Deportation decision fair, compassionateOf course we’re a nation of laws. But if you’re like most Americans, that didn’t stop you from exceeding the speed limit by 5, 10 or 15 mph on your way to work today.
By: John Crisp, The Dickinson Press
Of course we’re a nation of laws. But if you’re like most Americans, that didn’t stop you from exceeding the speed limit by 5, 10 or 15 mph on your way to work today.
Or, if you’re like many Americans, your devotion to the law doesn’t prevent you from fudging a little on your taxes or occasionally borrowing someone else’s prescription drug.
In fact, our self-interest, greed and impatience often outpace our scrupulous fidelity to the letter of the law, and in some cases our instincts and sense of compassion are wiser than the law.
Surely this is the case with regard to the 800,000 or so “illegal” young people who are in this country because their parents brought them across the border when they were children. The outrage on the right over President Barack Obama’s decision last week not to deport residents in this position is overwrought and a tad sanctimonious.
Two factors deserve consideration: compassion and context.
First, compassion: I profiled one of these young people in a column a couple of years ago, a 25-year-old student who admitted one day in one of my classes that she was in the country illegally. Seeking a better life, her parents had brought her across the border to Brownsville, Texas, when she was 13. Her mother cleaned rooms and cooked at a motel in the Rio Grande Valley, and her father cut the grass and cleaned the pool. They never went back.
She took extra tutorials after school to learn English quickly, and she helped her parents learn it, as well. She went to middle school, then high school. She played on the soccer team and danced in the ballet folklorico. Eventually she showed up in my class, a bright, hard-working young woman indistinguishable from her classmates.
Like many Hispanics in south Texas, she is not ashamed of her Mexican roots. But after 12 years in this country, she says, “This is my home now.” Mexico is as foreign to her as it would be to any of us. Deporting her for a “crime” she did not commit would indeed be cruel and essentially unfair.
Context is important here, as well. We sometimes think of illegal immigrants as hard cases who slip across the Rio Grande in the dark of night, carrying drugs or weapons, on their way to take jobs away from deserving Americans. But this fanciful image ignores long periods in our history during which we’ve willingly tolerated a porous border with Mexico in order to facilitate the flow of cheap, hardworking labor to the north.
My student’s parents didn’t sneak across the border; they were permitted — maybe even encouraged — to walk across freely in order to perform menial agricultural and service tasks that many Americans, even in our recession, are unwilling to do. In this light, our current outrage over the presence of illegal residents rings a bit hollow.
So the president’s decision to curtail deportations of young residents who are virtually Americans is a good one. Was the decision too calculatedly political, as some on the right have charged? Perhaps, but a decision’s political implications shouldn’t keep people in power from doing the right thing, especially when real lives are on the line, as in this case.
Besides, if the decision had a trace of politics in it, so what? We have five very political months ahead of us, and both sides are struggling for every advantage. The economy — growth, employment, the strength of the gross domestic product — is at the center of the election, but other, less empirical elements of a healthy society are at stake, as well, elements such as equity, fairness and opportunity.
An administration that is unwilling to practice compassion toward 800,000 young people who have done nothing wrong lacks sufficient empathy. It is also unlikely to muster the capacity to care much about native-born Americans who are poor, sick, hungry, gay or just middle class.
Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.