February 26, 2017

The Immigration Question

A friend posted a snippet of an article about immigrants being arrested for illegally crossing the border from the US into Canada, and wondered why it was OK for Canada to arrest them, but not OK for America to do the same, and she asked her political friends to try and explain it, before removing the post.

I don't blame her for removing it. She's asked challenging questions before, and has been extraordinarily tolerant of the responses, even as her friends digressed into equally extraordinarily intolerant squabbling, name-calling, and arguing, none of which are necessary, but all of which are really too frequent. really.

There was no way I was going to try and answer on her page, but I do want to consider the question because it's one I've heard before, and one that I try and answer for myself. I will try here, knowing that my answer probably won't satisfy anyone, including me.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The picture at right, from a recent New York Times article, shows just one of those arrests; the article notes that the RCMP has seen a surge in illegal crossings over the past several months.

And lately, we've heard many news reports about people losing fingers and toes to frostbite, as they're crossing the border in the middle of winter, grossly unprepared for the weather, in their haste to leave America and get to someplace safer.

Crap -- did I just write that? Is it just me, or is it hard to actually contemplate people fleeing America to get to safety?

Back to my friend's question: the simple answer is, it's not OK to enter a country illegally. That's why we have the Border Patrol, and why we have checkpoints, and it's why we reject so many people and send them back, and why we work so hard to try and keep them out, whether they come through the checkpoints with fake papers or are smuggled in, hidden in cars and trucks, or if they cross onto some farmer's ranch and we catch them. It's why we deport so many people every year, following a defined process (because that's the way we do things).

Unfortunately, the immigration issue is not as simple as keeping people out, or even sending people back when we catch them. If only it were that easy, though. Because the question that was not asked is the one that gives most of us pause, including both Democrats and Republicans, legal and illegal immigrants, religious and the nonreligious,rich and poor.

It's the part about America having a long tradition of accepting people seeking asylum, people who are fleeing persecution in their home countries, whose lives would be in danger (in their perception, anyway) if they were to stay. So they come here, some of them through normal channels such as being sponsored by aid groups, and some of them in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

Many of these folks pay every last penny they can muster up to good people or bad people who may or may not be able to get them to the border; these people risk everything to try and make it to America, or to get their children safely to America, knowing that if they manage to make it here, there's a strong chance that they'll get caught and sent back. And they try anyway, and they come anyway, because to them anything is better than where they come from. That is the America the rest of the world used to see; some still do, particularly those who come across our southern border from Central American countries, or from Mexico. Those are the ones that wall is supposed to keep out.

And, we have the people we know are here illegally, the ones we 'keep track of' but don't force to get a green card, don't put in jail, just let go about living their lives, having children, becoming part of the fabric of our communities and our country. The ones who work in construction, building our houses; they work for landscapers, keeping our yards and gardens beautiful; they work in agriculture, traveling with the seasons, with the vegetables and fruits that grace our tables; they work in the hospitality field, parking our cars, making the beds and cleaning our hotels, serving us food and drinks in restaurants and clubs; they work the amusement circuit, putting up rides, taking them down, loading and unloading the prizes we work so hard to win.

These, and the others who are here illegally that we don't necessarily know so much about, are the 11-odd million that we don't know what to do with. If we're honest, we know we can't just ship them back, leaving their American-born children with no parents and nowhere to go. And leaving a giant whole in the workforce in the fields outlined above. These are the folks who need a path to citizenship that shouldn't entail going back to wherever they came from for some random number of years, only to be allowed to stand at the back of the line trying to come back to their adopted home.

If we're dishonest, or fooling ourselves, we say they all need to go back, too. But that would be the same as saying that people who get speeding tickets or parking tickets should be in jail, when most of them never do more than pay a fine - if they bother doing that. We in America have a process for things, including not treating all criminals as criminals.

When the politicians talked about comprehensive immigration reform for the past several years, they weren't talking about the easy stuff; they were talking about the hard stuff like the 11 million, or the kids who could lose their parents to deportation; they were talking about the people who work hard at jobs most of us wouldn't take; and, to at least some degree, they were talking about those who are now fleeing to someplace safer than America.