The Immigration Quandary

Hypothetical Subject (not factual, but a composite possibility derived from current events):

Maria is 40 years old.  She first came to America from Tijuana, Mexico (south of San Diego) when she was 14, escaping an impoverished and abusive home.  The first few years she was here, she was a migrant worker, picking crops in California, Oregon, and Washington.  She wanted to find more secure work, so at the age of 18 she obtained a social security number illegally, and got a job cleaning hotel rooms.  As the years rolled by, she paid taxes, got her G.E.D., and eventually worked her way through community college.  She had two children.  It was brought to the attention of the authorities that she had committed fraud by illegally obtaining a SSN.  She was convicted, but because her children were US citizens and she was demonstrably a law-abiding, working taxpayer, contributing to a better American society, she was allowed to stay in the US and raise her American children, as long as she checked in with immigration officials on a regular schedule.  She has been working as a nurse’s assistant at a hospital in the state of Arizona, and has taken on extra shifts, saving college money for her children, now 12 and 14 years old.  Last week, Maria checked in as usual at the local immigration office.  Because of the recent political rhetoric suggesting illegal immigrants would be deported, she was fearful.  Instead of hiding, however, she chose to honor the court’s order; she checked in at the immigration office, bringing her attorney with her.  She was detained for many hours, and was eventually told she would not be allowed to remain in the US.  Immigration officials transported her to Nogales, Mexico.

Editor’s thoughts:

My grandfather ran an immigration station, first along the Texas/Mexico border in Zapata,TX, and later on the Gulf of Mexico in Port Arthur & Beaumont, TX.  After his retirement in the early 1970s, he wrote a number of letters to senators and political leaders on the subject of the woeful state of immigration reform.   My father, well-educated and articulate, held a degree in government and another in aeronautical engineering; when he spoke on the subject, he would say, “what part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?”  He sounded so logical, but was there a preconception there as well?  One time, I heard him tell a friend an exciting tale of a night raid on the border, rounding up [insert derogatory label here] with his dad, and I felt thoroughly disheartened.  I never before or since heard my father use derogatory labels to describe another person, but in the heat of that story, he revisited the experience, and the ugly words just came out.  He didn’t seem to notice.

I get the impression that our immigration laws are good, but they’re hard to enforce.  Maria’s hypothetical deportment is in accordance with the law, and in sending her to Mexico, we are returning a convicted criminal to her country of origin.  I get that.  However, in addition to the emotional trauma of tearing a family apart, and what it says about us as a people of compassion, I would like to examine this emotionally-charged subject from a purely logical standpoint.

First, there’s the subject of the illegal SSN.  Having chosen to better herself, she did what needed to be done: she got illegal papers.  Yes, that’s a crime.  Even so, I can’t help thinking about the many high school classmates of mine who obtained a fake ID to skirt the age-related drinking laws in Kansas.  I didn’t do it, but I certainly agreed with the logic.  It was ridiculous to tell an 18-year-old that they were mature enough to die for our country in the military, but they’d be too immature to handle a strong beer or a glass of wine for another 3 years.  Our hypothetical Maria obtained her fake SSN at the very same age.  She didn’t obtain a fake ID for a few drinks; she did it so she could work.  Logically, there’s a fundamental difference here.  What she did was a crime, but what she did with it was productive.  The world is a better place because she worked hard to make it so.

Next, there’s the subject of Maria’s job.  Many angry words have been spoken about immigrants who take our jobs.  When Maria arrived, underage and on her own, she took a job most of us wouldn’t want; she picked crops.  It’s hard, physical labor, but an honorable choice when compared to the alternatives available to a young girl on her own.  Later, as a paid employee with a SSN and a W-2, she paid payroll and income taxes.   She earned her education, with no parental support.  She worked as a law-abiding, tax-paying, wage-earning member of our society.  When the courts brought her out of the shadows and held her accountable for her crime, she chose not to hide, and worked hard to provide for her children, our children.

Now that Maria is back in Mexico, what will that mean?

In Mexico, Maria finds herself in a country that hasn’t been home for 26 years, for the majority of her lifetime.  She’s been delivered to the nearest Mexican town, where she’s never lived, where she knows no one.  She was probably handed over to immigration authorities in Mexico, but she has done nothing wrong there, so I doubt they will detain her long.  Overnight, she has become jobless, homeless, childless.  She has friends who love her in the US, but she has no friends who can help her now.  Will she be able to contribute to the workforce there?

Here in the US, Maria’s children now have no mother, so they will enter the foster care system; she worked hard to make life better for them, but they’re now on their own just as she was.  In foster care, they’re likely to be moved to a new town, new school, new neighborhood, without a mother’s reassurance to smooth the transition.  They will likely need counseling.

Maria’s job will go to the next qualified applicant; jobs like hers are not scarce, and any qualified applicant can find a good position in her line of work.  The contributions she made to the economy as a consumer are gone, along with the taxes she paid.

What about the rest of us?  Are we affected by her deportment?  Is her loss, our loss?  Her children, naturalized US citizens, are our future.  Those children have the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as my own daughter, but it will be much more difficult to secure these rights, now that their parental support system is gone.  It will cost us taxpayers far more to support and provide for her children now, and as wards of the state, they are far less likely to complete their education and join the taxpaying workforce as adults.  Typically, the relationship between a single parent and her children is especially strong, so that loss will have a profound negative effect on the children, and on their future aspirations.  Inspired by their mother’s hard work ethic, perhaps one of them would have been a doctor, a lawyer, a president; is that now more likely, or less likely?

Thinking logically, I do not see the value in our hypothetical Maria’s deportment.  The law of the land is to be respected and enforced for the safety and betterment of all the people, but the law is created for its citizens.  I do not see how this makes America great.  I do not see how anyone wins here.  It appears to me that we have all lost.

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One thought on “The Immigration Quandary

  1. Feeling pessimistic. I cannot argue with the enforcement of law. Ultimately, it seems to me, that enforcement lies with the courts and therefore the judges. Judges are , again I believe, both elected and appointed depending on the court. As voters, we can choose the judge or the people who appoint the judges. I feel that we as a people, must choose compassion over fear. In this “hypothetical,” I bet there are numerous scenarios that do not include her immediate return to Mexico should she stand before as compassionate judge. Here’s where the pessimism comes in. I cannot think of a single populist movement based on compassion that has succeeded. But to paraphrase Atticus Finch, just because you can’t win doesn’t mean you don’t do your darndest. God bless US, everyone.


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