no idea where he is. You have no idea how you’re going to find food in Mexico, no idea how to find your son, no idea where to find refuge from the ever more prevalent drug dealers. Meanwhile, the Americans think you’re scum because you wanted to protect your family, and it’s going to be much more difficult to get back in to try to reunite your family.
This story is based on true events.
It’s truly easy to demonize illegal immigrants, isn’t it? Easy to round them up by the thousands, easy to build a bigger fence, easy to lock them away.
Sometimes it seems like this nation built on freedom, supposedly on Christian values, has lost sight of compassion for the lowly. In this country, we would throw in jail parents that didn’t do everything humanly possible to find food for their children. We also throw in jail parents that grew up in other countries that are just doing the same.
How sad that we have people going on TV, suggesting we round up millions of Americans that happened to come here illegally, breaking up millions of families, creating an immense foster child problem, a human tragedy on a mass scale. How incredible that some of these people on TV wear the title “senator” or “candidate for president”. How stupid do they think we are, suggesting that a poor South American family would somehow be able to navigate the arcane American immigration system and wait the 15 years to get here legally, if they manage to come up with all the necessary money somehow?
Politicians have been pushing our buttons for too long. We aren’t a nation of selfish hoarders; we came together through tough times, survived the Depression, put in place the Berlin Airlift that saved countless lives in West Berlin. But the thought of someone with darkish skin coming to this country and building highways is enough to send some people looking for a rifle.
I hope that we will someday do better.