Whenever I write about immigration, I prepare to please absolutely no one, least of all myself. My personal curse is that I am a conservative who understands the feelings of people who are fed up with the broken immigration system and who do not want to see our borders become irrelevant. This has always been a keystone of the conservative platform: sovereignty, order, states’ rights. I get it.
But I am an immigration lawyer, as you know, if you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, and I also understand the feelings of immigrants who have paid in blood, sweat, tears and sometimes even actual currency to become legal in this country. Many of them have already contributed mightily to this society, albeit through back channels and from the depths of restaurant kitchens, sweltering construction sites or dingy offices.
So I see both sides, and I try to be fair when I look at the competing interests of pro- and anti-immigration constituencies. I also don’t like the people who separate out the “legal” from the “illegal,” because it’s a bit too simplistic to tell someone to get in line and do it the right way when there are no lines. The person here illegally today will, under our current system, likely have to wait over a decade before becoming the legal resident of tomorrow.
And the conservatives really don’t care about that, just as the progressive immigration advocates think anyone who has a problem with loosening the restrictions on our laws and regulations (and de facto quotas) is a bigot.
So as I was saying, it’s a recipe for disaster and really spicy comments at the end of the column when I choose to write about immigration.
But I couldn’t avoid the topic this week. The deaths of 12 people in Texas, victims of a botched human trafficking expedition, force me to confront the screwed-up way we deal with foreigners who want to come to this country and live, work and flourish. Anyone who thinks that men and women will cram themselves into an airless truck, along with their babies, for hundreds of sweltering miles, only to end up dead or dying, because they want to bring mayhem to this country should probably stop reading now. You’re on an entirely different, cruel wavelength. Go read the comics section.
Those people came here the way that they did because there were few other options. There are no laws that allow people who are starving or fleeing persecution from the other side of the border to come here freely, honestly and with dignity. You have to take your chances, and, believe me, if your child is starving or your brother was just killed by gang members from Mara Salvatrucha, you don’t care about dignity. You just come.
We need to fix our system, so that the tragedies that occurred last week don’t repeat themselves. Unfortunately, instead of fixing the problem, our legislators put their heads in the sand and our executive decides to go after the low-hanging fruit.
Worse, we have people who think these people who came in illegally deserve what happened to them. I call it the “Elian’s Mama” syndrome. You remember her, don’t you? She was the mother of that little Cuban boy who risked her life so he could have a better life. At the time, even in the wake of her death by drowning, people blamed her for putting that child in danger. I was at the beginning of my immigration career, almost 20 years ago, and all I could think was, “How desperate must you be to put your child on a raft and send him into dark waters with the slim chance of survival?”
It’s the same thing that motivated those poor people to undertake a journey that ended in death in a Walmart parking lot. Blaming them bespeaks a horrific lack of humanity.
But we do it anyway. We do it when we call them illegals; we do it when we point the finger at them instead of at a system that doesn’t allow for a more humane process to vet them at the border; we do it when we don’t hold our legislators accountable for closing their eyes to the war at the border or, worse, for providing facile slogans about walls.
We can’t have open borders. And we need to tighten our policies to make sure the drug runners and human traffickers keep their poison out of our country. And, no, we shouldn’t make policy based on tragedies such as this one.
But instead of worrying about stupid tweets from President Trump and trying to figure out which thin-skinned journalist he’s offended this week, instead of jockeying for moral superiority (Democrats) and pie-in-the-sky repeals of laws you’ll never erase (GOP), we should demand that our legislators do their job and fix the immigration system.
Now, dammit. We can’t afford more bodies in parking lots.
Christine Flowers is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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