I think in order to deal with the immigration issue fairly you have to engage that special ability that most of us possess; you must be empathetic. You have to imagine that you live in a nation suddenly made un-liveable, perhaps by war, or famine, or a power vacuum and resulting lawlessness, or just a society so stagnant that you can see that your children will always be doomed to the deprivations of poverty.
You have to follow the mental experience a bit further, and hear the stories about America that people tell. These stories say that America is not paved with gold but is still a land of opportunity where enterprising people can get a job, or start a business, and slowly build a good life for themselves and for their children. You find people who share with you ways to enter American legally and offer instructions for how to stay longer than is legal. You find a land that is far from perfect but you are willing to start at the bottom, in the most onerous, poorly paid jobs and then build up patiently to a better life. Often you and your family are willing to do work American citizens will not do.
Maybe you came to meet someone and outstayed your visa. If you came alone perhaps you came as a student and overstayed your visa. Maybe you never actually attended college at all and just enrolled to get into the country. Maybe you walked across a border successfully avoiding customs and then stayed.
There are some things that are problematic about your decision to stay here without legal status. Perhaps you need to steal an identity to get the documents you need to be employed, so you hack someone’s computer or steal a purse or wallet or buy a fake ID. Some employers know you have no papers but will look the other way and pay you under the table. These actions make you a criminal in your new land so you must hide, live a life that is full of fear and less free than the lives of legal citizens, to avoid calling attention to yourself. Stealing ID’s hurts someone who is a legal citizen and you know that it is wrong. Working under the table leaves you with no protections against an abusive or exploitative boss. Either way you wish you were here legally, especially for your children’s sake.
In many ways Americans know your status but look the other way. Schools care about educating children so they don’t make a big deal of it if they happen to suspect that an immigrant family did not come into the country through proper channels.
Suddenly though, after the 2016 election, immigrant families find themselves in great danger of being plucked out of their new, always precarious existence and threatened with imminent deportation. It doesn’t matter, apparently, how many years you have been here. If you have a fake ID you are classified as a criminal and you are in even greater danger of being deported. Maybe you speak perfect English (or not), maybe you have paid taxes for years, maybe you have a business. You feel like an American, but suddenly you are about to be hunted down and arrested and turned out of your life.
What you did was wrong but you did it for the best of reasons (survival) to save the lives of you and your family. But America knew that this was happening and they let you stay. People did get deported; there always was the nagging fear that you might be discovered and sent back to the bad situation you came from. As time went by perhaps you felt safer and safer; more and more an American and you had children here who are citizens.
Now I’m back from my empathy experiment, but I am able to keep that viewpoint in mind. I’m me again, a poor but still privileged white woman born in America. Up until now I have never lived in a land that was chaotic or dangerous, or in an area that was devastated by a natural disaster. Since the 2016 election I am more worried about our stability as a nation, right here in America. But I have put myself in the immigrants’ place, so I must be honest. If my family faced these circumstances and I was told of a possible way out, I think I (or you) might do the same and take that chance.
And I am watching our own President try to do something I never thought I would see in America. He is going to expel people who have been allowed to stay in America for years – to send them back into countries they don’t even call home anymore. It is not the Holocaust – when people were rounded up and murdered – but it feels so much like that; at least enough like it to tell us that it is wrong. Obviously some people will be sent back to lands that are so unstable that murder or rape or kidnapping could be real possibilities. Will neighbor turn in neighbor? Will sympathetic Americans have to hide immigrants? How will that work in such a populated world? Exactly how will immigrants without documents be identified? I cannot imagine that any of this will make life pleasant for anyone in America. How unpleasant will things get? Will some American citizens have to lose their freedom or even their lives to oppose this activity?
We Are to Blame
It is actually our fault these folks came and were allowed to stay. We don’t have a consistent way to check documents without also making citizens carry papers. We don’t have any hard borders except between Canada and Mexico and America and, as we know, many argue that these border are not all that secure. It feels un-American and is perhaps un-Constitutional to make people present documents on demand. So we have been very lax about immigration. I contend that we cannot hold people responsible if they break laws that are rarely enforced.
America needs a way to track temporary visas and find the visa holders when those documents expire. But all of the ways we could do this are distasteful or invasive or ineffective. Visas could be placed under the skin as we do with the chips to keep track of our pets. You don’t like that idea? It also has flaws. What if you travel a lot? You will have lots of implants. What if someone with no compunctions kills you in order to physically remove your implant? There will end up being a market in counterfeit implants. We are even more creative in our criminal endeavors than we seem to be in our technological innovations these days. If you don’t like that idea then perhaps you have other ways we could keep track of expired visas and pair that information with the locations of the people who let that visa expire. Right now people with expired visas can easily get lost among 350 million of us.
There must be a way to find people who got here in ways that are not approved without rousting them out after they have made a new life and sending them back to a land that is no longer theirs. However, until we have a fair way to send undocumented people back “home,” we should fight against this current administration’s plan which is inhumane and which will cause as much damage to our American democracy/republic as it will to the people who are deported.
Grandfather in the people who are here and put in place a workable system for those who are currently arriving here and staying too long. Don’t do this deportation assault in the way that these executive actions mandate. Congress, do your jobs. Interview experts, devise a system, try it out, and start over if that doesn’t work. Stop undoing programs we need and really do your homework to set up an immigration system (not a wall) that is not too invasive to citizens and works to stop people from breaking rules that are not real rules because they are rarely, unevenly, and ideologically applied.
The new Executive Action we are hearing about is just as awful as the one the courts recently overturned. We will be judged harshly by nations around the globe and many countries will not allow deported individuals back in which will leave thousands in limbo. Steve Bannon may want to isolate us from other nations but it is not a good plan. It will cause atrophy and it will make us more of a target than we are for aggression from bad actors. But this time we won’t have any friends.