Friday, April 11, 2014

Conservatives need Compassion about Illegal Immigrants

New York Times photo of migrants crossing the Rio Grande
Liberals often accuse conservatives of heartlessness. Why are we so selfish; don't we want to help  the downtrodden?

If conservatives value initiative (and ever want to win elections), we must prove our compassion by recognizing the presence and humanity of undocumented immigrants. And we need law and policy to absorb and ultimately accept the ones with a sincere desire to become citizens.

The pathos of desperate people spending life savings to endure hunger and hardship to come to the United States touched me when I saw a front-page story in the New York Times. It describes the dangerous and arduous trek from Central American countries undertaken by mostly women and children seeking to remedy poverty and hopelessness faced by accident of birth.

They leave countries that offer no jobs or futures, trusting their passage to "coyote" guides. These become paid captors who herd their charges through risky by-ways, sometimes running through drainage pipes, dashing among grasses, crowding into compartments in trucks and, as described in the article, boarded onto rafts. They know only that in America, with asylum, they might fill the lowest jobs available, those generally unwanted by citizens with English skills and greater education--dishwashers, laborers, baby-sitters, house-cleaners. This vulnerable hoard constitutes the most tenacious, hardy and dedicated of the many who suffer in poverty-ridden nations led by corrupt governments.

"In Mexican border cities like Reynosa, just across the river," writes immigration reporter Julia Preston, "migrants have become easy prey for Mexican drug cartels that have seized control of the human smuggling business, heightening perils for illegal crossers and security risks for the United States."

Among those who forded the Rio Grande to be interviewed by the journalist were "a Guatemalan mother carrying a toddler with a baby bottle, another with an infant wrapped in blankets. A 9-year-old girl said she was traveling by herself, hoping to rejoin her mother and two brothers in Louisiana." The child had only a "telephone number on a scrap of paper" tying her to  family.

One traveler said he'd been "kidnapped for two weeks while Mexican smugglers extorted $10,000 from his frantic family in Honduras." A former El Salvadoran soldier, 29, fled, leaving his wife and children, after a gang sought to kill him in retribution for an arrest. A 19-year-old whose brother was murdered in the bed next to him considered the travails of  journeying to America a safer option than remaining.

Why don't they follow immigration protocols and come legally? We in America assume that government bureaucracy may be inefficient, but not corrupt. But people who desperately want to support their families by moving to the United States often live where corruption reigns. I know of cases where anxious would-be emigrants submitted paperwork  that was "lost" until they produced bribe money--repeatedly, for officials at every level. And then, once their money was gone, their paperwork became "lost" once and for all. How can honest, eager workers gain legal admission to the US if their governments won't even let them apply?

For this we need bigger fences, more patrols and huge detention centers that use taxpayer dollars to return long-time US residents back to hopeless situations? On the other hand, wide open borders would mean an unmanageable influx of immigrants, saturating the labor market and straining infrastructure. There must be a compassionate middle ground that discourages illegal entry but acknowledges the plight of people who are here.

 Entering the United States without proper paperwork is not a felony; it's not a
New York Times photo of migrants awaiting processing
misdemeanor; it's a lesser class of offense called an "infraction." And yet people discovered without documentation are imprisoned for weeks or months and more without trial.

I am aware of several cases of families with US-born children, separated as parents were deported simply because they lacked proper paperwork. I know of a case where an undocumented worker, stopped for a burned-out tail light on his borrowed car, landed in the Tacoma detention center, imprisoned for almost a year and then returned to El Salvador because he couldn't raise the $9,000 needed for a  lawyer.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free!" The inscription by Emma Lazarus at the base of the Statue of Liberty begins to ring hollow when  so much rhetoric and effort goes to spurning those risking their lives so that they and their families may simply breathe free.