The headline sounds like a bad 50′s movie flashback, doesn’t it? I read it and I picture a cheap paperback or an old pulp magazine with a lurid cover, featuring a disheveled yet beautiful girl cringing in fear from a dark, villainous figure, while the stalwart Anglo-Saxon hero stood over her, flexing his biceps protectively. The print inside the covers was just as blatant as the cover; the plot made it excruciatingly clear who the bad guy was, who the good guy was, and you knew before reading the first word that justice would triumph and that the good guy would get the girl.
Even in the 50′s, real life is not as black and white as fiction, and while the good guy does usually wind up with the girl, the distinction between the hero and the villain is never quite so clear cut.
My son-in-law is a good father, a good husband, and an excellent provider for his family. He is a nice guy who works hard to take care of his responsibilities, and he wants nothing more than to make a solid, secure life for himself and his family. He loves my daughter without reservation, and works himself ceaselessly to provide their children with everything they might need.
In short, I am proud to have him as a member of my family.
But like I said, there’s nothing simple in our lives and there is another part of the story; he’s an illegal immigrant.
I have a problem with that.
Despite how much I respect him for the way he has treated my daughter, and despite how much I admire his work ethic, his drive and determination, and his willingness to go to the limit for his family, I also have a deep respect for the rule of law. I believe that borders are real, and that they should be respected. I also believe that laws are real and should be respected. I believe in equal treatment under the law, not as some idealistic concept to be junked when it gets difficult, but as a bedrock principle that must be protected, lest expediency takes the place of integrity. Because of these beliefs, I hold a conviction that those who cross our borders illegally, regardless of their reasons for doing so, have broken real laws and should face real consequences for their actions.
Sue me; I’m old fashioned that way.
On the other hand, I know that our immigration system is broken beyond belief. I know that people who try to immigrate here legally are stymied by an organization that lives to create obstacles, that is staffed by asinine functionaries with delusions of self importance, and that runs on archaic rules that make no sense whatsoever.
In short, a typical federal bureaucracy.
But a broken immigration system does not give anybody the right to ignore it, and to come here illegally. I understand the forces that drove my son-in-law to come here and I know it wasn’t an easy decision. When he first came here, he wasn’t an illegal immigrant; he was an illegal alien, pure and simple. He loved his homeland, and had no interest in making a life here. His plan was to earn enough money to be able to return home without the twin specters of unemployment and poverty hanging over him. He’s an educated man, and was working towards a professional field when the economy made it impossible for him to continue. He was faced with an impossible choice; he had no real future if he stayed home, and, given our immigration laws, he would have never qualified to immigrate here. But he knew there was work here for those willing to do it.
So he made the decision to follow millions of others and come here illegally. He crossed the border and made his way across the country to an area where immigration enforcement was nearly non existent. And then he worked his tail end off in order to be able to go back home. He lived in a crowded mobile home to cut down on expenses, and worked two or three jobs at a time. He lived frugally, saving money while sending some back home to support his family. Soon, he and his brothers pooled their money and bought the trailer they lived in. He rented another trailer, moved in and rented out the first one. He began to accumulate money in preparation for returning home, but then something unexpected happened; he met and fell in love with my daughter.
They got married. (With my approval, although they would have gone ahead without it.)
He still planned to go back to his home country along with his wife and the two children they brought into the world together, but with the birth of his children, my son-in-law’s perspective began to change. He still loved his homeland, but he had grown to love America as well, and more importantly, he knew that his children would have much better opportunities here than they would if he took them back home. He was torn between love of country and of family. Eventually, he decided that America, while never replacing his homeland in his heart, was his new home. He began to work through the legal system to become a legal resident.
He continued to work hard, and advanced in his job until he could afford to work only one job, and he excelled at it. He’s never been in trouble with the law, never taken a dime of public assistance, provided every penny his family needed and still managed to send money back to his family across the border. In short, he is the perfect example of the American Dream. It does still exist. Through perseverance, hard work, initiative, and not a little cockiness, he has come from absolutely nothing to become a solid member of America’s middle class.
Like I said, I’m proud to have him in my family.
Yet I am dead set against the idea of giving him amnesty, or allowing him a simple path to citizenship. If it happens, I will be happy for him and my daughter and grandchildren. I will even do what I can to assist him in this quest, but I still believe it would be a mistake to make this an easy process.
Because there’s another story to be told here.
The story is very similar, about another man facing the same issues as my son-in-law. But instead of crossing the border illegally, he applied for a visa. When it was declined, he applied again. As the years went by, his hope faded, but he still worked within a broken system, trying to come to where the opportunities were, but respecting the ideals that created the opportunity.
This man played by the rules, and as a reward, he sees those who broke the rules granted everything he wanted while he still lives in poverty.
Folks, that’s just not right. It is a fundamental betrayal of principle.
I don’t want my son-in-law to be sent back across the border and I think it would be a loss for us if he were, but I want to make things right for the guy who played by the rules as well. It will take some creativity to come up with a solution that rewards those who played by the rules, while enacting consequences for those who didn’t.
We have to fix our immigration system. Good men like my son-in-law should not be forced to become criminals in order to take advantage of the opportunities we have in abundance. A man or woman who is willing to work hard and has the dedication to do so should be given a chance to demonstrate their abilities and their commitment to achieving their dreams. That is, after all, one of the things that America is famous for. You know, the whole ‘Land of Opportunity’ thing. What good is the opportunity if the people who want it the most are denied the chance to grab it?
At the same time, we can’t just ignore the laws we find to be inconvenient.
I know that our government is going to do the expedient thing and legalize most of the immigrants who are here already. I will be happy for my daughter and her family, but I will regret the damage we will do to our principles at the same time.